IVY ALTERNATIVES THAT SHINE: LESSINGIA (SILVER CARPET) VS. GAZANIA (SUN GOLD)
By Cassy Aoyagi: Looking for a low maintenance way to cover a large swath of ground? Ivy is a popular solution… and a popular habitat for rats and other undesirables. Both Lessingia and Gazania are cleaner, more water wise alternatives to ivy that also have the benefit of blooming. While both are lovely, the California native Silver Carpet outshines even South African Sun Gold. Here’s why.
Gazania (Sun Gold)
Native to South Africa, a Mediterranean climate with similar cultural hallmarks as California, Sun Gold is a staple ground cover in California and Los Angeles. Common in public areas, water-wise, low-maintenance, and comparably pest-free, Sun Gold provides a strong alternative to ivy in areas not susceptible to erosion. For example, it will spill over walls to soften structures and cover large spaces well. It needs only a simple but generous mow once a year, around February.
Sun Gold does have a few blemishes, including:
Inconsistent Performance. On its own, Sun Gold performs inconsistently and provides a short bloom period. When mixed with other varieties, given extra water, and frequently weeded, a Sun Gold mix will provide a riot of color for a longer period since each species will have slightly different bloom periods and habit.
Slow-Spreading. Sun Gold does not spread quickly or broadly enough to compete with volunteers and weeds. If given the water it really needs, it can easily be overwhelmed by less desirable plants.
Too Thirsty for Inland Use. Gazania will tolerate occasional water in cooler, moister areas along the coast, but it needs ample supplemental water to persist throughout the heat of summer in inland areas. It can become patchy or disappear if not watered enough, leaving the open areas susceptible to weeds and volunteers.
Fussy about Soil. Sun Gold provides no help with erosion control, as its roots are relatively shallow. Also, it is not happy in the clay soil common in many areas of Los Angeles County.
Lessingia (Silver Carpet)
Silver Carpet provides a low water, low maintenance alternative to ivy, Sun Gold and even traditional lawns. Like ivy and Sun Gold, it will spill over walls, beautifully cover large areas, and looks stunning in hanging baskets. Yet, it also:
Protects Slopes. Silver Carpet will protect slopes and provide erosion control in easy access and less sensitive slope areas.
Tolerates All LA Microclimates. Native to extreme climates throughout California, and thriving from Baja to Oregon, Silver Carpet tolerates elevations of nearly 8000 feet. It adapts to both inland and coastal salt conditions. With a small amount of supplemental water inland, Silver Carpet can thrive in full sun.
Spreads Quickly. A little Silver Carpet goes a long way. Each plant has a minimum radius of 8′ so there is no need to over plant. Nor is there a need for patience! Silver Carpet will provide 100 percent coverage in less than a year.
Okay in Clay. It may grow a little more slowly than in other soils, but Lessingia will tolerate pesky, clay soil. Where most plants fail, Silver Carpet will quickly and vibrantly grow.
Blooms Summer-Fall. Silver Carpet looks beautiful year round and dances with happy blooms from summer through fall.
Easy to Maintain. Maintenance is easy too. Once Lessingia fills in, it needs just one “mow-like” cut across the top of the dead blooms in early fall. Take it down to about 2-3″ in September or October, and it will rejuvenate quickly, showing off its shiny silvery foliage for another year.
Ready to rip out your ivy? Be sure to check the variety of Lessingias before you buy. Most native Lessingias are more variable and less reliable than Silver Carpet, and best left out in nature. Silver Carpet, on the other hand, seems made for the garden!
Partner Lessingia with Lilac Verbena, other silvery foliage like Artemisia californica or Zauschnerias to add splashes of complementary color. To see Silver Carpet and its companions in their full glory, visit the California native demonstration garden at La Cañada County Library.
For more guidance on where to plant big dry ones, see our past Wet-to-Dry Exchange articles.