Looking for suggestions

seven333October 9, 2009

My wife and I had a house built about a year and a half ago in Chester County, PA, about an hour west of Philadelphia. The lot was (and still is to some extent) wooded, entirely hardwood including cherry, oak, hickory, maple, etc. The required basin has very steep sides and is just about impossible to mow on a routine basis. In fact, I haven't mowed it since last October. The grass that the excavator planted didn't come in very well and the whole basin is being returned back to "wilderness" but I fear that a lot of the plants are weeds and/or non-native species. I'm looking for suggestions on what to plant there after I mow everything down in a few weeks. I really don't want to buy and plant many trees or shrubs, but was looking for some native grasses and ground covers. There are some nice tall grasses growing along some of the highways here that I would just love to plant but I'm not sure what they are or if I can just harvest the seeds from the seed heads. Any ideas on what I should do? Thanks!

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Carrie B(6B/7A)

Try going to Redbud Native Plant Nursery. They're in Glen Mills, which I think is in Delaware County, shouldn't be too far from you. I used to work at an area arboretum, and we bought many, many plants from there when we were planting our native meadow. The owner, a woman whose name I don't remember was very knowledgeable and helpful. Good luck!

Here is a link that might be useful: Native Plant Nursery in your area

    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 10:56PM
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Hi seven333. Just wondering about a few things about your basin area:

1. Does the basin still has any trees left growing on it, or is the basin a man-made structure that was carved out of a hillside or other natural land area to make room for your house?

2. What are the "weeds" or "wilderness" plants growing there now? Can you identify any of them?

3. What is the light in the basin area like? All-day sun, or morning sun, afternoon shade, etc.?

4. What is the soil of the basin like?

    Bookmark   October 13, 2009 at 11:11PM
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Thanks, carrieb! I'll check them out!

topie...the basin was installed when we had the house built. The lot was 100% wooded but we needed to remove a good amount of trees, more than we wanted to actually, for all the excavation. There may be a few saplings growing but nothing I would consider a tree at this point.

I'm not sure about the weeds but last year there was a lot of ground ivy and some weeds that grow VERY tall and have berries on them. I think our landscaper said they are an invasive species. Very long tap root and hard to remove when established. I'll see if I can get some pictures.

The basin runs roughly E-W so it gets a decent amount of sun although the surrounding trees do provide shade at certain times of the day.

Our soil is pretty heavy clay, very few earthworms in it.

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 9:19AM
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dandy_line(3B (Brainerd, Mn))

What is a 'required basin'?

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 2:04PM
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I'm guessing the tall plants with the berries on them are Pokeweed (Phytolacca americana), which are a U.S.-native plant. I suppose some would consider them "invasive" because they tend to populate disturbed areas such as your newly excavated basin, although they're not "invasive" in the sense of being a non-U.S. native plant:

The "ground ivy" could be Creeping Charlie (Glechoma hederacea) which is definitely invasive. It's native to Eurasia:

If these plants are indeed Pokeweed and Creeping Charlie, you may have some moisture in the soil in your basin area. Your soil is probably a mix of red shale and clay, and likely has poor drainage depending on how heavy the clay is.

I would get in touch with a native plant nursery (see links below) near your area, and consult with them about the best way to re-vegetate the basin. Your choice of native grasses sounds excellent, but I'm sure if you consult with a native plant nursery, they can talk to you about the best way to proceed. Bring some photos of the basin if you can...

They can recommend the best grass species and times for planting, but I'm thinking something along the lines of Little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) might work...you may to wait until spring to plant. See resources below for more info:


Yellow Springs Farm

Bowman's Hill Wildflower Preserve

Edge of the Woods Native Plant Nursery

Pennsylvania Native Plant Society:

Pennsylvania Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources:

    Bookmark   October 14, 2009 at 2:45PM
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Some areas, the ones I know of are mostly in the East, require either a basin or a tank that any runoff from your gutters is directed into. Friend built a new garage and the concrete tank she was required to put in was almost as expensive as the garage. It does control some of the runoff but she had to request a faucet to be placed in it so she could use the water for her plants. Since we have been having monsoons followed by dry weather I have been wondering about pricing one. What my friend has is basically a septic tank like thing with laterals to spread the water out. Her system allows her to use the land above the tank which you could not do with a basin. Please correct if I am wrong, OP.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 12:09AM
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Correct, the basin was installed to collect rain runoff from both the house and the land in order to prevent it from running down the slope and flooding out someone else. I guess the theory is that since the ground was altered and trees were removed, the water absorbancy of the soil is less. My basin is totally over-engineered, though...I haven't seen any standing water in it all year and we've had heavy rains.

