Irises forum: Steep bank - Can I use Irises as an easy-care ground cover under trees?

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Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 23, 2019 1:56 PM CST
I'm getting older and I no longer have help at home in the country.

What I do have are two steep banks along my driveway that need to be weed-whacked. But I can't do it. What I try to do is use a push mower, but that is getting so hard to do and I can only do parts of it anyhow.

I have an extremely prolific, purplish-lavendar iris that grows like gangbusters. If I plant them a foot apart, they are completely packed together a year later.

I have been wondering if I should plant irises on those banks so I no longer have to mow them. In the photos I included, you can see a couple of patches of them.

Yes, they may very well stop blooming, but I'm really only concerned with covering the ground with something that is attractive, even if it is only large blades of green from non-blooming irises.

My biggest concern are the trees I am attempting to grow along these banks to give shade to the driveway. Would the irises make the trees struggle?


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Name: Marilyn, aka "Poly"
South San Francisco Bay Area (Zone 9b)
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Polymerous
Apr 23, 2019 5:24 PM CST
Personally, seeing the mess of dead and dying leaves in my iris pot ghetto, I would NOT put them on a steep slope, unless at the bottom where they would be more accessible to care for. (Note: I did NOT say "easy care". If you don't want your irises to shortly look a mess, there WILL be constant maintenance in the form of dead-leafing, blooms or not.) If you are already having trouble with a mower, how are you going to maintain irises on a steep slope? I think that you would pretty shortly end up with an eyesore over-crowded rhizomes and dead, fungus-ridden foliage. JMHO.

I have read that SOME people use daylilies on slopes, to prevent erosion. Having experienced all the dead foliage they create, I have to question the wisdom of that.

Since it looks like you are in a rural area, I have to ask if you have gophers. Gophers LOVE irises, so that would be yet another reason not to go wild with them.

You might consider putting in an actual bona fide ground cover, such as vinca or (slap me) ivy or (slap me harder) Creeping Jenny. Probably there are other things that are less invasive. No dead foliage to make an eyesore, not much maintenance (except to contain them), and some ground covers (vinca) have seasonal flowers, or interestingly colored foliage. (Creepy Jenny has a golden form; there is a variegated form of vinca.)
Evaluating a reblooming diploid daylily seedling
WA (Zone 8b)
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Rebekah
Apr 23, 2019 10:10 PM CST
I think white clover would be your best bet if it grows in your zone. It has deep roots stays green and it stays short. It is often used on hillsides as a stabilizer.
[Last edited by Rebekah - Apr 23, 2019 11:49 PM (+)]
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Name: Monty Riggles
Henry County, Virginia (Zone 7a)
Oops. The weeds took over!
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UndyingLight
Apr 24, 2019 7:48 AM CST
If you are more or less concerned about just ground cover, and not the blooms themselves, then by all means go for it! Irises multiply so fast that if you put clumps of them side by side down the slope on your road, in a few short years, that entire hillside will be covered in green, and possibly blooms too.
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Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 28, 2019 8:39 AM CST
Thank you for your reply, Polymerous!

I'm in east TN, and no gophers. I'm from California, so I know the plague they are.

I already do not maintain the current iris patches, other than letting friends come in, and trounce all over them while digging up rhizomes, once in a while.

I've not yet noticed any sort of fungal problems with the overcrowded irises, and it's been years. Perhaps I have been lucky.

I do know that ivy and vinca would definitely overgrow the area and want to stay away from those. I'm already battling honeysuckle!



Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 28, 2019 8:43 AM CST
Rebekah said:I think white clover would be your best bet if it grows in your zone. It has deep roots stays green and it stays short. It is often used on hillsides as a stabilizer.


I will look into this. I wonder about drier periods in summer, though. I have white clover mixed in my lawn area and it seems to get pretty sparse in the periods of little rain. On the bank of the hill under the trees, it gets pretty dry.
Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 28, 2019 8:44 AM CST
UndyingLight said:If you are more or less concerned about just ground cover, and not the blooms themselves, then by all means go for it! Irises multiply so fast that if you put clumps of them side by side down the slope on your road, in a few short years, that entire hillside will be covered in green, and possibly blooms too.


Thank you for your input.
That's pretty much what I was thinking. I'm in NE TN, so not too far from your area and viewpoint.
Name: Evelyn
Northern CA (Zone 8a)
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evelyninthegarden
Apr 28, 2019 10:57 AM CST
Valerie1234 said: I'm in NE TN, so not too far from your area and viewpoint.


Hilarious! Whistling
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Name: Marilyn, aka "Poly"
South San Francisco Bay Area (Zone 9b)
"The mountains are calling..."
Region: California Garden Photography Garden Procrastinator Daylilies Pollen collector Dog Lover
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Polymerous
Apr 28, 2019 11:27 AM CST
Dry shade? Hmmm.

