Rock Gardens forum: Suggestions for groundcover??

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Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
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Bonehead
Oct 3, 2014 12:26 PM CST
I have tried repeatedly to plant a hardy groundcover between rocks set into soil as a landing area for my water faucet area and in the expansion joints of my sidewalk. Here's what I've tried so far: various thymes, creeping pennyroyal, blue star creeper, moss, various low sedums. Nothing lasts beyond one season. Likely my biggest failure is to keep them well watered until they get established. Dandelions, buttercups, and grass seem to thrive in these areas and overpower whatever else I've planted. Any suggestions of a really hardy, low-maintenance ground cover that might adapt to these poor conditions?
I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
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jvdubb
Oct 3, 2014 7:20 PM CST
Perhaps antenneria.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
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dirtdorphins
Oct 3, 2014 8:26 PM CST
Interesting--I have some seriously aggressive and competitive (downright weedy) thymes, blue star creeper, and sedums so I am having a hard time imagining their demise where the others thrive.
Is this sun or shade or some variation?
What is the soil like?
Could it be too much water/poorly drained such that they rot before they establish? (I am too tired to figure out if Stanwood is a rainy part of the PNW or not--it's all much more rain than I can relate to. Plus, and "landing area for my water faucet" has me wondering the same.)

Are you trying to plant something with lots of existing roots into these spaces?
It could be that if you remove the 'weeds' that you don't want that you could then try seeding the cracks with the 'weeds' you would prefer--and see better results.
I often find the most amazing volunteers growing in my sidewalk cracks Rolling my eyes.
Alternatively, you could try rooting little spriglets or rosettes into the spaces (that works very well with succulents), but again you'd have to clear the competition.
Same idea really--plants that send their own roots into spaces where we can't exactly 'plant' them will regularly grow into themselves and establish very well despite our perception of poor conditions.

I'd be happy to suggest some additional indestructible-for-me-anyway ground covers with a little more info to guide my suggestions.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
Birds Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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Bonehead
Oct 4, 2014 7:33 PM CST
Here's some pics from today. Don't mind my 'weeding hen' - she follows me all over the yard and ends up in lots of photos.

This is the base of my deck stairs. Northern exposure, shady. River rock set in sand, with native dirt below. I planted several plugs of Scotch Moss (Sagina subulata 'Aurea') in 2011 which slowly got beaten out by grasses and weeds. I do get a fair amount of a native moss (?) that has no discernible root system (shown in my hand). I've got it all cleaned out yet again, ready to try something else. The native moss will colonize this winter, but it is no match for the grass and dandelions. I have a similar river rock landing next to a frost-free faucet (one of those red pump looking things) that is also pretty shady. It's currently totally overgrown and buried by a fallen honeysuckle trellis, so no photos.
Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/42b0eb Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/2812c7 Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/e762da

Here's the edge of my stairs which off/on includes volunteer dandelions, grass, sedums, centaura, toadflax, and CA poppies. I let some grow, pull others. Wouldn't mind planting something specific to grow in the cracks, which just get larger over time.
Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/bfcde2

Here's one of the expansion joints in the sidewalk, cleaned out. It previously had wood as a filler which has now rotted. I'm guessing there is a gravel base with native soil below, so the drainage will be fairly sharp and heat is a factor given the surrounding concrete. This gets east and south sun.
Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/d8a6ad

And, here's the entrance to our firepit/patio area, which gets full sun, facing west. This has been successful with Irish Moss (Sagina subulata) planted at the top landing and Red Creeping Thyme (Thymus praecox 'Coccineus Group') surrounding the steps. The moss tends to get a bit thick, but is really cushy on bare feet so quite manageable.
Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/138265 Thumb of 2014-10-05/Bonehead/5bc0c0

I've typically had poor luck with thyme - it looks nice the second year then often gets scraggly or hollow in the middle. Crossing fingers on the red thyme, which is going on Year 4 and doing well. It gets full sun and I am better at watering this area.

I may try to move some of the Scotch moss to the base of the deck stairs, although I'm not sure if it will do well in shade. Seems like it would, but the patch I do have is in full-on all-afternoon sun, so...??

Hope this helps. I'm hoping to either direct seed or start some plugs and plant out in early spring. Thanks for any suggestions.

I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016
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dirtdorphins
Oct 5, 2014 2:37 PM CST
Smiling love the chicken Lovey dubby

okay--here is 'the problem' as I see it: the competition and the shadiness
any 'groundcover' that could out-compete grass and dandelions between these nice stones would have to grow thick enough and tall enough to smother the competition. I could suggest a couple of shade tolerant thugs which would also smother the stones and the walkway and you'd probably still have some grass and dandelions...
I am presuming that for both aesthetic reasons and functionality that you may prefer to have well behaved, short, and step-able cuties between the stones.

