Is there a groundcover that doesn’t need mowing, is kid-friendly but
uninhabited by critters and insects? That’s a tall order as this
reader finds out…
QUESTION: “We recently moved and purchased 5 acres but we only plan on
a small garden for now. I really don't want to spend time mowing right
now. Is there a short ground cover which the kids could play in?
”I am reading things about snakes, chiggers and ticks. I want my kids
to be safe, yet I would like to keep the mowing to a minimum. Any
suggestions?” – Linda
ANSWER: Most groundcovers will attract those unwanted elements,
although they can be present even without the habitat that groundcover
provides. Outside dogs and cats will help to keep the snakes at bay,
but chiggers, ticks and other such critters are all around.
Any groundcover will take several years at best to fill in a large
area such as you describe. There are chemicals that can be sprayed on
the ground to help reduce the tick and flea population, but with
children in and about the yard, you probably wouldn’t want to use it.
Here’s a compromise suggestion. Mark out a reasonably small area close
to the house and seed or sod it to provide a “kid friendly” lawn. You
could then put down some groundcover over much of the remaining area,
so you only have to keep the kids’ play area mowed.
If you’re looking for a low-growing groundcover, you could try Wooly
Thyme. It’s a fast spreading thyme with no scent or flavor, but it
makes a very attractive soft carpet of hairy grayish foliage topped by
bright pink flowers in summer. Wooly Thyme thrives in dry well-drained
locations that receive full sun. It is a hardy evergreen that grows 2
- 5 inches high.
You could also look at Wooly’s cousin, Creeping Red Thyme, valued for
its fragrant foliage and a profusion of beautiful red flowers all
Another possibility: Pennsylvania Sedge Grass, a good groundcover that
could be a good choice if you have any damp shady areas under tree
But again, most groundcovers aren’t particularly suitable play areas
for small children. In addition to harboring critters and insects,
groundcovers can conceal rocks, stones and sharp twigs that can injure
little bare feet and legs.
QUESTION: “When is the best time to plant weeping willows? I have
approximately 80' span of yard that is extremely wet and hope the
willows will assist in absorbing some or most of the moisture.
“How far apart should I plant the trees? I do not have any pipes or
drains nearby to worry about the roots of the trees interfering with.
Also, can you suggest any other trees that would do well in very moist
soil? I have a fairly good sized yard 80' wide x 150' deep.” – Brenda
ANSWER: You should be able to begin planting around the latter part of
March. It is important to remember that the willows won’t actually
absorb the moisture in the ground. It is simply that they will
tolerate the damp soil. If the ground is soggy wet, it may be trial
and error to get them established. Should there be a period where the
soil is drier, you might try scheduling to plant at that time.
I recommend the Weeping Willow Babylonica, the best and most beautiful
of the green weeping willows, in my opinion. They grow to a mature
height in the 30 to 50 foot range with a spread just as wide, so they
need to be spaced about 30 to 50 feet apart, and are suitable for
zones 4 – 9.
There aren’t many trees that grow happily in consistently wet ground.
However, true weeping willows, bald cypress, red maple, river birch,
green ash, swamp oak and willow oak are known to be tolerant of moist
soil. But, as I mentioned, with soggy ground, it may take several
tries to get them established.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to email@example.com and for resources and
additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org