    Bookmark   October 15, 2009 at 6:44PM
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Thanks for the description of the basin...I was wondering about that myself...for some reason I thought that the area that is difficult to mow because it has steep sides was part of the basin. But is the basin is a water collection unit at the bottom of a slope, and are you interested in re-vegetating the slope itself?

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 11:53AM
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Our lot has a very gentle slope from the NE to the SW. The basin is pretty much on our southern property line, protecting our runoff from a neighbor's property. Our lot is 2.3 acres, about 1 acre of it cleared of trees. The basin is long, starting out a gentle swale and increasing to maybe 4 feet deep and 25 feet wide. There is no public sewer on the property so all water gets collected in the basin or gets absorbed by the ground. I will estimate the sides of the basin to be maybe 20 degree slopes so driving a tractor on that sounds pretty dangerous to me ;)

My main interest is in making the basin look decent, more natural. As of now, there is overgrown grass and weeds on it. I suppose I could just let nature take its course and it will eventually fill in and become wooded again. But until that time it looks like a jungle. I really need to get some pics on here for you guys to see...it's hard to describe.

    Bookmark   October 16, 2009 at 5:30PM
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Thanks for the additional description... I may be mistaken, but I think in the construction/development industry this type of basin is also known as a "swale".

I know a "dry swale" is constructed by altering the natural soil beneath the swale with sand, with a layer of gravel beneath that. Drainage piping is installed to divert excess water to storm drains.

However, based on the plant species that may be currently growing there, such as the possible Pokeberry and Creeping Charlie (which love moist soil), and that the area is looking "like a jungle", and the fact that there is no storm drain system or public sewer on your property, I have the feeling that your developer may have constructed what's known as a "wet swale".

As far as I can tell from your description, you'll need grass/plant species that:

1. Tolerate a heavy clay soil with poor drainage
2. Tolerate periodic flooding
3. Prefer a moist soil
4. Grow in full sun (6 or more hours of sun per day)

I would get in touch with Yellow Springs Farm in Chester Springs, PA (see link below) and ask them what plants or grasses they would recommend for these conditions.

Hope this helps...

Here is a link that might be useful: Yellow Springs Farm

    Bookmark   October 17, 2009 at 7:08PM
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Thanks, topie! The clay soil does retain a lot of moisture but the basin or swale has never had standing water in it.

I'm very familiar with Yellow Springs...they did a lot of our landscaping after the township told us we cut down too many trees during construction. Unfortunately, a lot of the trees/shrubs they planted for us (arborvitae, white pines) died and they never offered replacements, even though they admitted our soil was too acidic for those species so I'm not sure they will be getting more of my business any time soon.

    Bookmark   October 19, 2009 at 9:09AM
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hemnancy(z8 PNW)

I have created a number of grow beds from turf, and it is very hard to fight established weeds. If it were me I would cut everything to the ground now and cover all the ground with either newspaper, cardboard, black plastic, or wood sheets, etc. until spring so that I could start off with bare ground to replant. It takes several months to kill off vegetation.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2009 at 9:58PM
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I think it's tricky to assume that what's there is bad and what is on the roadsides is good (and worth harvesting). You may have some good plants worth saving. Identifying what you have would be the best thing before killing anything. You can post pictures of the plants on a photohosting site like photobucket and then provide links here so people can help you. Also consider contacting the Pennsylvania Native Plant Society for assistance.

Here is a link that might be useful: PNPS

    Bookmark   November 18, 2009 at 6:30AM
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terrene(5b MA)

I agree that you should try to identify the plants in your weedy ditch, so you know if you have a serious problem with invasive plants that should be removed.

There was a new school built recently in our town. I really like the swales that they constructed to absorb extra water around the parking lots, playground, and tennis courts. They were planted with plugs of native wetland wildflowers and grasses, and then mulched with wood chips. They is also a drainage system in each swale to collect overflow water. No doubt some weeding will be required as the plantings get established.

I am curious to see what these look like when they grow in - imagining a wet meadow, with a mix of grasses and forbs, and all sorts of critters! Which is much more beautiful to me than the most perfect lawn could ever be.

Here's a pic of one of the smaller swales -

    Bookmark   November 24, 2009 at 7:35AM
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