The Q&A Archives: lawn under pepper tree

Question: For three years we have been trying to grow grass under our pepper tree ( Brazillian? White flowers in summer, but no fruit). We reseed it early spring with fescue. In August, the grass begins to die, and by oct, it is completely gone. When we pick up the dog poops, everything lift out down to bare soil.

Answer: It is really difficult to establish turfgrass beneath pepper trees. First, the roots of the trees are highly competitive of water and nutrients, and the shade the canopy casts makes turfgrass establishment nearly impossible. Instead of trying to grow grass in the area, why not consider groundcovers?

Ground cover plants are good alternatives to turfgrasses. They provide a variety of textures and color, help reduce soil erosion, and can serve as a transition between turf areas and shrub or flower borders. Consider ground cover plants for areas where watering and mowing are difficult, that require extra maintenance, or that are unsuitable for grass. Here are a few suggestions:

Aegopodium podagraria 'variegatum' (Bishop's weed); 10-12" tall; Variegated, green and white foliage.
Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick) 4-6" tall; Evergreen; red, edible berries.
Campanula carpatica (Carpathian harebell); 6-14"; Can be aggressive; blue or white flowers.
Convallaria majalis (Lily-of-the-valley); 6-10"; Fragrant, white flowers in May-June; inedible, red berries; aggressive.
Galium odorata (Sweet woodruff); 6-8"; Very aggressive; one of the best covers under trees; white, fragrant flowers in May-June.
Lonicera japonica 'Halliana'(Hall's Japanese honeysuckle); 6-12"; Will also grow in full sun, but forms denser mats in shade.
Mahonia repens (Creeping Oregon grape) 6-12"; Evergreen; yellow flowers in spring; holly-like foliage.
Penstemon caespitosus (Creeping or mat penstemon); 1-2"; Very prostrate mat of tiny narrow leaves; flowers in May-June; purplish.
P. strictus (Rocky Mountain penstemon) 1-2"; Blue flowers in June-July.
Vinca minor (Periwinkle); 4-6"; Semievergreen; white or purple flowers in spring.

Best wishes with your landscape!

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