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Cover ground wisely.

Byline: Paul Rogers

COLUMN: Roots of Wisdom

Nationwide, there is a movement to reduce the size of lawns by planting groundcovers. Homeowners are increasingly recognizing that grass is only one way to cover the ground. As a play surface, grass is often the best solution. However, on slopes, in shady areas, and as a sensible response to many maintenance situations, lawn grasses may not be the groundcover of choice.

Major functions of a groundcover are to keep down dust, lessen water run-off, increase percolation of water into the soil, moderate soil and air temperatures, reduce the need to fertilize and use chemical pest controls, make maintenance easier, and improve the aesthetic appearance of our properties.

To achieve success, it is advisable to copy nature. Nature makes use of bunchberry, ferns, sweet woodruff, and European or wild ginger in shady areas. Homeowners may choose

pachysandra, periwinkle, Hosta, plumy bleeding heart, bearberry, barren strawberry, goutweed (careful that it and Lamium are prevented from covering the entire property).

For sunny sites, the choices multiply: The gray foliage of the wormwoods, the intense blue foliage of Blue Fescue (Festuca ovina glauca), a multiple carpet of thymes, woolly Yarrow, Speedwell (Veronica), creeping mint (if the soil is moist), Snow-in-Summer (gray foliage and white flowers), Ajuga (bugleweed in varieties of green to variegated to deep purple), to an amazing choice of sedums. And do not ignore junipers, heaths and heathers.

Sloping areas are notoriously difficult to maintain with grass as they tend to be dry, prone to insect attack, and can be the cause of accidents due to unsure footing. Instead, consider any of the plants listed previously as well as creeping vines, especially those that root along their length. Bankings also allow you to use plants that are a bit taller than would normally be considered as traditionally groundcovers.

Some possibilities are cotoneasters (creeping, rockspray and thyme-leaved are a few of the many that can be used), Euonymus (green leaved, large or small, or golden or silver variegated are all good), "groundcover roses," low-bush blueberries, daylilies, true ivies (Hedera), creeping phlox and the double-flower types of violets.

What does it take to establish an area into groundcovers? Thought and work. Do your research. What type of soil do you have? What is the exposure of the site? Is there anything currently growing there? Trees are not a problem as their feeding roots are likely not in the same soil strata as the groundcover plants.

In terms of landscape design, what do you hope to accomplish? What makes sense? A house lot carved out of a naturally woody site should be treated differently than a house positioned in a treeless subdivision.

Keep in mind that you are developing a planting that, once established, will require less time and effort than it has taken you to mow your lawn once - and you need to mow the average lawn 23 times a season. Plan thoroughly. Plant carefully.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:Feb 26, 2012
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