Have you ever heard the saying, “Nature abhors a vacuum”? This idea can be applied to a lot of natural phenomenon. In the North East, Mother Nature just loves to fill up empty areas of disturbed soil with plants. In fact, it’s very uncommon for bare earth to be found in any naturally occurring ecosystem on the island. I often wonder why so much time and effort is spent on applying shredded bark mulch annually to cover the bare soil left in garden beds. Truthfully, living groundcovers do the same job more effectively and for years without any additional input from the gardener.
A great groundcover common from the Arctic all the way south to Georgia is Three-toothed Cinquefoil. The leaves of this tough little plant are reminiscent of alpine strawberries, but are evergreen, taking on hues of red in the fall and winter months. Clear white, buttercup-like flowers appear in late spring. This Potentilla is classified as a woody plant, as it does have 3-6″ woody stems.
Plant Potentilla tridentata in sandy or gravelly soils with excellent drainage and little water. It would be quite at home next to native grasses and sedges, like Carex pensylvanica (Pensylvania sedge) or Schizachyrium scoparium (Little Bluestem). Or try planting it as a drift in a more prominent area of the garden that is not irrigated.
Note: This plant has recently given it’s own genus and species. The new name is Sibbaldiopsis tridentata.