Creeping Plants or Flowers

joe_267August 7, 2014

Hi everyone,

Please pardon the newbie question.

On the side of my house I have about a 20 foot wide section of lawn with lots of exposed shelf rock. If is a huge slope that is a real pain to mow. I would like to add a few timber terraces, and get rid of the lawn, and replace with some sort of creeping flower or plant. Not looking for vines, but something that will grow over the exposed rock and terraces.

Any suggestions for something that would grow quick in CT, be perennial, and not horribly aggressive?

Attached is a picture looking up the proposed planting area.

Thanks in advance!!!

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Newbie questions are always welcome. We were all newbies at some point.

My first question would be how much sun/shade does this area get since that will determine what plants will thrive/survive. Also, how much moisture does the area receive either through normal rainfall or supplemental water? Last question would be is the soil acid or alkaline. I'd guess acid since you're in CT but that wouldn't be the best way to approach the issue.

I don't, myself, grow any creeping perennial plants since they don't suit either my topography or my preference. There are certainly a number of good candidates for your purpose however. For moist shade, Pachysandra terminalis would do the trick. For hot, sunny areas, creeping sedum would do the job without supplemental water. Lamium is another care-free candidate in either sun or shade.

Last suggestion is to Google perennial groundcovers and see what pops up. I generally plant hosta as specimen plants in shady areas where I choose not to mow the lawn. I also see reducing the amount of lawn that needs mowing as a heroic endeavor.

In his book Perennials For Every Purpose, Larry Hodgson lists the following as groundcovers (among others) but I've listed below only those not considered invasive (at least, not that I've heard):


    Bookmark   August 7, 2014 at 7:00PM
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Thanks so much for the response and detailed information!! I am going to have to check that book out.

For some reason, when I posted the photo from my phone it posted sideways, so here is a view looking up the hill. The site gets about 4+ hours of afternoon sun. When it rains water pours down the hill. I just bought the house, but was told that at one point all of the exposed rock, was covered by soil. So some definite erosion issues. I'm off to get topsoil this weekend to make level steps for terraces. Pardon the poor quality of the grass. I have been focusing on bringing back the grass in the front and back yards and have neglected the side yard.

At the top of the hill you may be able to see some excavation. I am in the process of putting in two rain gardens. One at the top and one a bit further down. Each will have trap rock with topsoil covering and native moisture loving plants and decorative grasses. This should hopefully slow the water a bit. Then I plan to add two or three terraces about two feet tall with stone behind the timbers. That should slow the water down a bit more.

I always loved the look of flowers overhanging walls. I was thinking, creeping phlox, but have heard they can be a little aggressive. Just no more vines for me. Lol. That darn wild grape taproot was eight feet long. On the left I plan on putting some Roses of Sharon and Forsythia as a privacy wall. The shrub on the left, in the middle, of the photo I have no idea what it is. It was/is being choked with Wild Grape vines. Now that I pulled the taproot it seems the Wild Grape is dying. I may still get rid of the shrub as it is kind of ugly. It had little white flowers for about a week and that was it. The last few days I have been pulling, Mile A Minute, Wild Grape, Wild Rose, Poison Ivy, and Virginia Creeper taproots. Sadly though, all of those vine roots may have been holding together the hill. :/

I went out and got an old Lawn Boy mower that is light weight with a strong rear drive for this slope. It's much better, with the Lawn Boy, but it's still a pain to mow. If I don't get rid of the the grass I will need to buy some football cleats to keep a solid footing. Especially if the grass is a little damp. Boo to grass. Lol

I will check out the above plants and book. If anyone else has any suggestions I would really appreciate it.

Thanks again! This forum is so helpful!!!

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:20AM
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Oh sorry, I forgot to mention, my soil is very acidic and leached of nutrients. I have made progress, in improving it, but It will be a multi-year process. Potassium is super low in the soil. I was advised to start putting down 0-0-60 potash a few times a year. That is why the grass looks so horrible. There is no deep root structure for drought periods. Been awhile since we had a good rain here.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 5:25AM
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Hmm, thinking I may try some Ajuga, Lirope, and Creeping Thyme. Just need to find some cheap plants now....

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 6:23AM
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claireplymouth z6b coastal MA

Have you considered exposing more of the rock and making it a feature? No mowing and it could look wonderful with some nice plantings in the pockets and around the edges.

Claire (who would love to have a rock ledge in her yard)

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 9:46AM
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I have TONS of common thyme. It will grow over rock ledge, I think, because in my garden it covers brick paths and concrete pavers - I have to cut it back occasionally. My sister gave me several seed packets about 20 years ago, and that's how I got started ... I just filled a compost bin with plants I pulled up in a small garden area along a path. 4 hours of sun should be plenty for it, and it laughs at poor soil and acidity, at least in my experience.

I let it grow into the lawn, and along most of the paths in my yard, but it's not really suitable as an under-planting with other perennials or even small shrubs, because it does climb their lower limbs, and gets ratty looking at this time of year, when it's setting seed. An occasional pass with a mower, maybe twice a year, is all it needs.

