The Q&A Archives: landscaping a steep bank

Question: Our back yard has a large, steep bank. It consists of a sandy type dirt, that will not grow grass, with solid rock a few inches inderneath. It is an eyesore with just long weeds growing here and there, very hard to mow or weedeat b/c of can I make it beautiful??? Thank you.

Answer: I would plant groundcover over the area to help slow erosion - plants that you won't have to mow. Here are some suggestions:
Creeping Juniper Juniperus horizontalis
Creeping juniper is an excellent, woody, evergreen ground cover that grows 1 to 2 feet tall, depending on the variety. It is a vigorous grower capable of covering a large area. The leaves are needle shaped and green or blue-green in color. The foliage frequently turns a purple or slate color in the winter.

Creeping juniper withstands hot, dry situations and prefers full sun. It is an excellent plant for slopes and banks. The plants may be improved by clipping the ends of main branches for two or three seasons after planting to induce a dense branching system. Space plants 2 to 4 feet apart.

Moss Pink Phlox subulata
Moss pink or creeping phlox is commonly used as a rock garden plant, but it also forms an effective ground cover on poor, bare soils where there is little competition. It forms a dense mat of moss-like foliage, which is covered in spring with masses of flowers in pink, purple, or white. In rocky areas, it will persist in the existing soil and drape itself over the stones. It is a plant for full sun and relatively dry soils. As plants age, they tend to develop dead spots. Periodic division to fill such spots may be necessary. In mild climates, the plants are evergreen, but where winters are cold and plants are exposed, browning may occur.

Pachysandra, Japanese Spurge Pachysandra terminalis
Pachysandra is a popular ground cover suitable for shaded landscape situations. This evergreen plant spreads by underground stems and attains a height of 1 foot. The foliage is tinged purple in spring, becoming bright green in summer and yellow-green in winter or when planted in sunny locations.

Occasionally, clusters of tiny, off-white blossoms appear above the leaves in early May, but they have little ornamental value. The plant is adapted to full or partial shade. When planted in full sun, growth is poor. It is one of the few plants that will grow under evergreens and in dense shade. The evergreen leaves commonly "burn" and turn brown in exposed places during the winter.

Established plants are usually planted 1 foot apart in the spring. Clipping the tips of vigorous growing shoots in the spring will induce the plant to become denser. The plants should not be cut all the way to the ground. Place pachysandra in a moist, highly organic, well-drained soil for best establishment. A planting of this ground cover is usually a uniform height throughout.

Liriope, Lilyturf Liriope muscari, L. spicata
The liriopes or lilyturfs are very versatile grass-like ground covers that adapt to a wide range of conditions, including drought and salt spray. Most cultivars do well in heavy shade or full sun, although some cultivars, especially the variegated ones, are better used in shade. Liriopes are used as ground covers under trees and shrubs, on slopes and banks, and even as low edging plants along paved areas and in front of foundation plantings.

The two species are separated by the size of their leaves. L. muscari has a longer and wider leaf, and the clumps it forms are generally taller (up to 2 feet). The spikes of lilac-purple flowers formed on it in the summer generally only stand as tall as the leaves, while the spikes of lilac to almost white flowers on L. spicata generally stand up above the smaller clumps of leaves. Blue-black berries are formed on both after the flowers and are somewhat ornamental.

Liriopes spread readily, filling in areas quite quickly. There are many named cultivars of L. muscari, with several white and yellow variegations and several inflorescence variations.

A related genus, Ophiopogon, generally called mondo grass, is less hardy (only into Tidewater and central Virginia) and bears its flowers buried well down into the foliage.

Hope these suggestions help!

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