Ideas for groundcover under sweet gum w/exposed roots?

faerybutterflye(7B OK)April 27, 2013

Hi there, everyone. Another newbie question for ya'll. I just moved into a new house with a huge old sweet gum tree in the front yard. The roots are really exposed & basically my whole front yard is roots & shade (& sticker grass, yuck). I'm looking for ideas for a rapidly spreading good groundcover that will work underneath, in the shallow soil available under the tree.

My mom has some Commelina cyanea, with the blue flowers, that I was thinking of taking cuttings off of & attempting to root. Does anyone have experience with this? They look like Wandering Jew & are very similar, from what I can gather. Thoughts?

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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

Do you have to pick up all those sticky balls? That is a terrible chore. Lots of luck.

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 2:24PM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

Yeah, we rake them up & more fall. And we rake them up & more fall, LOL. I've seen a lot of different uses for them on Google, just haven't tried any yet. I might this fall, they'll fall again then. The balls aggravate me, but sweet gum puts on such a lovely fall foliage show that I forgive it. And right now, it's hosting the Luna moths. They're everywhere & very interesting, I'd never seen them before this year. Check out the pic!

    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 2:37PM
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sammy zone 7 Tulsa

That is very pretty.
In the back of our houses, there is a path where we often walk the dogs. At the corner, there are three Sweet Gum trees. They guy who mows complains about them, and I don't think those balls are good for my dogs' paws. Last year I began picking them up, and throwint them in the trash. It was a huge chore. Do you know how many times a year they fall?


    Bookmark   April 27, 2013 at 6:06PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

I love the Luna. Some years I see them here, but don't think I've seen any the last couple of years.

Some people use the dried sweet gum balls as mulch in garden beds to keep cats (either their own or roaming neighborhood cats) from using the beds as a litter box.

I think the commelina would suit your purpose just fine. Otherwise any roaming, rambling vining type ground cover would work, and there are many to choose from. I'd probably use Virginia creeper because it is native on our property and grows in poor soil. I prefer natives because I don't have to water them much if at all once they are established in a spot that is new to them. Virginia Creeper isn't evergreen though.

If you want something evergreen, then maybe one of the ivies. I like Persian Ivy but it isn't always easy to find. Vinca major or vinca minor would work. With any of these vining groundcovers, you'll have to keep a close eye on them and prune them back if they start getting too invasive or start trying to climb the trees.


Here is a link that might be useful: Persian Ivy

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 10:54AM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

Sammy, I've seen them fall as many as 4 times a year. But it depends, I guess, on the weather.

Dawn, aren't they spectacular? We had a sweet gum tree at our previous rent house in Ardmore, but I never saw these beauties! Now that I know the tree hosts them, I like it even more. They're everywhere right now, I find them perched in the shade on the sides of the house & sheds when I water.

I'm considering collecting the balls up next time they fall to do some kind of craft with them. Perhaps a wreath for autumn or something. I've also heard of the mulching method & of using them at the bottom of containers to provide excellent drainage for any container plants. And I know for a fact that if I ever get a firepit, I will keep them for that. We raked & attempted to burn the seed pods with some other branches & they burn VERY slowly. The spikeys burn off & the middle part just burns as a hot ember, which would be great for fire pit purposes, I think.

I'd like an evergreen groundcover, but it's not required. The commelina is not an evergreen in our zone, but it does pop back up every year in the spring. My mom's shaded bed that it's in right now comes back every year, for the last 15 years. It spreads pretty aggressively & has taken over all the neglected flower pots on her patio, somehow. LOL. We're still not quite sure how that happened b/c the bed & the pots are not in that close of a proximity with concrete between them. A mystery!

She is reclaiming her flowerpots this year & I asked her to let me keep the ones she's going to dig out of them. I'll start with those few & then, when they get really thick & bushy this summer, I'm going to take at least a big black trash bag full of cuttings. From what I've gathered on Google, they root from stem cuttings. I plan to sprinkle down about an inch of soil on the roots & keep them well-watered until they take root (hopefully, that's my plan!).

I'll keep in mind Persian Ivy as my back-up plan, just in case, for some reason, this doesn't work out for me! Thanks for the advice, you're amazing!

    Bookmark   April 28, 2013 at 11:56AM
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mksmth zone 6b Tulsa Oklahoma(6b)

I nice thick layer of wood chip mulch is a nice way to cover the roots and dirt. My grandparents had a few sweet gums and it seems nothing would grow under them.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 9:42AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


Thank you for the kind words. I'm always happy to suggest plant ideas.

Looking at your photos makes me want to plant a sweetgum just for the Luna moths.. Maybe then I'd see more of them. They don't seem as common nowadays as there were when I was a child in the 1960s and 1970s. I can remember being out on the porch and having them come hang on the screen door near the porch light. I always loved seeing them.

