I have found that there are a couple reasons that one might like to plant a ground covering that is edible. The first is that you have a small yard or garden plot and want to increase the amount of produce that you grow. The second, and my reason, is that you are allergic to common grasses and wish to grow something beautiful that you are not allergic to. What ever your reason, we are going to discuss what plants you may use for a ground covering that are both edible and beautiful.
Plants to Consider
Bears garlic, an allium which is called “ramps” in Appalachia and “l’ail des ours” in France, is native to both Europe and the U.S. and prefers shade. This allium densely covers the ground and gives off a delicious garlic aroma the minute you touch one of its leaves. Eat the leaves of this plant, and you will find it has a full flavor somewhere between garlic and leeks but not as strong as either. You can chop the leaves into a salad or use in place of leeks or sorrel in your favorite soup and quiche recipes. Bears garlic is high in Vitamins A and C and many minerals too.
Bears garlic mixes well with bluebells and celandine poppies, natives of America, which also prefer shady places with moist soil high in humus and other organic matter. Plus this edible covering bears beautiful blossoms of its own.
There is only one trick in growing bears garlic, and that is finding a source to purchase it from. If you know where a wild patch grows, harvest seeds from the existing plants and sow then in your yard. This would be easier than finding a nursery or other supplier.
Low growing with small fruit, these plants are great for planting beneath tall flowers or in a front bed in your garden. This variety of berry doesn’t send runners, so your plants will be contained, for the most part. They are also day neutral, so they bear fruit throughout the summer until the first frost. The fruit are compact with a huge flavor. They enjoy full sun, well-drained soil, and well-fertilized soil. Space your plants twelve inches apart. As the plants will eventually make a solid mass, they will need to be broke up and separated every three to four years. Varieties to consider are Alexandria and Mignonette, which bear bright red fruit. Another option is the Yellow Wonder, a lighter-colored variety that doesn’t attract birds as easily.
Cranberries have beautiful green leaves and tart, bright red berries; also, the leaves turn red in fall, making it a great addition to a flowering border. This North American plant produces bright red, tangy berries that can be used for jams, jellies, and juice. Commercial cranberry growers flood the bogs to harvest the berries, but homegrown cranberries do not need all of this water. The key to successfully growing these berries is full sun in mild climates, partial sun in hot climates, and mildly acidic soil. Adding peat moss, sulfur, and compost to your soil will get these plants off to a good start.
Cranberries are hardy in zones three and four, but you may have some die off during cold, snowless winters. Be sure to keep your berry patch free of weeds, well watered, and fertilized in spring to keep them green and producing quality berries. You can keep thee berries in the freezer and use them as desired through the winter months.
Creeping Oregon grapes
While this may not be among the favorite of edible ground covers, this sour fruit can be used for making jelly, pies, and homemade wine. This creeping evergreen grows about a foot tall, is hardy in zone five, can tolerate some shade, and makes a nice addition to your yard, even between the trees. It has beautiful yellow flowers in spring, and the blue berries are best harvested after a good frost (as this improves their flavor).
Low bush blueberries
This classic, wild blueberry grows on rocky crags and in open wooded areas. It grows eight to twelve inches tall and is hardy to zone three. They are tough plants and a good addition to partially sunny areas; the key is planting in well-drained, moist, acidic soil.
Unlike other blueberries, this variety has a two-year fruiting cycle. Plants that give fruit this year will have to put on more vegetative growth next year before they will bear fruit again. For this reason, some will mow them down in the fall to encourage new growth. When they are not mowed back, their fruit production will decline. These berries are harder to harvest than the high bush variety, but they have a more intense flavor, making them great for pies, jellies, and sauces. These plants send out underground runners and will fill in their growing area over time.
If you need an edible ground cover for high-traffic areas, herbs may be your best choice. Specifically thyme and mint, as they will withstand some foot traffic and still produce flavorful leaves. Creeping, or wooly, thyme grows well between stepping-stones and other rock formations, and the aroma is very inviting. Mint is also refreshing to walk upon, and the Corsician variety grows about half an inch tall, making it a great plant to between your pavers or along your garden path. If you are growing the mint for culinary use too, you will want to use a larger leaved variety, such as English mint. (And a note: mint loves to send out runners. If it is not contained by pavers or a solid border, mint may well migrate into other areas; depending on where you have planted it, this could be a positive or a negative.)
If you are looking for a bright green border plant, try either curly or flat-leaved parsley, as they will contrast well with your colorful flowers and will withstand cold winter weather. And to grow over a wall or for a woodier, low-growing plant, try growing prostrate rosemary. It looks great in containers too.
Whatever your preference or climate zone, you will be able to find the perfect, edible ground cover for your yard. So choose, plant, harvest, and enjoy. Happy gardening!