In my experience, stones never serve as a barrier to grasses but rather as an 'encourager' for the grasses to send runners and grow between. And likewise with weed seeds, they create wonderful, protected germination sites.
Personally, I hate landscape fabric/weed cloth and I don't use it now (although I wish I had in a situation that I have currently with a section of rock border--I did use it in the MW for all my stone paths because the weed problem there was exponential ).

Anyway, you could go to all the trouble of removing the stones and base material and some native soil, lay a weed barrier and put in a solid border/barrier along the 'grass' side, and then replace it all and plant with things that don't need a deep root run. It makes it easy to pull weeds when they try to grow and would reduce the grass invasion tremendously. A ton of work to start but would cut the maintenance time. I could see your native moss as well as the scotch moss being quite content with that and maybe some violets Cyclamen Leaved Violet (Viola 'Sylettas') -cute, sedum album, mini armeria, toadflax? I'm thinking more of clumping things rather than creeping things so that they don't eat your rocks...Semps do pretty well for me in shady areas--but don't like to be stepped on so much--maybe along the base of the rock wall?.
More creepy but still clumpy--cymbalaria, arenaria. And if you're more interested in creeping things that would cover the rocks, well there are some that like the shade (veronica, lysimachia--thug, leptinella, etc.)

I would suggest some type of barrier along the 'grass' side to give whatever you plant a chance because grass keeps being grass. ( I have had fair success just pounding a strip of glass-board along an edge like that. I use it too for collars around suckering shrubs and other) It could be that that and some vigilant weeding initially is all you really need to allow whatever you plant to establish.

For the expansion joints in more sun...thinking on it...
do you want something that stays more in the crack or something that eventually eats the sidewalk?

Hilarious! I have an ever-expanding antennaria that could literally carpet the sidewalk!
here it is eating rocks
Thumb of 2014-10-05/dirtdorphins/8afe01 Thumb of 2014-10-05/dirtdorphins/814e96
I would be happy to send you some sheets of it Rolling my eyes.
Name: Deb
Pacific Northwest (Zone 8b)
Region: Pacific Northwest Organic Gardener Herbs Dragonflies Dog Lover Keeper of Poultry
Birds Lover of wildlife (Raccoon badge) Garden Ideas: Master Level Celebrating Gardening: 2015 Garden Sages Plant Identifier
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Bonehead
Oct 5, 2014 3:40 PM CST
Dirt & Jennifer, great ideas to cogitate on! I'm rather liking the antennaria idea, as several varieties are native in my neck of the woods. I've never grown it. Will it tolerate shade? The deck landing is not a high-traffic area, although it does get light foot traffic (not by any means one of my main routes to the yard). Digging up and resetting the rocks over cloth is not in my personal universe, although I can certainly see the benefit of doing so.

Re: eating the rock (love that term) v. nicely complementing the rocks -- of course I would prefer the latter but realistically know that the former is more likely no matter what is planted. I'm not opposed to occasional cutting back to keep the rocks exposed, and a more aggressive plant would likely have more success against the weeds.

Expansion joints could handle more rock-eating, simply to break up the monotony of the sidewalks.

I like the idea of putting in a grass guard of some sort, there is a definite grass encroachment from the lawn side.

And, researching all other suggestions as well. Keep brain-storming!

I want to live in a world where the chicken can cross the road without its motives being questioned.
Name: Jennifer
48036 MI (Zone 6b)
Cottage Gardener Houseplants Spiders! Heucheras Frogs and Toads Dahlias
Hummingbirder Sedums Winter Sowing Peonies Region: Michigan Garden Ideas: Level 2
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jvdubb
Oct 5, 2014 6:20 PM CST
All my antennaria grow in full sun, so I have no experience with part shade. They do get weeds growing in them. But they seem to be very tolerant of my pulling/digging out the weeds. For me transplants seem to just take right up. All I do is scratch the surface of the new area a bit, slide something under a section to move, drop in the new spot, and simply tamp down a bit. Oh and some water to start. It amazes me how it just grows right in and never seems to have any sulky transplant period.
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
Service dogs: Angels with paws.
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lovemyhouse
Oct 5, 2014 6:31 PM CST
Could consider Golden Oregano for some of it. Low growing, eventually makes a mat about 30 inches by 15 inches by three inches.
Thumb of 2014-10-06/lovemyhouse/ff88a1 Thumb of 2014-10-06/lovemyhouse/4e02a7

