Ground cover plants for weed control in amenity horticulture : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Plant Science at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
Aspects of the establishment and use of ground cover plants for urban weed control were investigated. Established ground cover populations of different taxa were monitored over 1 year at 14 sites for their ability to block light from the soil and prevent weeds from establishing. Field trials compared 12 ground cover species of widely differing growth form for rate of establishment and ability to block light and suppress weeds. Another field trial compared various types of mulch with selective herbicides and hand weeding as techniques for establishing ground cover species. No single growth form was superior to others, and it was the density of the foliage that was key to suppressing weeds. Ground cover plants should be selected for having persistently dense canopies throughout the year, such as Coprosma acerosa ‘Taiko’ and Juniperus procumbens. Deciduous species like Persicaria capitata, evergreen species which become sparser in winter like Pimelea prostrata, and plant canopies which open up during flowering like Grevillea lanigera, all allow weeds to germinate while the ground is exposed. Ground cover plants appear to deter weeds mainly by keeping weed seeds dormant through preventing red light from reaching weed seeds and triggering a phytochrome response leading to germination. Keeping the ratio of red to far-red light below 0.3 appeared to give best inhibition of weed seed germination. Presence of mulch and spot application of selective herbicides can help prevent weeds causing problems should gaps appear within ground covers, and these may be preferable to hand weeding. Little herbicide tolerance information exists for ornamental ground cover plants, so herbicide tolerance trials were conducted on eight ground cover plant species. This work showed that herbicides can aid in ground cover plant establishment and subsequent maintenance to selectively spot-treat weeds that appear. Ground cover species were assessed which grow low enough to be mowed but which seldom need mowing, to replace grass turf in situations where mowing is inconvenient such as under trees, on slopes, or roadsides. Dichondra micrantha and Soleirolia soleirolii showed the most potential, forming dense low growing swards that tolerated a wide range of herbicides.