There are certain situations where growing grass is impossible- for example, the area under a tree that has a large, dense canopy, on the north side of a house, or other structure that doesn't let in enough light for the grass to grow. In these situations, your only alternatives are to remove what grass might still be remaining and switch to a ground cover that can withstand dense shade, use mulch, or a combination of the two.
There are many groundcovers that are shade tolerant. The evergreen varieties are Vinca, Pachysandra, Liriope, Wintercreeper, English Ivy, and Ajuga. If you prefer non-evergreen plants, you can use hostas, goutweed, wild ginger, violets, and lily-of-the-valley. You may be able to find other types of shade tolerant plants by visiting your local garden center. There are a couple different factors that you have to take into account when deciding to plant a ground cover underneath a tree or similar type of densely shaded area. Depending upon the type of soil you have in an area, or the type of tree that is growing in the area, there may be roots that will compete for space and moisture with the ground cover. The area may need to be watered more often than other parts of the lawn or landscape. Adding quality mulch to the area prior to planting will help hold in moisture and make the area more attractive. Make sure that the mulch does not cover the base of the tree, resulting in what is often called a "mulch volcano."
Another important factor to take into consideration are the leaves that may fall from a tree. It is not a good idea to completely cover evergreen ground covers with leaves. Leaving a thin layer of leaves is fine, but do not cover the entire plant. Large leaves, such as from a maple tree, will have a tendency to matt down during the winter months. Use a leaf blower, or lightly rake, the excess leaves off of the plants.
Many people wonder how many plants they should put in an area. That really depends upon the type of plant that is being used and amount of area that you want to cover. As a general rule of thumb, a quick cover can be achieved by placing plants six inches apart. The easiest way to do this is to determine the area in inches and divide it by six. That will give you an idea of how many plants you're going to need to fill in the area. In some cases, tree roots may make it difficult to plant across the entire area. In these types of situations it may be better to plant the ground covers in sections to allow them to fill in overtime.
Even shade tolerant plants may not prosper if some sunlight does not filter down to the area. In these situations, it may be better to put in mulch or decorative stones. It may not be as attractive as an area filled in with living plants, but at least you can keep the soil from eroding and prevent weeds from growing in the area. If you still have questions, or you need some help choosing the right ground cover plant for your landscape, leave it up to the experts.
Contact your local Spring Green professional for help with maintaining your lawn and landscape. Spring Green has a variety of other lawn care tips to help you keep your lawn looking the way you want it.
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