Daniel Gill, Merrill, Thomas A. | 2/27/2007 4:20:00 AM
By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist
Lawns have their purpose in the landscape. They create a restful contrast to flower beds and other elements in the landscape. Lawns also are often needed for outdoor activities and are indispensable if you have kids.
However, every square foot of space not occupied by shrub plantings or flower beds does not have to be planted with grass. Not only can this create a rather boring landscape, but lawn areas are also high maintenance and have to be mowed every five to seven days from April to November.
Instead, consider planting some areas with ground covers. They will add beauty and interest to the home landscape, as well as reduce maintenance.
Planting ground covers in the spring, while the weather is still cool, is recommended. Early planting will provide ground covers with a chance to become somewhat established before hot weather arrives.
To make clear what we are talking about, the term ground cover is applied to low-growing plants, other than turf grasses, used to cover areas of the landscape. Perennial, evergreen plants having a sprawling or spreading habit are most often used. The plants used for ground covers generally are 1 foot or less in height, but taller growing plants also are used appropriately in certain landscape situations.
In addition to the beauty they provide, ground covers also have lots of practical uses. Some ground covers are effective in erosion control. Because they don’t have to be mowed, ground covers reduce landscape maintenance and are especially useful in problem areas such as steep slopes, under low-branched trees and shrubs where roots of large trees protrude and in confined areas where mowing is difficult. They also are a good solution to areas under trees that have become too shady for grass to grow.
You must carefully consider the characteristics you would like the ground cover to have (height, texture, color and so forth) when making your selection. In addition, you must consider the growing conditions where it will be planted – such as sunny or shady, dry or moist.
You should also look at the size of the area to be planted. Only the most reliable, fast-spreading and reasonably priced ground covers should be considered for large areas. Monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus), Creeping Lily Turf (Liriope spicata) and Japanese ardisia (Ardisia japonica) are good choices for shade to part shade. Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum) is excellent for sun to part shade.
Whatever type of ground cover you choose, proper preparation of the planting area will help ensure good establishment and faster growth.
First, remove all existing unwanted vegetation, such as lawn grass or weeds, from the area. You can do that by physically pulling or digging it out or with a herbicide such as glyphosate.
Next, till the soil to loose it. If you are working under a tree, use a turning fork to minimize damage to the tree’s roots, and avoid severing roots larger than 1 inch in diameter whenever possible.
After the soil is broken up, spread 2 inches of organic matter (compost, peat moss or rotted manure) over the surface and work it in. If necessary, 2-3 inches of additional blended soil mix (generally called topsoil or garden soil) may be added at this point.
Finally, sprinkle a general-purpose fertilizer over the area and thoroughly blend everything together.
Once the area is prepared, it’s time to plant.
Be sure to plant the ground cover at the proper spacing. Correct spacing varies with the type of ground cover chosen, so check with the staff at the nursery or your local LSU AgCenter extension office.
Planting at the closest recommended spacing will provide quicker coverage, but it will cost you more money. Generally, decide on a budget for the project, purchase as many plants as you can with the money and evenly space them in the area to be planted. If more are needed, purchase them as more funds become available and plant them evenly among the existing plants.
After the area is planted, be sure to mulch with an inch or two of your favorite mulch, such as leaves, pine bark, pine straw or shredded pine straw, and water thoroughly. Until the ground cover fills in (which may take several years), weed control is very important. Your best defense is a good layer of mulch. Hand weed regularly, as necessary, to maintain good weed control. In addition, most ground covers spread faster when mulched.
Planting ground covers now to take advantage of the cool, moist weather we have in spring will encourage successful establishment. Fertilize in May and again in July with a general-purpose fertilizer, following label directions, to promote rapid growth. (Gardeners with existing areas of ground cover can fertilize in March and again in June.)
Ground covers can reduce maintenance, beautify problem areas and create a whole new dimension in your landscape. Consider using them around your home.
Get It Growing is a weekly feature on home lawn and garden topics prepared by experts in the LSU AgCenter. For more information on such topics, contact your parish LSU AgCenter Extension office or visit our Web site at www.lsuagcenter.com. A wide range of publications and a variety of other resources are available.