Weekly Express-News Article
Saturday, September 2, 2006
By Calvin R. Finch, PhD, SAWS Water Resources Director, and Horticulturist
“The Groundcover Option”
Have you enjoyed trying to keep your lawn green this summer?
Do you have pets or children that need an expanse of lawn on which
to run and play games? If you answered no to all of those questions,
it may be time to consider replacing all or part of your lawn
with an attractive groundcover. Every autumn, area nurseries have
sales on groundcovers in 1 gallon or 4 inch containers of Asiatic
jasmine, dwarf ruellia, monkey grass, and English ivy. The groundcovers
are evergreen and once established are easy to maintain and drought
Kill the lawn with Roundup or Finale and plant the groundcovers
right into the killed sod. Alternately, you can add 2 inches of
compost and till it into the planting area. If stubborn Bermuda
grass or St Augustine reappears next spring, just use one of the
grass specific herbicides (Fusilade II, Over-the-Top, Vantage
and others) to control it.
Asiatic jasmine has shiny green leaves and makes a very tight
groundcover. It has a spreading growth habit and when left on
its own, makes an attractive undulating cover about 18 inches
tall in sun or shade. One of the best characteristics of Asiatic
jasmine, however, is that it can be molded and manicured. Shape
it however you want with your string mower. You can even make
steps and sharp edges if you are skillful with the string mower.
Most landscape use the string mower to make a flat surface from
6 inches to 18 inches tall. Deer do not eat jasmine in most neighborhoods.
Asiatic jasmine sometimes burns in cold winters. A quick run
through with the lawn mower at the highest level in the spring
removes the brown foliage.
The major complaint about jasmine as a groundcover is that it
is slow to become established. Rooted cuttings are inexpensive
but it requires at least 2 years of weed control and watering
to have it fill-in. The best strategy seems to be to take advantage
of the Fall sales on 1 gallon containers and plant them on 1 to
1.5 feet centers. Planted in that manner the bed will fill-in
in 1 year.
Once Asiatic jasmine is established weeds are not usually a problem
because the planting becomes so thick, but the waxy coating on
the leaves makes it very tolerant of Round-up. So tolerant that
it can even be weeded with the spray.
Dwarf ruellia grows to about 12 inches tall. The foliage is attractive
but the main claim to fame is that it blooms throughout the growing
season (violet, pink, or white). Deer eat ruellia in droughts
but it is not their favorite food. Dwarf ruellia is aggressive
enough to fill a bed in one season when the plants are placed
on 1 foot centers. The dwarf version, however is not as aggressive
as the related full size Mexican petunia. Dwarf ruellia will not
take over the neighborhood.
Monkey grass leads a whole family of grass-like groundcovers
whose major difference is their height and the thickness of blade.
Dwarf mondo grass has a fine blade and only grows to 3 inches.
Giant liriope may grow to 2 feet tall. The most useful plant of
this group is standard monkey grass. It is 6 inches tall. Grow
the grass-like ground covers in the shade or in partial sun. Some
great examples of monkey grass used as a groundcover exist in
the King William neighborhood. It looks like grass but never requires
mowing. Like Asiatic jasmine, monkey grass is difficult to establish.
Rooted pieces can be harvested from established beds, or purchase
4 inch containers. Plant them on 8 to 12 inch centers. Liriope
is available in 1 gallon containers.
English ivy is a fast spreading groundcover for shady landscapes.
Rooted cuttings placed on 1 foot centers in the autumn will cover
a bed in one season. English ivy is a favorite deer food so do
not use it in a neighborhood blessed with high populations.