ideas for shade groundcover as lawn replacement

philosopher(Zone 5a WI)June 18, 2008


My entire front yard is covered in mixed groundcovers, which gives the lawn a very nice patchwork effect. Now I have intentionally killed the grass on our easement lawn, which is covered by a large basswood tree, and I'd like to plant a single groundcover to substitute the lawn. I understand that many of the groundcovers I select may be deciduous, which may create a potentially muddy situation every winter. Tips on avoiding that would be appreciated.

What cultivar of groundcover would you recommend for this situation? It will get lots of snow, and possibly some salt, in winter and some but not much sun in summer. I know, a tough situation. But I categorically refuse to put lawn back in there! Any suggestions welcome. Thank you!

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Vince minor.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2008 at 10:16PM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

I considered vinca, but I read that the USDA considers it an invasive plant species. What about a prostrate juniper like Prince of Wales? Will it get enough sun under that tree? It will get enough sun during spring, fall & winter, when the tree's leaves are gone, but it will definitely be in light shade over the summer. Thoughts?

    Bookmark   June 19, 2008 at 12:55AM
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I live close to Wisconsin border and use several ground covers. Pachysandra is my favorite --- it's not deciduous, but actually, evergreen (fades over the winter, but still green). It is growing (primarily) under oaks, in full shade. All it needs is reasonable moisture and what it really likes is leaf compost. The oak trees dump inches of leaves on it every year and it loves it! I do not fertilize it or anything. Only watered it to establish and in droughts.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 6:04PM
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Invasive??? Where it going to invade? It's surrounded by concrete. It's not going to junp over the concrete. Vinca is a great choice!

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 6:19PM
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philosopher(Zone 5a WI)

Regarding vinca minor, I am afraid that birds would somehow carry the seed or otherwise spread it. It is listed as a threat to woodland undergrowth on the USDA's invasive plants database:

I like pachysandra or mother-of-thyme right now. Still open to other options! Thanks again for everyone's input.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2008 at 10:46PM
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Hi Philosopher.

I really like the big root geranium. They are not evergreen but green up very quickly in the spring. I also go to sweet woodruff, carex ice fountains, and chrysagonum virginianum. What about russian cypress?? I love that ground cover for shade...but not sure about salt.
Fun project. The front yard looks lovely-well done!

    Bookmark   July 7, 2008 at 10:18PM
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Another vote for pachysandra. In my yard it laughs at road chemicals and salt along a long stretch of major roadway.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2008 at 3:09PM
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I'm in neighboring Iowa. In dry shade, I love the big root geranium, too. It really has stood the test of time and has made big weed-choking clumps in my yard.

Of course, in my town, most people have hostas planted under the trees -- so that seems to work well too.

I need to thin the geranium, so if you wanted some starts for postage, just e-mail me.
Good luck

    Bookmark   August 16, 2008 at 3:38PM
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Hey, you might be in my neck of the woods...similar style homes where I live.

I've had pachysandra (japanese spurge) in both full sun and full shade, and they've done spectacular in each area.

I supplement water in full sun when needed, but have never had issues with browning. Stays evergreen for me year round, tolerates snowblowing in the winter along with the driveway salt.

I would recommend fertilizing upon planting and each year in early spring, though not a requirement. They like acid based soil - I use a tomato fertilizer, or sometimes I've used the all purpose 15-30-15 Miracle Gro. Either would be fine. Water frequently until established.

**I would highly recommend a light (shredded) mulch the first year, that will carry over to year two, and by the third year it will not be necessary.**

Space approx 8" apart and within three years they'll fill in completely (keep the ground moist to encourage growth) - once established, they're VERY hardy and a beautiful groundcover also effective for choking out weeds (or anything else you plant there for that matter). I planted this in an area where I could not get rid of bishops weed for the life of me, and within a couple of years it was wiped out completely.

Plant it deeper than it was in the flats to encourage more root growth.

They have a fairly shallow root system, not invasive by any stretch of the imagination but will spread by underground runners if not contained. I don't have this problem because it's between a retaining wall and a sidewalk, but if you will be planting among other perennials, I'd recommend a plastic border.

This is one of the very few plants to grow successfully (thrive, actually) under evergreens.

The only place I have NOT been successful in growing this is next to my overtowering maple on easement lawn - the roots of the tree stand at ground level, not enough depth to the topsoil for the pachy to spread their roots. I COULD add more soil to this area, but not sure how healthy that would be for the tree??

I do have Vinca growing under this tree, but it grows VERY slow for me (not enough moisture?), and overall I'm not impressed with it -not much presence so to speak, and IMHO Vinca would look better in an elevated bed surrounding a tree rather than as a singular groundcover as a whole.

Once you have pach, you'll never go back. LOL

Good luck!

    Bookmark   August 23, 2008 at 2:17PM
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