Groundcover for full shade, wet, clay

kiosan(7b Oxford)July 1, 2008

Hello folks!

I have this problem at the western side of the house (house faces south). It's full shade, with deciduous and evergreen trees - so minimal light even in winter. It's also fairly wet, as that's where much of our run-off goes. It receives light traffic as it is the only sloping (as opposed to steps) access to the backyard, and it's terrible soil - clay, clay, clay.

Grass will not grow there. We tried it two years running and could not keep it in place (combination environmental conditions and run-off situation).

This is a naturalized, wooded area, not a formal bed and no hardscape to act as a barrier. The ivies seem to love it (poison and English), but I plan to kill those as soon as I can find some sort of replacement. I planted corsican mint and autumn and christmas ferns a month or so ago, but have barely even begun to cover the area. I certainly haven't even touched the ivy covered-bits yet. And with the erosion problem, I can't touch it until I have something that's at least a moderate grower, preferably evergreen.

I've been all over the web looking for ideas, including GNPS, but am concerned that the few groundcovers I find which might suit the light & soil would be almost as invasive as the ivy. Can anyone offer any ideas?

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satellitehead(z8 ATL Metro)

if you want to avoid invasive, it doesn't make much sense to go non-native IMHO. non-natives have a reputation for being invasive due to their non-native status...they have no natural predators and diseases to keep them in check.

how open to doing maintenance are you? that is, like with the ivy currently there, if you go with a vine as you're saying, there's a solid chance it's going to start growing up the side of the house, and you'll need to regularly cut it off the house lest it will do damage.

are you open to using a low-lying shrub like shore juniper? would you be open to shrubs?

as for the ivy, personally, i would go ahead and start killing it now, you've got a fight on your hands. i've been trying to kill some ivy (english, boston or otherwise) for almost 3 years in my backyard/creek area. no matter how much i dig out, no matter how many runners i pull, that crap keeps coming back over and over again. i firmly believe if you don't eradicate it first, you can rest assured it's bound to grow up between whatever you plant.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 6:08PM
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How about a low shrub? I have Clethra 'Hummingbird' and it loves wet conditions. It also loves to spread itself out. I now have 3 where I had two and many more runners are popping up. Being in the shade it might not bloom as much, but it will spread. The 'Hummingbird' cultivar seems more prone to spreading than the species plant - I have one of those (admittedly not in a wet location) and it hasn't moved an inch.

There are other native shrubs (taller) that will sucker well in wet conditions: Elderberry (Sambucus), Virginia sweetspire (Itea), Spicebush (Lindera), Viburnum nudum.

These are not evergreen however. But cover the ground underneath them with pine straw and it should all look nice.

    Bookmark   July 1, 2008 at 6:44PM
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I would probably also go with a mix of shrubs and perennials (with pine straw in between) and avoid the ground-covers, for fear of them being aggressive. You could also make a simple path (bark chip or gravel) to occupy some of the space.

I agree that you need to pull out the ivy first. We have cleared now about 1/3-1/2 acre of solid, knee-deep ivy, and if you don't get the roots out, it will come back. My husband "strimmed" the tops off as much as possible with one of those machines, so that we could at least see the root area (he's not very sensitive to poison ivy, which we also had a lot of). Then we've pulled it out by hand. Because the roots are so woody, you can pull them out quite successfully (unlike Mondo, which breaks off and leaves little pieces in the ground that then grow back).

Here are a few other possibilities for perennials/shrubs (some evergreen):

- Tiarella (Mobot says it needs constant moisture but that wet soil in winter will be fatal). I have some in full shade that is doing really well. I believe it is evergreen here (but not certain). Its native.

- Big-leaved architectural plants like Fatsia japonica, Ligularia, Farfugium, Rodgersia (some of these are evergreen).

- Actaea racemosa (same as Cimicifuga racemosa or Bugbane, this is native)

- Lobelia (native too) if you have a spot with some sun

There's also a dwarf form of the Sweetspire Esh suggested (Itea Virginica Little Henry), which gets only about 12-18" high.

I bought an Illicium floridanum "Shady Lady" recently (at Pike, and HD has them at the moment too). It says it can tolerate full shade (I'm thinking of putting mine in full shade) and Jeff_AL on this forum told me his needed constant moisture, so that might be an evergreen shrub possibility for you (it gets about 6' tall).

