Saturday, March 27, 2010

Creeping Charlie Covers Ground

Glechoma (aka Creeping Charlie) does what ground covers do best; it covers ground.  Native to Europe and parts of Asia, Creeping Charlie was introduced to North America by early settlers who carried it with them for its usefulness.  It was described in the 2nd century A.D. for its medicinal properties and prescribed to reduce swelling.  Saxons used it for preserving and flavoring beer.  Even today, tea is brewed from the herb as a satisfying beverage and source of vitamin C.  Once imported to our shores, it took off, and can be found in nearly every region of the country.

(Being an inquisitive fellow, I often wonder why plants were named so.  In this case, who was Charlie?  Why does this plant bear his name?  And who, for that matter was creeping Jenny?  Suspicious characters, perhaps, whose given names remain infamous?)

The genus, Glechoma, is a relative of mints in the Lamiaceae family.  It used to be included in the Nepeta genus, along with Catmint.  You'll see the family resemblance upon inspection.  Glechoma includes about 12 species, with G. hederacea being most common.  Glechoma (pronounced gle-KOH-muh) refers to its minty-fresh relatives.  Hederacea (pronounced hed-er-AY-see-uh) means "having to do with ivy."  Because it grows along the ground, setting down roots where the nodes touch the ground, it is sometimes called Ground Ivy.  Other common names include Gill-Over-The-Ground, Ale-hoof and Tun-hoof, all of which refer to the shape of the leaf and its use by brewers.  The foliage is evergreen, sometimes variegated, with scalloped edges.  Leaf size is about that of a cat's paw, so it is also known as Cat's Foot.  (Any plant having a long association with man is bound to be called lots of things.)  Flowers, produced mid-spring to mid-summer, are light blue.  Height is usually less than 4".

Glechoma grows very low, spreads very quickly, and forms a dense carpet.  Its growth habit might have earned it the name, Creeping Charlie.  But perhaps "creeping" isn't the correct word.  Runaway-Robin, another common name, may be more accurate.

I have often argued that a weed is simply a plant that is in the wrong place, or for which a person is ignorant of a use.  So glechoma is often considered to be a weed, and invasive at that.  As a medicinal herb may be anti-inflammatory, but for its detractors it's provocative.  For them I suggest that they exhibit some tolerance.  Either don't plant it, plant it in the right place, or brew it.  Live with it.

Glechoma, as you know by now, is an excellent ground cover.  (Who would want a ground cover that doesn't cover ground?)  It performs better in shade than most grasses.  It is more drought-tolerant than many grasses.  It tolerates foot traffic very well.  It doesn't require mowing.  It smells good when you tread on it.  So forget about the grass and grow glechoma.  More good news:  it's deer resistant!

It also looks great in hanging baskets, container gardens, and cascading over the edges of planters and terraces.  For collectors of herbs with historical or medicinal interest, it's a natural.

Glechoma thrives in full sun to full shade in well-drained soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  It is hardy in USDA climate zones 4 through 9.  That just about covers everything.

Before you plant, take a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The fee is nominal, but that's because you're already paying for their services with your tax dollars.  (Use it or lose it.)  The results will specify any necessary soil amendments.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants 24" to 30" apart. (How economical is that?  Extremely so.) Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1" deep.

Plant glechoma with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

This is a low-maintenance plant, having no serious pests or diseases.  The greatest cause of failure is planting it in an environment that is not to its liking, but most are very much to its liking.

With all this in mind, you should know that glechoma will not take over your earth.  You are the boss.  Establish its limits.  Glechoma should work very well for you.

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