Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
May, 2010
Regional Report

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Lamium and sedum make nice companions and great groundcovers in a partially sunny spot.

Lawn Alternatives

I like lawns in moderation, but our plot of land has far too much lawn for my taste. So over the years I've acquired an impressive array of plants suitable for use as ground covers and tucked them into strategically placed corners of the lawn where they can stretch out comfortably.

Turfgrass Alternatives
My ground covers have helped me quietly reclaim the yard one square foot at a time. Each one produces a sea of color in its own specific season and grows low enough to allow occasional foot traffic. In bloom at the moment are carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans), with 8-inch spikes of purple-blue flowers, the shocking pink of 'Pink Panda' strawberry (Fragaria 'Pink Panda'), and periwinkle (Vinca minor), with delicate purple petals surrounding barely visible white stars. 'Pink Panda' is really a cross between a strawberry and a potentilla, but it does produce edible, if pulpy, fruit.

Other groundcovers I'm integrating into my garden include the attractive, silvery leaved dead nettle (Lamium). It's a 3- to 4-inch-high ground cover that thrives in shade, but will also thrive in full sun when given moist soil. The species has purple flowers and there are several cultivars available with white flowers. And, in a large area, nothing beats sweetfern (Comptonia peregrina). This woody ground cover grows well in any type of soil and its only requirement is full sun. It has glossy, green leaves that are tall and willowy, usually growing 2 to 4 feet high. Sweet fern spreads to about 8 feet by underground stems, and has small clusters of brown fruits that the birds just love.

Organic Lawn Solutions
For the lawn that remains, I try to treat it organically whenever possible. I use an organic weed-and-feed product made from corn gluten meal, a by-product of the corn milling process. The protein in corn gluten meal suppresses weed seed germination, inhibits root development, and contains 10 percent nitrogen by weight. It's a winning combination for a healthy, weed free lawn.

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