The Q&A Archives: What to do with west facing dirt area

Question: I live in a mobile home park. My west facing side has the afternoon sun. At this point it is just dirt with some stepping stones. What can I do with this area? My front porch is next to it, the size of the area is probably 12 x 12ft. I live in Southern California.
Is ground cover the best idea? I don't really need grass, can someone give me a good idea? And the last part is I am a beginner.

Answer: Groundcover will certainly keep down the dust, and many will take foot traffic, if you decide to walk around and tend your other plants (if you'd like to include additional plants in the space). I'd choose an easy care groundcover such as Ajuga (carpet bugle). It thrives in most soil types and takes full sun to part shade. Other plants to consider include these easy care, low maintenance suggestions:

Armeria (Sea Thrift); Blooms: Spring to Early summer; Colors: Pink, rose, lilac, red or white. The foliage resembles a tuft of grass. The flowers shoot up on stems and resemble small alium clusters. If deadheaded, you will usually get a repeat bloom and the whole plant can be refreshed by cutting down to basal growth, but it's not required. Sweet looking plants, they are actually tough customers, able to grow in rocky soil and even in high winds and sea spray.

Chelone lyonii (Turtlehead); Blooms: Late summer to late fall; Colors: Pink, white or red. Chelone can survive almost anything. They do need extra moisture if planted in hot sun, but otherwise are undemanding. Attractive seedheads mean deadheading is not necessary. Plants attain full size within 3-4 years and are long-lived.

Echinops ritro (Globe Thistle); Blooms: Early summer to Early Fall; Colors: Blue or white. This is one thistle that is not weedy or invasive. Echinops should not be divided, because with its long tap root, it doesn't like to be disturbed. It appears to bloom forever because the seed head is as attractive as the bloom, which means there is no need to deadhead. Echinops even does well in poor, dry soil.

Iris siberica (Siberian Iris); Blooms: Late spring; Colors: Blues, purples or white. One of the most attractive and adaptable of the irises. Siberian Iris have the typical iris leaf blades, but unlike many of their cousins, Siberian Iris leaves don't flop or scorch after blooming. The plants remain a contrasting form in the garden long after the blooms have faded. They can spread quickly in moist conditions and require division when they get crowded. In warmer zones such as yours, they may rebloom in the fall.

Liatris spicata (Blazing Star); Blooms: Mid-summer through fall; Colors: Purples or white. Although native to marshy areas, Liatris is surprisingly drought tolerant and accepting of all types of soil. It is a tireless bloomer and the spiky flowers and grassy foliage add definite textural interest to the garden. To avoid staking, select a compact or low growing variety.

Paeonia (Peony); Blooms: Late spring / Early summer; Colors: Pinks, white, reds or yellow. This favorite old-fashioned perennial looks does best if left alone. The heavy double blossoms will may require some staking, if they don't have other plants to lean on, but the single flowered varieties are usually able to stand tall on their own. The bushy foliage looks attractive all season. Peonies prefer to stay put and don't adjust quickly to being divided.

Perovskia atriplicifolia (Russian Sage); Blooms: Mid-summer to Fall; Colors: Blue
Give Russian Sage good drainage and full sun and you'll be rewarded with a haze of blue that gets brighter and more vivid as the blossoms open. The plants gets woody stems, but can die back to the ground in colder climates. Pruning down to 8 - 10 inches in early spring encourages new growth and profuse blooms. Perovskia has very few pest problem. Even deer don't like it. You won't need to divide your Russian Sage, but you will get a few welcome volunteers.

Thalictrum aquilegifolium (Meadow Rue); Blooms: Late spring; Colors: Pink, lavender or white. The flowers are actually fuzzy puffs with no petals. There is only one bloom, but it lasts several weeks and remains attractive as it ages. The foliage stays attractive and it rarely needs dividing.

Tiarella cordifolia (Allegheny Foam flower); Blooms: Late spring / Early summer
Colors: White or pink. Tiarella cordifolia spreads rapidly, but accommodates other plants by going around them. It makes an ideal ground cover, giving four seasons of interest where the leaves are still visible above snow cover. Fuzzy spikes of flowers shoot out above the maple shaped leaves. The velvety leaves remain attractive all season. T. cordifolia will take care of itself if planted in a shady setting.

Hope these suggestions inspire you to add more plants to your yard. If you'd rather not dig in the soil, why not try gardening in containers? You can move the containers around to change the appearance of your yard.

Best wishes with your new garden!

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