In no ecosystem on the planet do the trees shed their bark and spread it evenly on the ground. Bark mulch is ugly, useless and even harmful to your plants. In decomposing, wood steals nitrogen from plants. It harbors slugs and may leach mercury into the soil.

Nature already invented something to cover bare earth: plants.

Use groundcovers in sun or shade. They are tough, resilient, drought-tolerant and leave little room for weeds to sprout. One thing you'll notice in my garden -- even this early in the season -- is that there's very little bare earth. 

Some of the best groundcovers for partial shade or sun include vinca (the variegated form is especially striking), many varieties of sedum, creeping phlox, bishop's hat (Epimedium), rock cress, miniature iris, lamium and lamiastrum. Add thyme, English ivy, lily-of-the-valley, creeping veronica, hens and chicks, lamb's ear, partridge feather and dianthus. 

There are dozens--perhaps hundreds--of good perennial ground covers. Plant them. Don't take your landscape cues from strip malls. Take it from me. 

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