Best way to impoverish the soil?

WisteriaJanuary 12, 2014

I know that's a provocative title, but I'm seriously considering it.

Here's what I want to accomplish: I have a small slope between the front lawn and public sidewalk, with widely-spaced juniper shrubs. I want to plant a groundcover to fill in the spaces around the junipers and prevent weeds.

The perfect groundcover would be low-maintenance, evergreen, a regional native, feed some wildlife but not appeal to deer, have flowers and berries.

I believe Bearbery (arctostaphylos uva-ursi) has those qualities and is ALMOST a perfect match for conditions - sun, eastern mid-Atlantic zone 6. However, the descriptions say it prefers poor, sandy dry soil.

I'm not sure whether the soil there is loam or clay, but it definitely is not sandy, and is moist not dry. We just recently moved in, and didn't know enough to mulch the bare areas, and within it seems like 2 weeks there was a VERY lush growth of ugly weeds. It took hours to dig all the weeds out.

So I was thinking of planting large boulders between the junipers, and removing a layer of soil all over, mix it with sand (what kind?) to hopefully make it less hospitable for the weeds but more so for the bearberry. I know usually people want to enrich, not impoverish, their soil, but I really want the bearberry.

Is this a ridiculous idea? Is this the right way to prep the area for bearberry? Pls comment - I've never done any gardening before and am totally new at this.

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You will probably get great ideas from the North American Rock Garden Society's website. They are not exclusive to natives, but the slope with large rocks would lend itself to much of this type of landscaping. As for the natives, they do include some, and you can check out our natives that prefer dry after you amend/change the soil.

Here is a link that might be useful: North American Rock Garden Society

    Bookmark   January 12, 2014 at 8:17AM
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If I took the title of this literally "plant cotton and Eastern red cedar". Both drain nutrients from the soil.

However, most plants like rich soil with organic matter. What plants that "like" sandy poor soil like is good drainage and/or lack of competition with weeds. So, you could add a layer of gravel and cover it with a layer of sand for drainage?

I love the idea of Bearberry, but it grows very slowly. You need to plant a lot of won't spread to fill in gaps quickly.

The other (risky) thing you could try with bearberry is add a little is a salt tolerant beach plant, and could probably survive more salt then most weeds.

It almost sounds like what you are going for will end up a "faux" beach. Other things you could scatter around the landscape are Beach Plum (makes edible fruit) Beach Pea (Lathyrus japonicus) and Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica). Although the Beach Plum might attract deer.

Oh, one risk you have to worry about is erosion. Weeds do control erosion...a sloped area covered with sand could erode in the rain. The boulders could control that, and the bearberry would once they spread.

This post was edited by edlincoln on Mon, Jan 13, 14 at 12:25

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 11:16AM
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Here is a question for you - it seems that you want to make this a low maintenance area and put in a ground cover type of plant that will thrive on your slope and choke out weeds. Why are you making more work for yourself choosing a possibly innapropriate plant for the area in question that may not even grow well in your conditions?
I have always said to gardeners if you put a plant in a spot where you think it would look good, it may not grow. If you put the plant you want in the conditions it requires, it will always look good.
Don't fight the conditions you have - take advantage of them and plant the groundcover that would work well.

Epimedium is fairly indestructable in shade or sun - dry or moist.
Sweet woodruff spreads quickly enough if fertilized to choke out weeds.
Dwarf Ivy - use a variegated variety for more color.
Hay Scented Fern - a quickly spreading groundcover for sun/shade.

You didn't mention which climate zone you are in - if I knew that, there would be even more suitable plants to use. Use what will work in your garden! It is easier to go along with nature rather that going against it. There are many things you can use that would look amazing. Bearberry is a beautiful plant, but put it somewhere else - in a spot where it will grow! And putting salt on it is not the way to get it established while keeping other weeds down! Good luck to you -

    Bookmark   January 13, 2014 at 2:13PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I'm with Jebfarm. Plant something that will be happy with what you have. What about low growing native grasses? Prairie Dropseed is lovely and doesn't grow very tall. It would require trimming back in spring. Virginia Creeper is a vigorous native vine that grows almost anywhere. It would need trimming to keep it in check, but a pair of shears would make quick work of that. Good luck.


    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 8:07AM
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Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) is a well-behaved, native ground cover that is an evergreen. It also produces edible berries used for teas and flavorings. Wildlife (deer included) love the berries but leave the foliage alone. It prefers part-sun to shade too.

