As the name suggests, groundcover is a type of plant that grows directly over the top of the ground and covers it. While there are several types of groundcover around, the most common and prolific type is the miniature shrub bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). In order to provide much-needed coverage and aesthetic appeal to soil-poor areas, groundcover plants are often evergreen, hardy, and low maintenance.
The Benefits of Groundcover
There are many practical reasons for planting groundcover like bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). For starters, it provides protection for your topsoil and prevents it from erosion and drought. Groundcovers are also known to be great for carrying out weed suppression and for adding an extra layer of texture to a garden area without requiring much effort on your part. You will like the way groundcover looks when properly installed.
Additionally, home and business owners have found all kinds of ways to incorporate groundcover into their landscaping design. Some have used it to create an alternate lawn in shady areas where grass won’t grow. Others have used groundcover like bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi) to fill up the spaces between flagstone and pavers. There are even some who simply use it as a type of living mulch that cools off the ground and regulates topsoil.
Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi)
A sturdy, evergreen dwarf shrub, the bearberry is a staple of the most northern parts of Europe, Asia, and North America. It features scarlet-colored berries, woody stems that can reach up to six feet long, and roots that spread out across the forest floor, creating a broad, leafy blanket over the ground. Its green leaves turn bronze in the wintertime, and in the spring, white and pink flowers erupt.
Bearberries are classified under the genus Arctostaphylos, which comes from the Greek words arktos (bear) and staphylos (a bunch of grapes). The uva-ursi addition to its Latin name means “berry-of-bear.” In everyday life, it is most commonly referred to as “bearberry,” but this shrub also has a variety of other names, including the following:
- Kinnikinnick (Algonquian)
- Red bearberry
- Bear’s bilberry
- Bear’s grape
- Raisin d’ours (French)
- Hog cranberry
Growing Bearberry Groundcover
Bearberries are a hardy, evergreen plant, withstanding some of the toughest climate conditions all year round. Low maintenance and able to grow in some of the poorest soils, it is an excellent option for areas that struggle to grow plants of any kind. However, there are a few things you should know about planting and growing bearberries in order to get the most out of them.
When to Plant
It is highly recommended that they be planted in the springtime.
Where to Plant
They can thrive in poor or sandy soil in areas that have plenty of space for them to spread. They need either full sun or partial shade, and they are best suited for climate zones 2-7.
In the first year, they can be slow to grow, but be patient. Over time, they will grow faster and faster, rapidly spreading across the ground. To speed things up, you can propagate your bearberries by clipping off stems, placing them in rooting hormone powder, and then planting them in the desired areas.
Caring for Bearberries
Bearberries are an extremely low maintenance shrub. They do not need fertilizer, and they’re extremely tolerant to droughts and colder climates. At most, simply water them occasionally to ensure they are receiving enough hydration.
Once planted and fully grown, you can expect the flowers on bearberries to bloom from May to June. By mid-August, the fruit matures and remains on the plant until wintertime.
Common Uses for Bearberry
In modern times, bearberry is often used as groundcover, but through the centuries it also had many other uses. Thanks to its medicinal and nutritional value, it was often a key resource for survival with records of its uses stretching back to the 13th century.
Bearberry is one of the best shrubs to plant for groundcover. Their red and green colorings, as well as their pink and white flowers, make them a very attractive option for any type of landscaping project. You can have them spread out across an area with poor soil, or drape them over the edges of walls, rocks, or slopes. Bearberry is also salt-resistant, making it an excellent option for individuals who live by the sea.
During their expedition across the western United States, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark noted that bearberries were often used as a source of food by local Native Americans. While Lewis dismissed the berries as “a very tasteless and insipid fruit,” they were nevertheless widely sought after by Native Americans and, later, white settlers. Native Americans would often cook the berries in salmon oil, bear fat, or fish eggs for added flavor, and they would be mixed in with various soups and stews. Some individuals would even take the leaves and mix them with tobacco.
The very first documented use of bearberries was by the Physicians of Myddfai, a succession of physicians that appear in Welsh folklore from the 13th century. It is also believed that the Chinese used bearberries for medicinal purposes around the same time. The leaves of bearberries contain two glucosides, as well as tannic and gallic acid. This created potent astringent and diuretic effects in humans which could help with arthritis, headaches, bladder problems, skin care, inflammation, and more.
Thanks to their red and green coloring, bearberries are often used as holiday decorations during Christmastime. You can often find them in garlands and wreaths alongside other holiday plants.