What's a good carpet plant for a woodland garden in Seattle?

PurplethumbedLes(8)July 8, 2011

I'm looking for steppable plants that will thrive in partial shade, south side of the house. Evergreens overhang so there is much needle drop year-round. The area to be planted will be a ~10' diameter half-circle destination in the midst of a native plant yard.

Though moss used to thrive in the shadier parts of the yard, it would die out and get ugly during the sunny months. So I'm regretfully abandoning the idea of Scotch or Irish Moss.

Can anyone suggest a low maintenance alternative or combination of alternatives that might thrive under these circumstances without going rogue?

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buyorsell888(Zone 8 Portland OR)

Irish and Scotch moss aren't really moss so they want full sun. I've had lousy luck with them in partial shade and they rot out quite a bit in winter.

In my garden, both lily of the valley and sweet woodruff have gone rogue and neither are really stepable.

Have you thought about Ajuga? Several foliage colors to choose from and gorgeous blue flowers in spring. Some of mine do get mildew though which is annoying.

Corsican mint dies out for me too. Love the look and smell but I give up.

Pachasandra is a bit tall to be stepable. You might look at Vinca minor, there are some pretty variegated cultivars now.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2011 at 7:39PM
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My favorite for absorbing needles in dry shade/part shade is Oxalis oregana. Try to get the evergreen form. The only thing is you can't step on it much.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 2:26AM
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Thank you for the suggestions. Ajuga and (not evergreen) oxalis both do well in my yard. Hadn't considered them for stepables, but there are several other places where I'm going to need filler plants around stepping stones.

After doing a bit more research, I am going to give the Irish Moss a try for the project area. If the Stepables.com website is right, I only need about 5, 4" pots, quartered, to plant 16 s.f. That's a pretty small investment so I won't feel too bad if it doesn't like it there and I end up ripping it out.

Know anything about New Zealand violet? There's a bunch of it in back and it would spread into the lawn. Don't mind though--it's pretty, low growing, and hardy. Might even stand up to light foot traffic. It could look quite attractive blended with evergreen oxalis.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2011 at 3:49PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Sagina needs good soil and often has to be dug up, divided and replanted periodically to maintain an even cover.

    Bookmark   July 11, 2011 at 12:54PM
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Ajuga & golden creeping jenny have spread well since planting in late spring around stepping stones where we walk to the hose reel. This area endures feet, hoses, balls, buckets, dropped spray nozzles, etc.

I like the idea of a blend of things for contrast so put the creeping jenny to the sides not between the stones.

Going to do the same thing with stepping stones in the backyard with Vinca minor off to the sides to cover ground where a lot of fir needles fall or are swept from the roof. Planted some out in late June & they're doing fine, so will keep working on moving vigorous Ajuga from another area of the garden.

If you don't have enough Ajuga to cover the area intended it will spread soon enough to carpet if you can add good compost & water to it while you keep it weeded. I've planted it in large pots as well as nursery beds to accommodate the runners & get more of it growing for these projects. The 2nd year plants are the producers for me.

A good place to get free groundcovers is the Green Elephant plant swap in Redmond, but that doesn't happen again until the 1st Sat. of November.

I am not familiar with the NZ violet you mentioned.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:36PM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

Independent garden centers have been displaying some fairly big groundcover assortments marketed by the grower(s) as Stepables or a similar spelling.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2011 at 1:42PM
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boxofrox(z8 PNW)

Although typically considered for a fuller sun position, I have quite a bit of sedum that really does well in a variety of locales, 'Dragons's Blood' in particular. It covers well, holds up to traffic and blooms quite nicely even in a bit less than perfect light. I have a bed that it's really carpeted quite well.

    Bookmark   July 16, 2011 at 9:11PM
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I have the golden creeping jenny under a huge cedar tree. It certainly likes being there because it has gone crazy growing this spring and summer. Poking up out of the creeping jenny are deer ferns and some Purple haze hostas.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 1:47AM
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aftermidnight Zone7b B.C. Canada

If you want something really ground hugging, Soleirolia soleirolii (Baby Tears). I have had this planted in shade, it can take light foot traffic and even if it freezes turns black in winter comes back in the spring. There's also a golden variety.

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 4:59PM
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One of the better low growing, very stepable, shade tolerant groundcovers is Corsican sandwort, Arenaria balearica. It has much the look of Irish moss (a bit flatter) but is far more tolerant of shady conditions and drier soils. And although it looks better if it receives some water in summer, it is really very drought tolerant. And low and compact enough that you could easily sweep or blow excess fir needles or leaves off if necessary.

