21 April 2010
In The Garden With the Fluvanna Master Gardeners
By Irene C. Burke - Fluvanna Master Gardener
Fluvanna County Extension Office: 434.591.1950
Except for the mighty American lawn, many green-growing groundcovers induce yawns and eye-rolls. The endless blankets of mulch, ivy, vinca and creeping junipers (Juniperus horzontalis) can be relentless across home and commercial terrain, whether urban, suburban or rural. Like turf-grass, groundcovers are easy to install, quick to take hold and even easier to maintain.
Consider keeping your comfortable green grass, but reduce the breadth and width, with softened edges, along the curves and hills, beside richly textured, vibrantly colored conifers.
Check out Microbiota decussata sometimes labeled Russian Arborvitae or Siberian Cypress. While it is a member of the same family as the arborvitae, it is not of the same genus and unlike the arborvitae this cypress is deer resistant.
Its lacey down-turned branches flow across the earth with slowly morphing hues from apple green in spring to deep pine by summer, with pink-shaded brown in autumn to a blushing bronze in winter. At maturity this supine cypress extends six feet, reaching barely a foot high.
Try golden creeping Juniperus horizontalis 'Mother Lode' instead of the more common grey-green Juniperus horizontalis 'Bar Harbor'. In the same chartreuse color-range look for Juniperus horizontalis 'Lime Glow'.
You thought all mugo pines were dark green? Pinus mugo 'Carsten's Wintergold' spreads its one-foot high lime-green foliage in spring and summer but redresses itself for autumn and winter in mellow yellow with a hint of orange.
Fluff-up lawn borders with prostrate Japanese plum yew, Cephalotaxus harringtonia 'Prostrata'. In spring, its green-glow tips gradually darken to a baby-spinach tone for summer.
Though a conifer, the recumbent larch, Larix decidua Pendula sheds its needles as temperatures decline; then renews itself each spring above its own lush mulch. Youve seen them staked to 3 or 4 feet, but for a ground cover, let these conifers sprawl. Theyll rise scarcely a foot.
I know junipers can be boring but Juniperus davurica 'Expansa Variegata' stands apart from its humdrum cousins. Pale lemon splotches grace the upward facing limbs from outer points to inner depths.
In the front of any border instead of planting creeping thyme or other ground-hugging perennial, set down a few Juniperus horizontalis Icee Blue 'Monber' P.P.# 9639. At a modest growth rate, they spread their limbs to nearly 8 feet but stand barely 4 inches high.
Tend each shrub with thorough watering for the first year. All are drought tolerant once established, deer resistant, too. Their slow to moderate gains will make less claim on your pruning chores, as well.
Unlike upright evergreens, with snow-cover these conifers are inaccessible to cold-weather deer browsing. Even when swept clean by winter winds, they remain unattractive to four-footed grazers.
If you cant tolerate the intervening bare spaces as these crawling conifers fill-in, plant spring flowering bulbs like narcissus. For May to August use Hemerocallis 'Stella de Oro': the only daylily that deer seem to avoid. Choose other yellow-flowering perennials to both contrast and complement the greens and grays, the delicate gold and lemon tones of autumn.
While initial cost may seem daunting, the long-term expense diminishes rapidly, a most welcome outcome for any low-care groundcover.
Tip of the Week
Try Epsom salts, magnesium sulfate (MgSO4), in the bath after a hard day among the blooms and bushes, but dont use it in the garden. Get a soil test before applying any household chemical to the landscape. The claims of Epsom salts benefits along the garden path are not supported by science-based research.