Yet another groundcover question

deirdre_2007(7)March 14, 2009

I've searched this forum and read quite a few previous posts. I've done my research and I'm down to a few candidates. This is an area of my yard, that has sat unlandscaped for at least 8 years, mostly because it is so vast, but this year I've decided to just take it in smaller pieces and eventually the job will get done.

I will have evergreen shrubs planted at the back of the section, and I will use liriope as a border plant. I already have them and they need to be divided, so I'm sure to have enough plants to do that. It's the middle of this section that I need to plan. I'd like to have a ground cover that will cover fast, since the area that I plan on tackling this year is about 20 x 20. The entire area is about 80 x 50, but one step at at time.

I don't have the funds to plant this entire area in one year. So I'd like to put down the ground cover this year, and edge it with my free liriope. Eventually, I'll be planting bulbs, small shrubs, annuals, perrennials etc. So the ground cover, will have to allow me to intersperse other plants.

The main criteria for my groundcover, is that it is fast growing, without being invasive, deer resistant and drought tolerant once established. It must be able to withstand a moderate slope.

This section gets morning shade and full sun from about noon on. I have already raked and weeded the area, but the ground is like cement. Hard sun baked clay. (Trust me, I know this is the most important element of the job.) I plan on breaking up the ground, adding topsoil (due to the size of the area and cost), and compost, as much as I can get my hands on :). I also need the plant not to be toxic because I have two small children, so if any of my choices are toxic, please let me know.

I'd like it to be evergreen, but not necessary. Flower color isn't my main concern. What I really want is something that will fill the area, without being sparse and patchy. Since, I want it to be the "base" of the area, I really don't want anything that will choke everything else out, nor do I want it to be much taller than 6-8 inches, 12 inches maximum. We have loads of deer and rabbit, so again, something they won't feast on, is really key. Oh, and finally (goodness, I want the world, sorry for the long post), I'll probably have to sow from seed due to the size of the area to cut down on costs, so if you think it won't be readily available in this format, or just a bear to grow from seed, please advise.

Whew! My candidates (in no order of preference):

Iberis Semperverins (Candytuft)

Mazus Reptans "Alba"

Ajuga R "Burgandy Glow"

Delosperma Cooperi (Ice Plant)

Phlox (would love suggestions for best spreading form)


Sedum (would love them, but the ones I really like, are the taller varieties. Perhaps, I'll just add them as filler, not a ground cover)

Thank you for reading throught this exhaustive post, and I look forward to your suggestions, on the groundcover as well as tips/tricks for fixing the cement clay.


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You didn't mention whether you want evergreen or not. I have a large sloping berm in my backyard that I have several clumps of purple "Old Homestead" verbena on. It grows well in poor soil, doesn't use alot of water. Flowers heavily, green from March-October here. A few clumps will fill a large area, inexpensive. Cons: it can spread like a demon, I give away clumps to anyone who who like some. But it doesn't spread by seed so it IS manageable. Deer and rabbits do no harm that I can see, in fact rabbits LIVE in mine on occasion. You can see some in the foreground here.
Also, creeping thyme, shown there is a nice easy groundcover that spreads.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 12:50PM
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You don't say if you intend to let the kids play in this open spot. If you do then lawn grass is just about the only thing that will tolerate the foot traffic.

Most of the stuff on your list won't enjoy the blazing hot sun in the afternoon and none of them will like the clay.

Pachysandra is a shade plant that sits still for many years so I wouldn't consider it a fast grower. The Mazus and Ajuga are fast growers but they don't like full sun - well I have seen Mazus take over places in full sun but they were getting watered often.

Delosperma should work but it hates to be stepped on. Creeping phlox and most of the sedums should do well but again, they hate to be trampled. You wouldn't even have to haul it tons of topsoil, just an inch or so of sandy soil (not to rich) would keep them happy. Most are evergreen but phlox will form dead patches over time and need to be worked on.

I've grown Iberis from seed but it didn't bloom the first year and took a while to fill out (years). It isn't much of a carpet forming plant in my experience - if you want that sort of look.

Unless you really plan on hauling in a lot of topsoil/compost I wouldn't work things into the clay. In my experience it only extends the clay soil. It works better to build up a layer of better soil on top of the clay and let the earthworms mix the two layers over time. A lot of the plants on your list don't really want rich soil anyway and most have very shallow roots so just an inch or so of soil should do it.

Different things work in different yards so you could just work the soil and then plant a mixture of different plants and see which one takes off and then plant more of it.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:08PM
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Sorry, more information. Because of the slope, my husband does not want to have to mow it and I really don't blame him. The kids will be playing near it, but if they listen and behave (HAHA) then they shouldn't be trampling on it!

Yes TJ, I was looking for more of a carpet forming look. Also, I would have been really disappointed if it took years, and years to fill in. I think I'll look again into the iceplant and phlox. I personally love both, I just want to make sure they'll really fill in. I've seen wonderful pictures of phlox filled in, I've yet to witness it first hand. As I drive around, I see phlox everywhere, but it is usually patchy.

I love verbena, but I never thought of it as a real ground cover? Is that just me? How long would it take? I have some in other parts of my yard, but they've been mulched for a few years, and none of them seem big enough to divide, let alone fill a large area. TIA for all your assistance.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:17PM
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Creeping thyme will give you quick coverage and you can sow it from seed. My crocus bulbs come up through it just fine and those are the smallest bulbs that I plant. Thyme will not be bothered by deer or rabbits. Evergreen.