And evergreen :-)

    Bookmark   August 2, 2011 at 8:43PM
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Have you considered creeping thyme? This is a great evergreen steppable and very low growing similar to Irish moss. Ours does well in partial sun and shade near some cedar trees although I cannot recall the exact variety, it has pretty lavender colored flowers in early summer. Spreads easily without becoming invasive. And is very drought tolerant once established.

    Bookmark   August 4, 2011 at 2:36AM
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Embothrium(USDA 8 Sunset 5 WA)

No shade for thyme, this and other tiny carpeters can also need tons of meticulous weeding if the site is not perfect (dry and sandy, in the case of thyme).

    Bookmark   August 5, 2011 at 3:38PM
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A long-established colony of violets always showed their willingness to invade when there was lawn in my backyard. How should I go about encouraging them to spread out quickly now that the lawn has been replaced by bark mulch? The plants are currently in flower.

Can't tell you what species they are--maybe Labrador? Foliage is dark green with purple shading towards the stem, and they have alot of texture. Flowers are light purple and shaped like Johnny Jump Ups. The plants grow to as much as 4" high by early Summer.

    Bookmark   May 3, 2012 at 6:49PM
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The Irish moss I planted last summer loves the spot so well, that I'm going to redivide it in a few weeks. Thanks very much for the tip.

Just bought 5 golden Creeping Jenny's to carpet the low Oregon Grape space. The contrast with their dark foliage and gold blossoms should be dramatic. My only question is if the Jenny's are going to be as drought tolerant once they're established. ???

    Bookmark   May 9, 2012 at 11:19AM
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No, golden creeping Jenny isn't drought tolerant.

It grows well for me if I keep it mulched and plant it in soil enriched with compost. It doesn't elsewhere unless it is watered 2x a week. It will still live, but not fill out. It roots along the spreading stems.

    Bookmark   May 10, 2012 at 10:12AM
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I have ajuga, creeping jenny and vinca, but what does really well in the dry conditions under the firs and cedars on our property is Lamium galeobdolon "variegatum", also called Yellow Archangel or Deadnettle. It can be invasive, but thrives on neglect and doesn't seem to care if it dries out in the summer. It's pretty easy to pull out when it goes where it's not welcome, and it doesn't jump into the gravel driveway or try to eat the house like an ivy. Even though some people think it's an invasive weed, that's kind of nice in a inhospitable place for most groundcovers.

It's bright green with silver markings that really stand out in deep shade. It gets yellow flower spikes in the spring (that sort of clash with the silver in my opinion). I have another one,lamium maculatum 'Anne Greenaway', but it doesn't make it under the evergreens. It's a good filler in the flower beds, though.

I put the Deadnettle in my hanging baskets for the winter and it stays green all year here west of Portland. It looks great, nice and green even in the middle of the winter. I think the baskets have frozen solid and the plants don't die. It's never died back, even when we've had deep snow. I really wouldn't call it steppable, but it doesn't care if you walk on it.

I also like creeping raspberry, Rubus calcynoides. It's also evergreen and drought tolerant, It keeps the weeds out and bugs and slugs don't seem interested. My son loves the fuzzy stems, and even though it's called raspberry, it doesn't have stickers or berries.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 1:27AM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

Rubus calcynoides has thorns. Small, but try handling it without gloves. I wouldn't call it fuzzy. And it can have berries.
I think you are going to find a lot of people disagree with you cawicker in regards to Deadnettle. It is very invasive! It can run rampant under Salmon Berries. I call that invasive.
It's not all that easy to pull either. Sure some of it comes up easy, but it's hard to get it all. Try to remove it from our native Sword fern without it coming back. It also goes to seed, which makes it really hard to get rid of.
I had a patch of it that I sprayed with Roundup. I only wounded it. I tried Roundup again. Still didn't kill it. Then I got out the herbicide called Crossbow. That got it!....or so I thought. Tried it again and thought it was all gone,..... until seedlings started coming up everywhere!
I have sprayed the area twice so far this year and I still see plants coming up. And all this is taking place under a grove of cedars and a large Doug Fir!
Deadnettle is the most invasive weed I've seen, even worse than Japanese Knotweed. It will run right over established Vinca minor and probably Vinca major as well.
I wouldn't encourage anybody to plant it under any circumstance.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2012 at 7:56AM
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There are other well behaved spotted deadnettle plants other than what botann is warning about. True to skip planting that larger leaved, taller, & invasive one with yellow flowers!

I have a few of them that I enjoy as groundcovers and take plugs from them to accent containers. Be sure to only buy and plant the Lamium maculatum varieties for well behaved plants. I got the idea from Marianne Binetti, a garden writer for our area.

