Groundcover suggestions for a tricky situation

RattiemamaJune 4, 2012

Hello all! I am new to this forum, so bear with me if I did something wrong.

I am looking for a groundcover solution that can hold up to two dogs and an active toddler. It also needs to be dog and kid safe (non-toxic and not dangerous for dogs or kids, so no thorns etc), stay green all year, and not be mowed. I'm in zone 10a and considering Corsican Mint, one of the thymes, or whatever you suggest! More details below.

I have a small backyard that is largely hardscaped with planters around the edges. The center has an 8' diameter circle and four wedge shapes coming off it that are currently wood chips. I considered fake grass, but just recoil at the idea. Real grass would probably have trouble with the dogs, and definitely need mowing. I am considering putting some stepping stones around the circle, etc, and filling in with ground cover plants to minimize the stepping they get.

We are deemed zone 10a. I'm in the San Francisco area, but get generous sun between the fog. It is an area that gets a lot of direct sun. Right now, over 10 hours, in the winter more like 7. There are two dogs and a toddler that use the yard a lot every day.

I'm leaning towards Corsican Mint (mint is one of my favorite plants, and I have several types growing elsewhere in the garden) or one of the ornamental thymes, since I am trying to keep the garden largely edible. Will they hold up to a kid playing ball, occasionally mashing it with a plastic tricycle when he gets off the path, and dogs chasing each other? How long will they need to be roped off from the animals after planting?

Thanks in advance for any advice!

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Corsican mint is not a wonderful choice for an area that gets full sun and/or reflected heat from pavers. And it is not the slightest bit drought tolerant. Best in a consistently moist (not wet) and partly shaded setting, even up here in the cool, damp PNW.

Creeping thymes could certainly work - they love both the heat and the dryness but they flower heavily in summer and the flowers attract bees. Something to keep in mind with small kids and dogs.

Leptinella or brass buttons may be a good choice. Low growing and mat-like, it looks much like a tiny fern and is very soft and squishy - great for bare feet! It does bloom but not heavily and not to the same bee-attracting degree as thyme. Will tolerate some pretty hot, dry conditions but would prefer routine watering.

Artifical turf - fake grass - is not an unreasonable choice. Extremely low (virtually no) maintenance, you just hose it down from time to time as necessary to clean. A very smart choice in areas with water issues or restrictions, like much of SoCal. And almost indistinguishable from the real stuff at a glance.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2012 at 2:15PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Not sure if mint/thyme will hold up to a ton of foot traffic but those aren't terrible choices. Also look at blue star creeper (isotoma) and mazus reptans which are perhaps a bit more durable. Leptinella is also durable.

I would wait a month or so after planting before allowing much foot traffic.

    Bookmark   June 13, 2012 at 8:05PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Just looked at Corsican mint and creeping thyme -- both rated as "high traffic." I say go for whatever suits your taste.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2012 at 12:51PM
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Thank you both for your responses! I started looking into the Leptinella, and I do like the looks of it, but what I'm seeing online says it prefers shade. Will it do ok in that much sun? As for water, we hardly ever get restricted up here in northern CA, and I have no problem watering it several times a week if necessary.

Good to know it's too much sun for the mint. Thanks for saving me that headache! As for the thyme, would it attract bees as much as clover? I'd definitely prefer not to attract them at that kind of volume, but a few here and there wouldn't bother me.

It looks like the blue star creeper is highly toxic, so it's a no-go for the dogs. I can't seem to find info on whether the mazus reptans is or not, which makes me think it's not, so it could be a good option. It looks like it needs more water, but as I said, that's not a huge issue. I do like the looks of it, and how quickly it's reputed to spread.

I know the artificial turf is practical, but fake plants just bug me. Even if you can't tell the difference on sight, you can by touch and smell. I haven't totally ruled it out, but it just seems wrong!

Thanks again! Looking more at both suggestions!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2012 at 5:46PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

I've researched Leptinella quite a bit. It is from New Zealand. Everything I have read suggests it will be fine in full sun as long as it stays reasonably moist. It should stay evergreen year round in your zone, but it doesn't reliably do so in Zone 9. Platt's Black is a very interesting cultivar. You might want to try a small amount to see how it does. I am unsure of its toxicity but I doubt it is non-toxic (the vast majority of plants are toxic if consumed in large amounts). It probably will feel great to walk on, though.

The mint advice is definitely right on -- full sun is a no go.

The thyme I believe has smallish flowers, so in theory they wouldn't be huge bee magnets. I do not have experience with it though, so I would recommend doing some more research on it.

Mazus does need some moisture. Though it prefers some afternoon shade, it would probably (like Leptinella) do okay in full sun if you water vigilantly. I doubt that Mazus is non-toxic.

I know the blue star is reported to be a skin irritant (I've touched it a great deal and never had an issue.) It is also toxic if consumed in large amounts, like most plants but I am not aware of it being particularly toxic (like carolina jessamine where only a flower or two can kill a small child or dog). There are few plants that are truly non-toxic -- mostly true herbs. So, if you are worried, I would go with the thyme. That said, I doubt either your kids or dogs would be able to put away enough blue star or leptinella to cause a problem.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 12:44AM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Just saw some creeping thyme in bloom -- it is quite a show so I imagine bees would be an issue. I work with bee-infested plants all the time though and they don't really mess with me. Best of luck with your decision. Post some pics of what the final product looks like.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 12:53PM
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Ajuga - aka Bugleweed... perhaps.

    Bookmark   June 18, 2012 at 4:24PM
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Leptinella is reliably evergreen (or everblack) even in my zone......not sure where that zone 9 info is originating from :-) Thyme indeed an issue with bees - more so even than clover. Mazus could produce the same sort of activity. No toxicity issues that I am aware of.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 6:39PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

Zone 8, not Zone 9. Sorry about that.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 8:36PM
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mistascott(7A VA)

It is listed as reliably evergreen to zone 9, though of course not every area that is considered zone 8 gets zone 8 temps every year. Zone 8 is probably on the border for it staying evergreen and there are probably other factors (wind, snow cover, moisture) that affect whether it stays evergreen.

I am in Zone 7 and it is reliably deciduous here.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2012 at 9:19PM
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