The Plant Man column
for publication week of 03/27/05 - 04/02/05
The Plant Man
by Steve Jones
Groundcover: Careful prep yields great results
"Low maintenance!" That's the clarion call I hear frequently from
readers who contact me for ideas that will enhance their landscape
without devouring hours of their valuable time.
There's no doubt that a lush, green lawn can demand a lot of
attention, either from you or a contract lawn service. More and more
homeowners are turning to an alternative for at least part of their
Let me say that <a
aren't just for the terminally lazy. There are some very strong
benefits over and above saving time and labor.
Safety: Attempting to mow grass on a slope (particularly when using a
ride-on mower) can be dangerous or even fatal. It isn't worth dying
for! Groundcover is (almost) a "set it and forget it" solution.
Problem areas: There are some places where regular grass just refuses
to grow. But certain groundcovers thrive in awkward conditions such as
shade, very moist or very dry environments. Why fight Nature? If a
groundcover will live happily where grass simply dies, then go for it.
Landscape design: Use <a
to connect different parts of your landscape, either in straight lines
or winding bands... or to frame a lawn for a separate, formal look.
Protecting tree roots: Groundcover planted around shallow-rooted trees
can protect the roots from mower damage and can shade the soil to
prevent it from drying out too rapidly. (Choose shallow-rooted
groundcover plants to avoid competing with the tree roots.)
If you are planning to plant some groundcover this season, I have
three words of advice about soil preparation: "Do It Now!"
Why? Because when it comes down to soil, it's you or the weeds. And
the weeds are probably tougher. Prep the soil and get the weeds out
now before they have the chance to spread like... well, like weeds. I
promise it will save you a lot of work later.
Depending on the area, you might want to rent a rotary tiller to turn
the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches in open sites. In areas around
trees, prepare the soil only to a depth of 2 to 3 inches to prevent
disturbing the tree roots. As you know, as a general rule I prefer
organic solutions to chemical ones. However, if you're preparing an
open area that is heavily weeded, you might need to treat the site
with a pre-emergence herbicide such as Weed Impede, then wait a few
weeks before plugging in the new plants.
The best defense against weeds overpowering your new groundcover (or
any plant) is a healthy soil. I'm a strong proponent of organic
solutions to weed and soil problems, and there are several relatively
new organic products that I have been working with. I like
earth-friendly techniques that restore the natural power of soil. If
you're interested, send me an e-mail, briefly describing your
location, the specific situation and any particular problems you're
facing, and I'll do my best to help you find a solution. As always
you can reach me at email@example.com
If you really want to know the exact condition of your soil, you can
take a sample and have a soil analysis performed. A good way to start
looking for a soil testing lab is to call a local University and ask
for the Agricultural Extension department. Again, drop me an e-mail if
you're still puzzled.
If you believe your soil could do with a dose of tonic but don't want
to have a soil analysis done, you can always take the middle ground
and go for a basic commercial fertilizer such as a 5-10-5. You'll need
about 3 pounds for every 100 square feet. After you've tilled the
weed-free soil, fork in the fertilizer, along with some organic
material such as leaf mold, compost or well-rotted manure. Organic
materials improve drainage in clay soils and improve water-holding
capacity of sandy soils.
Again, I emphasize that proper prep at this stage will result in
healthier soil, thriving groundcover, fewer weeds and (here it is,
folks!) less work for you later on.
So... which <a
are right for your landscape? <a
periwinkle</a> or <a
<a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/10114 ">Ajuga
reptans</a> or <a href="http://www.greenwoodnursery.com/page.cfm/330 ">English
Ivy</a>? In this column next time, I'll discuss the benefits of
several groundcovers and the situations in which they work best. But
don't wait. Beat the weeds and get started on site prep now!
The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs
and landscaping to <a
resources and additional information, or to subscribe to Steve's free
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