If you don't ask, the answer is always 'no.'
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016
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dirtdorphins
Oct 5, 2014 7:45 PM CST
Ha-ha--digging up and resetting the rocks is not in my personal universe either (which is why I keep battling that one area in futility Hilarious! --maybe someday I will expand my universe or let it go)

My antennaria gets afternoon shade from about 3pm on. Supposedly, they need full sun and obviously mine advances over the rocks just fine with afternoon shade. You could try it in the shady spot--nothin' to lose really. I'm sure it would do well on the sunny sidewalk. Those parts in the pictures above going across the rocks just lift up--like a tight carpet--the stems are all intertwined and have little roots hanging but they aren't even attached to the rocks. It's pretty amazing stuff.
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016
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dirtdorphins
Nov 17, 2014 9:28 PM CST
@Bonehead
here is a picture of the underside of the advancing mat


I cut these off and planted them, aka laid them, in a shady spot--they did alright thru the last of fall...I'll let you know how they do in the shade next year presuming they survive the winter after being brutalized ....
Name: Magga
Reykjavik, Iceland (Zone 4a)
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magga
Nov 18, 2014 7:43 AM CST
I would suggest that you try Italian toadflax Cymbalaria pallida http://www.plantify.co.uk/Cymbalaria-pallida/plant-1206

I have this lovely spreading plants in a lava rock bed where í had also planted Some primulas and other smaller plants. But theItalian toadflax crawls over almost everything I put there. Í have a small garden so í decided to remove the toadflax but I gave up. Next spring I'm going to remove all the other plants. I have not tried to walk on it but it is very hardy here and í can't kill it except to use herbicide. The Italian toadflax is very beautiful with small blue/grey leaves and violet flowers. It is in bloom almost all summer, it is very low growing. It grows in half shade / shade. Allthough it crawls all over this lavarock bed like crazy it does not grow into the grass below this bed. If í can find photos to show you I will post them here.
Magga
Name: Magga
Reykjavik, Iceland (Zone 4a)
Foliage Fan Roses Region: Europe Peonies Lilies Dog Lover
Ferns Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Seed Starter Cat Lover Vegetable Grower Sempervivums
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magga
Nov 18, 2014 8:16 AM CST
Here I found a page with photos of Italian toadflax (which we call músagin = mouse mouth)
http://www.lystigardur.akureyri.is/default.aspx?modID=16&pId...

If you scroll down the page you will see more photos, the last one is very beautiful where this plant grows between large flat stones.
Magga
Name: Debra
Garland, TX (NE Dallas suburb) (Zone 8a)
Service dogs: Angels with paws.
Dragonflies Dog Lover I was one of the first 300 contributors to the plant database! Garden Photography Bee Lover Plays in the sandbox
Butterflies Region: Texas I sent a postcard to Randy! Charter ATP Member Annuals Garden Sages
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lovemyhouse
Nov 18, 2014 8:56 AM CST
Pretty stuff, Magga. Smiling
If you don't ask, the answer is always 'no.'
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016
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dirtdorphins
Nov 18, 2014 9:21 AM CST
oooh that is very beautiful! I love the violet flowers between those rocks!
(mine are pink and I have a pale-something-approching violet just barely and I am jealous--I have never seen the Cymbalaria pallida and I would very much like to find some of that!!)

this was one of my suggestions above for shade tolerant clumping creepers...
Mine don't crawl all over and between everything though I wish they would.
Name: Magga
Reykjavik, Iceland (Zone 4a)
Foliage Fan Roses Region: Europe Peonies Lilies Dog Lover
Ferns Lover of wildlife (Black bear badge) Seed Starter Cat Lover Vegetable Grower Sempervivums
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magga
Nov 18, 2014 10:57 AM CST
It seems that nobody saves seeds from this plant here, everybody just gives away small clumps of the plant. I just checked my Gardening Society and they don't have seeds of this plant so í went outside to check if I could find seeds but the plant has died down for the winter, unfortunately it is not evergreen, at least not here. I got mine from a neighbor, just a timy piece and before the end of summer it was all over the bed. I Could try to save seeds most likely in May next year if you like.
Magga
Name: Dirt
(Zone 5b)
Plant Lover: Loves 'em all! Garden Photography Bee Lover Region: Utah Photo Contest Winner: 2014 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
Photo Contest Winner: 2015 Photo Contest Winner: 2016
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dirtdorphins
Nov 18, 2014 12:11 PM CST
Green Grin!
Yes, please and Thank You!

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