Aurea - great golden green foliage with small rose pink flowers
White Nancy & Silver Beacon - white smaller leaves - either white WN or purple pink flowers SB
Chequers - vigorous green leaves with white stripe & purple pink flowers

If you don't like the flowers or once the flowers are done you can trim it back for neat foliage all summer as long as it's not in direct sun. It dislikes dry soil in sun, so be sure to plant it by something you water if you put it in sun. Mulch helps, too. It will grow in sun, but won't be happy if dry sun.

Pink Shell reseeded for me, but they don't have white marks on the leaves, so I've been pulling out those this spring.

They're fun to use as contrast or color echo here and there. Also easy enough to pull up if they venture too close to other plants. All summer long as long as the soil stays moist you can dig up to replant elsewhere.

    Bookmark   May 19, 2012 at 11:20AM
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George Three LLC

i find that non grass carpet planting is just high maintenance in general. either it takes a lot of weeding to keep looking good, or you get something super aggressive that jumps its bounds.

just haven't hit that happy medium.

i would stick with paths of chips mixed with your needle drop and nice lowish plants. luzula sylvatica has worked for me in this application very well. just periodically weed around it, divide it every few years. occasionally water it, or leave it alone.

Here is a link that might be useful: luzula sylvatica

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 12:43PM
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Sorry the deadnettle was such a disaster for botann and corrine! I guess it grows better(?) where you live. Where I have it hasn't overtaken the dwarf bamboo nor attacked nearby plants. But it's also pretty dry under the giant old firs. I'm surprised the bamboo is happy, but it does get a drip line, unlike all that lamium. As somebody who dug out mint roots for an hour yesterday I know where you're coming from. I followed conventional wisdom and planted it in a sunken pot, but the roots ran out the holes. Oops. Over the years I've learned many things the hard way, so perhaps I should stop giving anybody advice ;-P. I've never been very active on forums and now I'm scared to open my big mouth...

I guess I must have a different Rubes - I looked it up and the picture looked right, but I picked it up at a garden club sale and am really not sure what it is. It doesn't hurt us, though. Now the pampas grass is another story. I love the way it looks but it'll tear you to ribbons :-O.

One thing I have learned - garden club sales are dangerous as far as invasive plants! What somebody has a lot of is usually what they sell (or give away). I got something called poor man's orchids, and although they are pretty, they are everywhere. It's not the schizanthus - I think it's impatiens glandulifera. Same with forget-me-knots and nigella. I can't say they aren't pretty, but this time of year I'm yanking out oodles of forget-me-knots and tossing them in the compost, hopefully before they seed. In my climate they start getting powdery mildew around now anyway.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 2:41PM
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botann(z8 SEof Seattle)

I learned the hard way on a lot of things to.
I planted dwarf ivy in a bamboo grove because ivy doesn't climb bamboo. The ivy reverted to normal English Ivy and spread rapidly. It's a battle to keep it confined the the grove, and almost impossible to eradicate it. I could go on and on, but you get the idea.
Here's a picture of some Lamium galeobdolon that I'm going to get rid of next. Notice how it clambers. It will crawl right over a brush pile, but won't coil and climb.

That's a Sequoiadendron gigantea on the left and an old growth Doug Fir stump with a western Hemlock growing out of it on the right.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2012 at 5:43PM
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wynswrld98(z7 WA)

Vinca Minor does great, I have it around under shade of Fir/Hemlock trees, nice blooms in late spring, various colors available and even a variegated variety available I think called Illumination.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2012 at 5:13PM
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I learned later that my so called "New Zealand" violets are Labrador violets. I'm encouraging them to spread. There's alot of wild buttercup competing with it.

Stonecrop turned out to be the go-to steppable I was looking for. I put in cuttings from a friend's yard around the low Oregon Grape last year, and it took off. The contrast of colors is fabulous, it thrives on neglect, and needs no watering--even during extended droughts like we had last Summer. My friend warned me that it could become invasive but added "it grows so fast, I don't feel bad about chopping out chunks of it with a shovel to keep it under control." Well neither will I in a couple of years.

The ten Alpine strawberry plants (fragaria "lipstick") I put in last Spring turn out to be aggressive spreaders that throw out rooting fronds several feet long over the top of the bark mulch, no less. Fortunately, the roots aren't deep, and seem to be remarkably easygoing about being yanked up and replanted. They're mostly evergreen in this zone, and the tiny strawberries are quite delicious when I can find one.

Follow up RE: Irish Moss. It too has spread out really well, even though its in a low spot and gets submerged when it rains hard. It's been down for nearly two years and has filled in so well that I'm going to divide it in a few weeks and enlarge the patch. No brown spots yet either--looking good.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2013 at 5:44PM
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