I DO love this plant, and especially love it in combination with rock or paving stones. It's nearly evergreen on the Cape.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 1:01PM
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Creeping thyme was what I would suggest, too. I could contribute some plants if digging doesn't have enough LOL. You could get several different varieties are stick with one. I think it will also choke out grass.

I was just reading two issues of Fine Gardening that I borrowed from the library. Either the current or one before had an article about someone who took a very steep front yard and planted is with perennials etc.

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 2:05PM
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I have a short, really steep hill behind my garage that's planted with Vinca minor/periwinkle. It doesn't smother weeds but it's pretty year round since it's evergreen. It blooms in spring.

I'm lucky to have a neighbor who came with his backhoe and dug out the lily of the valley that had taken over my foundation garden beds. I asked him to dump it on the compost heap at the farthest corner of the property.

Instead of landscape timbers, you might consider visiting a nearby (?) quarry and hauling home some granite large enough for your needs. Landscape timbers eventually rot; granite lasts for eons.

Sorry - why would you want to "bring back the grass"? It's the most invasive known species. There are lots of other choices that are green and don't require mowing. How steep is the slope? Rather than bring in topsoil, can you dig into the existing slope and use stone or timber for steps?

Thanks for posting the upright photo. It's a little tough cranking my head sideways. Creeping phlox in bloom is lovely and cheerful; creeping phlox when it has finished blooming doesn't please my eye--it just looks dead to me. There are other perennials that would suit your purpose, namely lamium. Creeping juniper is another. Don't hesitate to do a Google search. Check out the Missouri Botanical Garden website.

Rose of Sharon does okay in my part sun bed and should do well for your purposes. I got rid of the forsythia growing in my garden soon after moving here since it tended to be aggressive.

Another shrub you might consider planting on your slope is Daphne. I planted 'Carol Mackie' on my part sun north slope years ago and it has done extremely well. It's also very, very fragrant and totally maintenance-free.

If "it's a pain to mow" don't mow it; change it. You're in charge of what grows in your garden and what's needed to maintain it. I think you know that and just need ideas/suggestions for what to do to change it. Go to the library and check out landscape design books. Google planting conditions for steep slopes in CT. The information is out there and available. We can tell you what's worked for us; the books can tell you what has worked for others.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lamium maculatum 'Cosmopolitan'

    Bookmark   August 8, 2014 at 7:55PM
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Thanks for the responses everyone!! Unfortunately, I was called away on a business trip again, so please pardon the lack of responses! Definitley interested in all this information.

The goal is to eventually get rid of all the grass everywhere, but this is my first house, so budgets are tight this year. So I am doing little sections at a time where I can make progress. All of this has bee fantastic information! I did stop at Van Wilgen in Branford the other day and got the bright red carpet thyme, some Lirope, Carpet Roses, Rose of Sharon, spirea, pieris, and astors to start. If i can terrace and fill this area first that would be great.

It will probably be a couple year project and I need to get erosion and water management under control as well. Would love to expose more rock, as there is a ton of shelf under the soil, but there is only several inches of dirt over it and I'm worried that it will turn into a waterfall washing the rest away.

I am going to start my first landscaping project at the top of the hill this weekend. When I am finished, I would love to share photos, and get some feedback from you experts. If you have time of course.

Thanks again for all the great info!! I will look into more of the plants mentioned and stop by the library for more. I really like that daphne and larium as well!! Been hitting up the Lowes sales as well. Picked up a bunch of big shrubs for $5 that just need water and some fungicide. Maybe they're rootbound who knows. :)

Thanks again! Will post some photos if I make good progress this week. Have a great weekend everyone!

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 10:39AM
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In the long term I am with Claire on this:
"Have you considered exposing more of the rock and making it a feature? No mowing and it could look wonderful with some nice plantings in the pockets and around the edges."

In a previous house we were basically sitting on top of a knob of ledge that came to the surface in several areas. We did a combination of stripping off soil to expose the ledge and building terraced beds with some of the fractured granite that was in abundance. It was before the advent of digital cameras, but I will see if I can find and scan in some photos to post.

You may not want to hear this, but I wouldn't do anything here right now. Plantings done now (particularly groundcovers) will need to be removed later and many of them will be tenacious and need a LOT of work to get rid of. If the grass isn't removed before planting it will grow into the groundcovers IME, but if it is removed the water management and erosion issues will be worse.

I would start by getting the water under control via the rain gardens and terracing further upslope. If that isn't enough, consider expanding the rain gardens (they currently look rather small when compared to your description of the amount of water moving through) or consider French drains going across the slope to carry water to an area where you can add another rain garden or dry stream bed (also going across the slope) to slow runoff and let it sink in.

Once the water is under control you will have better luck with redoing this area. As it currently is, any soil disturbance will add to the erosion and runoff. If you really need to plant something to hold the soil and replace invasive plants you are removing, I'd go with old-fashioned orange daylilies and Siberian irises. They both will slowly spread and don't have to be divided. They won't be a problem to remove when you are ready to do something here, and will provide seasonal flowers with 4 hours of sun. Mulch heavily between them with a mulch that is shreddy so that the pieces will tangle and mat rather than wash away.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2014 at 2:17PM
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