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 1:18PM
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I'm absolutely with Docmom, Prairie Dropseed is my FAVORITE native grass...just beautiful form.
Plant an appropriate plant...don't try to doctor for an inappropriate plant.
Patridgeberry would work if your area has some shade (you didn't really say). Actually...why don't you repost with your location, conditions, etc...we can probably advise much better with the bare facts :)

    Bookmark   January 15, 2014 at 2:18PM
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I have to agree that you may be going about this the wrong way. After thoroughly reading what you want to accomplish, I think that Ajuga might be a good fit. It enjoys moist conditions, is widely adaptable to different types of soil, bears pretty flowers and comes in a wide range of colors, leaf shapes and blossom colors. It DOES tolerate clay and will do well in shady or partially sunny areas, which means the ones shaded from the junipers will not suffer. It is a semi-evergreen, creeping perennial. It is also called Bugleweed. And you wouldn't have to "impoverish" your soil to plant it. :) Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Ajuga-Bugleweed

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 11:47AM
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I agree that doctoring that site would be more work than it is worth, and likely you will not achieve what you envision. I plan to plant bearberry as well, but I think my site can handle it/is more appropriate, if not, I may try to grow it on a smaller scale--creating a small pocket of appropriate soil seems much more doable than what you describe, and if it doesn't work, then I guess one should just enjoy it in nature.

Assuming you want to keep things native, ajuga does not fit the bill.

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 6:32PM
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kchd(7b/8a MS)

I'll throw another suggestion into the mix to avoid messing with the soil. Glandularia canadensis. I'm not sure what state the original poster is in, but they should check to see if it would work for them.

Here is a link that might be useful: Glandularia canadensis

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 8:10PM
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jcalhoun(8b Mobile County AL)

I have been using strawberries as ground cover. Looks good and taste better!

    Bookmark   January 20, 2014 at 10:12PM
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Have you thought of digging it out a bit and pouring a strip of concrete between the buildings about 2" thick?

You could then plant what ever you want on your side of the fence.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 6:26PM
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botanybob(Northern Idaho)

I wouldn't give up on the Arctostaphylos so easily based on those descriptions. It is fairly adaptable and has a wide geographic range (see link). It is common here in Idaho and grows in filtered shade to full sun. I think the only thing it really doesn't like is heavy, wet soils. It is common in the nursery trade because it is so adaptable and has many nice qualities. You might want to see if there is a native plant nursery in your area that is growing from local stock. Then you are likely to find something well suited to your site.

Here is a link that might be useful: Native range of bearberry

    Bookmark   March 13, 2014 at 2:23PM
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At the risk of going against the grain, I did this in a large area. I hauled in a big load of coarse sand to "impoverished" the area with that goal specifically in mind. Lean soil was the word I actually used, sounds a bit less drastic maybe but at the time I did say I was doing a reverse soil amendment, going backwards rather than the more typical soil enrichment achieved by adding compost etc.

All the plants I was most interested in seemed to like lean, poor, fast draining soil so, I provided it after reasoning it out. The pile of sand was an entire dump truck load like you see on new building sites for laying concrete, I bought a whole load, it took a single day to spread out with a wheel barrow.

I wanted native plants that would look more or less like those in the wild rather than having them get too tall, over grown & lanky in richer soil. Many native plants will loose their character if grown too rich.

Weeds pull out very easy, digging is a breeze & I accomplished my goal. I've never regretted it, & it didn't cost a lot either. The plants do great so the experiment worked no matter how insane it sounded. Pretty simple operation all in all, but best of all, I get to grow what I wanted rather than settle for something I wasn't so interested in.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 5:01AM
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Campanula UK Z8

soil impoversihment for growing wildflowers is fairly common in the UK. The favourite method seems to be mechanically removing the topsoil, leaving the nutrient poor subsoil behind. This is not the way I would choose. I am more inclined to go down the phyto-remediation route, growing plants such as sunflowers, grown to take up toxins (heavy metals, for example) in soils, then harvested and burnt. Noting the preponderance of annual sunflowers grown on my allotments, (something of a UK tradition, along with dahlias) and the resulting leached and impoverished soils, this would be my preference.
By the way, my understanding of growing bearberries is that ph is a more important criterion than soil vitality - they need a sandy acidic heathland and will not tolerate lime at all.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2014 at 5:18PM
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