I'm linking below to a thread on the Perennials forum with a similar question.

Here is a link that might be useful: perennials thread

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 11:33AM
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moss would like those conditions except maybe the foot traffic but you could add some stones on a pathway if not too steep.
another plant to consider is pachysandra procumbens. it is a native groundcover and will grow well in shade.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 12:36PM
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Liriope spicata.

    Bookmark   July 2, 2008 at 3:17PM
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kiosan(7b Oxford)

Hey, thanks for all of the suggestions. I've no problem with doing a mix of plants and heights, but I'm trying to avoid a "bed" as we cannot keep mulch or pine straw in this area (just washes away at the first sight of rain).

I do prefer native, and thought the autumn and christmas ferns were native? I found a couple of what look like maidenhairs growing wild in the ivy and am trying to nurse them along, as well.

I like Elderberry and Tiarella. I thought the moisture might be too much for them, but I'll give them a shot and see how they do.

My husband suggested juniper, but it's just not my cup of tea. I saw that Theresa Schrum suggests Green-n-Gold as a native, evergreen, shady spreader and thought about finding a couple of those. Has anyone had any experience with those?

We do plan to do a path through that area at some point. Nothing too fancy, just some natural stone strategically laid, but I think it'll be next year at the earliest before we get to that.

We have some moss that I definitely want to hang on to. Basically, I'd like to keep this area as low-maintenance as possible, while adding plant cover to help control the erosion and a path later on to channel the run off.

Thanks again for all of the suggestions. You all are a great help!

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 11:55AM
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Christmas fern is native; autumn fern is not.
Native ferns that like wet areas are: New York fern, Lady fern, Cinnamon fern and Royal fern. None of them are evergreen though.

Green-n-Gold is a great groundcover. I found it this spring in Home Depot in quart containers, but I don't think they have any more. I'd be happy to give you a start if you were near; I'm north of Roswell a bit. I've got a clump in a planter that I have to place elsewhere.

Have you joined GNPS? You can find it on rescues as well as other cool things.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 1:16PM
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davidcf(7 GA)

For your spot, I wouldn't attempt anything but Vinca minor - non-aggressive, evergreen, beautiful, extremely tough. It takes off after a year or 2 but as I said, it's not aggressive like English Ivy. I've got it thriving under Bradford Pear weeds, I mean trees. Sorry, Vinca is not a native. I found that some of those touted natives, while lovely, like Clethra and Itea and Lobelia, REALLY like water, and suffered last summer.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 1:51PM
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to address your fears about planting something that might be as aggressive as ivy, vinca minor/major are on watch-lists for exotic invasive plants in the southeast u.s.
i have not been able to eradicate it from my place yet. it grows in sun or shade and keeps popping up (from runners beneath the leaf litter in my case) after you think you have pulled it all.
david must have it corralled by either edging or lawn where it can't escape easily but, in a woodland situation like you have, it can migrate into natural areas where it spreads rapidly.
that has been my experience with it, anyway, in zone 8a.

    Bookmark   July 3, 2008 at 3:16PM
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davidcf(7 GA)

Agree about Vinca major. But Vinca minor, yes, well, it will, at some point, slowly spread into my woods. As has volunteer Mahonia, Euonymus, Cleyera, Magnolia, and Holly. And just trying to keep the native Trumpet Vine out of my Eleagnus hedge (another potentially invasive non-native). And don't forget Chinese Privet (I hate Chinese Privet) which is EVERYWHERE.

I think I need another cup of coffee.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 11:55AM
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There are all kinds of aggressive plants, some native and some not. By carefully considering (and researching) your plant choices, you can have plants that don't create a problem for yourself and for others.

So while we are all dealing with the bad choices of other people, let's not knowingly be part of the problem ourselves. I'd stay away from either Vinca major or minor.

I have several areas of Itea, by the way, most of them not moist at all. All of the plants lived through the dry times last year; the ones in the dryest area near the street didn't look great, but then most other plants didn't look great either. This year these same plants bloomed their hearts out and look just fine.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2008 at 8:05PM
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