Delosperma cooperii can easily be sown from seed once frost has passed. Once you have plants, you can pinch off sprigs and stick them in ground and keep moist (not soggy) for a few days and they take off. No deer or rabbit problems, but you cannot walk on it as John said. Considered evergreen since it doesn't die back, but it will look a bit drab in winter compared to summer. Beautiful blooms. I have other plants with my ice plant, but don't have bulbs in there. Don't see that as a problem until you want to walk on it to plant the bulbs.

Ajuga can get a bit of wintertime nibbles from rabbits. Deer seem to leave it alone. In summer, I've had no problems with munching.

Don't be surprised if your liriope gets eaten. :-(

I brought in garden soil by the dump truck load and put it on top of the soil. Only deep planting goes into the original soil. Plenty of earthworms and it drains well, too.


    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 2:23PM
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Tammy Kennedy

I completely second TJ's advice of planting a number of things and seeing what does best in your situation. Sounds like that would look nice for what you have planned anyhow. Plus, if disease runs through one thing, you only lose a patch rather than your whole area.

Homestead will fill in fast, no doubt. But it's not evergreen. There's a type of heliotrope that fills in nicely and covers about 3 -5 sq feet per summer, but it's also not evergreen. The roots go deep deep, so it would be good for stabilization. I have starts that i could give you. It does handle full sun, no problem. Wine cups are another beautiful ground cover type plant. I find mine dies out mid summer then resprouts and respreads later again. It's not evergreen. Georgia blue veronica can handle afternoon sun and slopes and is evergreen, spreads well but stuff comes up through it, gorgeous when it blooms, and short. It doesn't have a definite spread size- it roots as it goes so it can go indefinitely but is easy to pull if it gets too far. There are some ornamental creeping oreganos that would do well in those conditions (one is chartreuse, the other green with white edges)- campbell rd nursery sells them by the flat. They have a really good selection of ground covers, actually.

Another thought would be fast growing annual ground covers for fast cover and color while you wait for the perennials to fill in. Some good ones would be any of the ornamental sweet potatoes, the wave petunias, million bells, portulaca and similar creepy type plants. Any vine, if not given something to climb, will spread for you.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 3:33PM
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I have about four or five homestead verbenas planted on the side of my driveway. The area is heavily mulched with cedar mulch. I will admit to not fertilizing them since I planted them. But two years later, they are pretty much the exact same size as when I planted them. Now the first year was the horrific drought of 2007 and then last year, they weren't fertilized. Is that why, they haven't spread like everyone else is suggesting they do? I'll be planting them in an area that is not mulched, it will just be the soil that I bring in. TIA.

OOOHH, I like the idea of an annual vine. How would sweet pea do? I always discounted it thinking it would need a trellis. Honestly, the area is so ugly now, that even if I put one measly plant there it would be an improvement.

I am not familiar with it, but I would gladly take you up on your offer for some heliotrope starts. Thank you. I'm not familiar with wine cups? And, I thought I remember reading, again no personal knowledge, that the Georgia blue veronica likes to be moist. I was hoping for something, that once established, was more drought tolerant.

Cameron (love your blog BTW), I thought about the Creeping thyme but I bought some for my sister last year, (she's in MA Zone 5) and she said that all of them died. But when I look at the pictures of it, I just fall in love with it. Perhaps, I'll look in to that also.

I want to thank everyone for their helpful advice and I thank my lucky stars every day for this site. Even if I can't offer advice, I just love reading all the posts when I have the time.

Once, I have made my decisions, I promise to update everyone. And now that I have a bit more time on my hands, one in Kindergarten, maybe I'll even do some before and after pics. TY!

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 5:04PM
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Tammy Kennedy

Deidre, you can't live all that far- why don't we plan to have you come over and get some stuff sometime it works for both of us? Let me know if you're up for that.

I can get you seed for wine cups (hibiscus family- google them), and maybe a start, seeds for perennial sweet peas- but be warned they are hard to get rid of once started! The roots go to china. They aren't fragrant but are semi evergreen and do make good ground cover. The annul type only likes cool weather. Also the heliotrope and georgia blue. I have some growing in semi shade and some in bright afternoon sun, no water. It does just fine and spreads happily! I also have some sedums that spread well i could give you starts of.

As far as annual vines- i was thinking more along the lines of black eyed susan vine, morning glories, and things like those. Anything that's heat resistant. Know if they find an object to climb they will.

I'd say the reason your homestead didn't take off was the drought. If this summer is a decent one it should go go go. I never used to fertilize mine where i had it and had no issues.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2009 at 5:54PM
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Ok, I do not want to plant anything that is going to take over the world. I'll save that for maniacs!!!

Tamelask, I don't think we're that far either. I remember reading that you're in Garner, and I'd be more than willing to travel in the name of plants!!! I stay at home with my girls, and one is in Kindergarten and the other is still home with me, so my schedule is pretty flexible. I'll send you an email.

Thank you!!

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 10:21AM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

Moderate slope, full afternoon sun..sounds like what I have at the other house, front yard.
What survived and thrived was carpet rose,St.Johns wort (the running not the bushy) and what was best for me was artemesia. Nice color contrast, loves the lower part of the slope and gets full coverage in a couple of years. Rabbits and deer don't mess with it either.
Love ice plant, use it alot at this house but it will be overrun by liriope if you use spicata (the running type).
Might try tucking in some summer flowering lily(asiatic) bulbs while you plant the other ground covers.
I don't know that pachysandra will like the full afternoon sun. This is a plant that thrives up North in full shade under trees. Try also burying a few flower pots so you can tuck annual color in them without having to dig through the ground cover every year.

    Bookmark   March 15, 2009 at 12:27PM
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