I assume the commelina flowers set seeds and either the wind or insects carried them to your mom's containers. We had some native commelina here when we first moved here and it was horribly invasive in places where I didn't want it, and it was not easy to get it out of those veggie beds That is one reason it is such a great ground cover---it is so resilient.


    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 12:46PM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

Dawn, you're more than welcome! You were one of the people who helped me have success with my first veggie garden a few years back (2009) & I'm honestly just in awe of your knowledge & experience. As far as I know from reading the threads of the forum, we live the closest to each other & if it wouldn't seem like a strange thing to offer, I'd love to come help you in your garden if you ever needed help. You seem to really know your stuff & be very interested in your plants, planted & native to your property alike, which I think is awesome. I'm always checking out interesting plants in my yard & in the woods around here on the refuge. I can only hope one day to be the expert that you certainly are. :)

I had never seen the Lunas before, but they are very beautiful. My son finds them fascinating & my dogs try to catch them, LOL. I'm pleased to know there is an upside to the spikey balls from hell, besides the fall foliage show. The one in our new yard must be very old, it's so huge that I can't wrap my arms around the trunk & the roots wouldn't be that far exposed if it wasn't, I don't think. It's roots run the entire length of my house. I ran into some when I was hoeing out the side & back flowerbeds & was like "Wow, that's an impressive root system."

I think that commelina would be an ideal cover for the shallow soil & I certainly know that it would grow tall enough to cover up those roots. My mom's goes crazy every year & she's already griping about it's height. Usually, she has her yard guys weedwhack it down several times a summer. I told her to let me do it this year & take the cuttings. I'm kinda wanting it to be semi-invasive, because the section I want it to take over is beneath that tree & also the other side of my front yard in the shade of the tree, which is all infested with sticker grass. I had ambitious plans to dig it all out by hand b/c I'd heard that's really the only way to get rid of it...until I realized that about 500,000 of them were scattered all over the whole yard & digging them up is no easy task. They have underground spreaders that break easily & each new place I broke has, within a week, sent up new spikes. Grrr. I've read that stickers don't do well at all with competition, so hopefully the commelina will outcompete & do what I want it to do. I figured I'd try it, anyway. What have I got to lose? It's all free, so no waste of money.

This post was edited by faerybutterflye on Wed, May 1, 13 at 9:50

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 6:19PM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

Mike, I thought of mulching but I really wanted to try something alive first. My mom's giving me cuttings, so I figured they're free, why the hell not give it a shot? There is definitely something that will grow under sweet gums though. At least in my yard. Sticker grass. I keep digging them & cutting their tops off, & they just keep popping up more & more. I want something to choke those suckers out of there! I'm keeping my fingers crossed b/c my mom's bed of commelina seems to choke out her Bermuda grass that tries to get in there with it (& everything else, as well).

    Bookmark   April 29, 2013 at 6:25PM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

I just found a better close-up pic of one of our Luna moths. Thought ya'll might like to see. You can really see the colors in this shot. :)

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 11:53AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

That's a terrific photo. Thanks for posting it.

Some years, I get to see them just by looking outside the window that is closest to my indoor light shelf unit where I raise seedlings indoors. If the miniblind is open, the lights on the light shelf attract all kinds of moths, including luna moths, which sit on the window screen until I turn off the light at night or until I close the blinds and curtains.

Another moth story.....yesterday afternoon and evening Tim and I covered up all the planting beds in 2 of our 4 garden areas and those beds all have a mixture of vegetables, herbs and flowers. It took us forever, and I still have to cover up the corn in the corn cage and two small raised beds near my potting shed. As we were finishing up and gathering up our tools to head to the house, a white-lined sphinx frantically fluttered around all the white cover trying to get to the flowers that were safely covered up to protect them from tonight's freezing weather. About the only things not covered in that garden bed were the poppies and larkspur at the other end of the garden and the trellis covered with sugar snap peas. I felt sorry for the sphinx moth because it couldn't reach the flowers, but didn't feel sorry enough for it that I turned around and uncovered any of the plants. I am sure there are some wildflowers in bloom that it likely found after it gave up being able to get under the row cover in the garden.


    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:25PM
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faerybutterflye(7B OK)

Dawn, you're welcome! I overlooked it the other day in my original posting of pics. I don't blame you for not feeling that sorry for the moth. I'm sure he found somewhere else to go. It sounds like such a chore for you to get all your stuff covered. I wouldn't uncover it either. There are lots of wildflowers in bloom around here right now, this crazy weather certainly hasn't bothered any of them one bit.

My offer stands, I can't be more than 45 mins from you & I'd love to experience working in a huge garden with the legendary Tomato Queen. :) If you ever need any younger hands to help out, please give me a shout.

    Bookmark   May 2, 2013 at 2:35PM
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