Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
March, 2001
Regional Report

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Colorful hosta foliage shimmers with water droplets. Later, spikes of blue or white flowers will adorn this beauty.

Ground Covers for Shade

Several years ago, I planted some spring-blooming crab apple trees to define and accentuate an oval lawn area. Now I'm planting ground covers under the trees to streamline the mowing process. Using a ground cover, just one kind of low-maintenance plant, will also highlight the curved shape of the lawn.


In preparation for planting, last summer we smothered the grass directly beneath the trees with a layer of heavy cardboard (big pieces from appliance boxes) topped with several inches of shredded bark mulch. The mulch camouflaged the cardboard and, as both materials break down, they'll improve the soil in that area. This spring, I'll improve the soil more by adding compost before planting.

Selecting a Ground Cover

Since I'm planting under trees, my selection is limited to shade-tolerant plants. Even with the added compost, the soil in that area will not be very rich. Plus, tree roots will compete with the planting beneath, so I need something that's easy to grow. Some common ground covers that would grow fine are English ivy and Vinca minor. But I want to plant something different.

Ground Cover Alternatives

I have ruled out ajuga, plumbago, and liriope. In my experience, ajuga spreads aggressively into lawn. Plumbago's late summer blue blooms and brilliant fall color are great, but it starts growing very late in the spring and takes awhile to look good. Liriope often looks so unkempt in spring that it needs a crewcut and then time to recover, and its texture is too similar to that of grass.

Final Answer

In gardening there are always trade-offs, so balancing ease of maintenance, longevity, and cost with aesthetics, I have decided to plant hosta. Hosta emerges slowly in the spring, but the bold foliage will bring color and textural contrast to the lawn and the trees. Once established, hosta is tough, dependable, and very long lived. Plus, I like it. The only drawback is selecting a variety. Looking at options, I feel like the proverbial kid in the candy store. Somehow I will select one variety from the myriad choices, and it will look fabulous under the trees.

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