The Q&A Archives: Ground Cover

Question: I want to lay down ground cover in our backyard in place of the sparse grass that grows there now. It is sandy, coastal soil almost entirely shaded by a number of loblolly pines. The summers can be dry but the backyard floods in spots during heavy rains. What is the best ground cover for these conditions, approximate cost, and how to go about planting?<br>Thank you for this service

Answer: Wow, that is a challenge. Something for a shady spot that is resistant to drought and occasionally moist soil. Are you going to continue to walk on whatever you put down? Ground covers simply will not tolerate the foot traffic that grass will. Think about that, and if you decide you are shutting down the backyard or putting paths in, I found a few that may work. Before I tell you what they are, let me say it would be great if you could improve the soil a bit. Since you are going to all of this work anyway, perhaps you could till in some organic material such as compost, leaf mould or composted cow manure. This will not only improve drainage and soil composition, whatever you decide to plant will have a much better chance of thriving. Having said that, here you go: Euphorbia Cyparissias (Poor Man's Evergreen) is one choice. It performs well in dry, even neglected spots (you may have to baby it a bit until it takes off though). Some varieties of Ajuga may thrive there, perhaps try 'SilverBeauty'. There is also a ground cover called Antennaria (Cat's Paws or Pussy-toes) that may do well there. It would probably be my first choice. Antennaria actually prefers dry, infertile soil and it is extremely drought tolerant. I think it may tolerate the occasional moist soil if it is not for extended periods. As I mentioned, and as you know, this is a difficult spot. Most plants either like it wet or dry, few tolerate extremes of both. Regarding cost, that will depend on the size of your yard, what you choose, whether you plant from seed or plants, and how many plants you install (how quick of coverage you want). For example, if you choose the Antennaria, it is spaced 10-12" apart and if you buy 10+ plants they are about $4.50 a piece. You could do some quick calculations based on your measurements to get a "guesstimate". When planting, I think the biggest consideration would be to try and improve the soil a bit and adding organic material as mentioned above. This way you get rid of the sparse grass that is there now, have loose soil to work in, and have a good opportunity to add in the soil improvements. If you need a source for anything please feel free to post another question via the website.

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