Per this article, you might want to check out Japanese pachysandra and also Tiarella. (Forget daylilies! Forget hostas! Hostas will go dormant so you will have dead foliage and a bare spot for several months out of the year, and deer and rabbits love them.) https://www.thespruce.com/plan...
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Name: Lee-Roy
Bilzen, Belgium (Zone 8a)
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Arico
Apr 28, 2019 12:54 PM CST
I advice you to stop 'gardening' on that slope altogether and just let nature take over; you already seem to have a glade of trees establishing and a meadow looks great in summer. Over time shadow tolerant plants will establish providing diverse habitat.
Name: Evelyn
Northern CA (Zone 8a)
Hybridizer Region: United States of America Region: California Annuals Bulbs Butterflies
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evelyninthegarden
Apr 28, 2019 1:50 PM CST
Lee-Roy ~ Welcome! to the Iris Forum! Hurray! Welcome!
"June is busting out all over!"πŸŽΌπŸŽΆπŸŽ΅πŸ¦‹πŸŒΉπŸŒΈπŸŒΎ
Name: Marilyn, aka "Poly"
South San Francisco Bay Area (Zone 9b)
"The mountains are calling..."
Region: California Garden Photography Garden Procrastinator Daylilies Pollen collector Dog Lover
Moon Gardener Irises Heucheras Vegetable Grower Garden Ideas: Level 1 Celebrating Gardening: 2015
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Polymerous
Apr 28, 2019 2:03 PM CST
Arico said:I advice you to stop 'gardening' on that slope altogether and just let nature take over; you already seem to have a glade of trees establishing and a meadow looks great in summer. Over time shadow tolerant plants will establish providing diverse habitat.


Welcome to the forum, Lee-Roy!

This is why I suggested vinca groundcover. It grows well here. In my garden, it has taken over two of our mostly shady steep creek banks (keeping the weeds out), gives us blue flowers in the spring, and needs little care (just a bit of pruning or yanking to keep it in bounds up at the top of the creek bank, maybe once a year). No mowing, no fertilizing, somewhat drought tolerant (we do irrigate here because our summers are dry). Easy peasy! Thumbs up
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Name: Valerie
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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touchofsky
Apr 29, 2019 6:56 AM CST
I have sweet woodruff taking over a dry slope under a big pine tree, but it is spreading out into the sun beyond the pine. It grows like crazy, but it is airy enough that other plants grow up through it. Right now bloodroot is growing up through it and getting ready to bloom. When the bloodroot fades, the sweet woodruff covers any dying foliage.
Perhaps you could do a mixture of clumps of iris and various ground covers. It could be very pretty!
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 29, 2019 8:07 AM CST
evelyninthegarden said:

Hilarious! Whistling


Whoops! Looks like I got a mix-up happening. Hilarious!

That was meant to be addressed to Undying Light.

[Last edited by Valerie1234 - Apr 29, 2019 8:08 AM (+)]
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Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 29, 2019 8:14 AM CST
Polymerous said:Dry shade? Hmmm.

Per this article, you might want to check out Japanese pachysandra and also Tiarella. (Forget daylilies! Forget hostas! Hostas will go dormant so you will have dead foliage and a bare spot for several months out of the year, and deer and rabbits love them.)


Yes. In my location there are a lot of shale hills. You can't dig down too far before you run into it. I had to bring in earth and compost heavily to create garden soil in that area.

I'm in a rental, so I don't want to spend a lot of money to ease my garden maintenance time. Hence, wondering if irises would do the trick, being so happy to grow thick here. I just don't know if they would hinder my shade tree growth. My goal is to have a shadier driveway area in the summer.

Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 29, 2019 8:19 AM CST
Arico said:I advice you to stop 'gardening' on that slope altogether and just let nature take over; you already seem to have a glade of trees establishing and a meadow looks great in summer. Over time shadow tolerant plants will establish providing diverse habitat.


Thank you for your input, Arico.

Nature took over for a long time and it's not pretty. I'm creating a better view and more comfortable outdoor area. We have a lot of "weed trees" that have to constantly taken out and the undergrowth of weeds, poison ivy, poison oak, red trumpet vine, honeysuckle, poison sumac, red cedar, chinese privet, and invasive species of plants completely consume the space, choking out the desired trees.



Northeast Tennessee (Zone 6b)
Valerie1234
Apr 29, 2019 8:23 AM CST
touchofsky said:I have sweet woodruff taking over a dry slope under a big pine tree, but it is spreading out into the sun beyond the pine. It grows like crazy, but it is airy enough that other plants grow up through it. Right now bloodroot is growing up through it and getting ready to bloom. When the bloodroot fades, the sweet woodruff covers any dying foliage.
Perhaps you could do a mixture of clumps of iris and various ground covers. It could be very pretty!
Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)


That sounds wonderful! But the area is not shady yet. It will take time before the trees grow enough to provide adequate shade.

Name: Valerie
Ontario, Canada (Zone 4a)
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touchofsky
Apr 29, 2019 2:00 PM CST
The sweet woodruff is growing well in the mostly sun now, since we did some tree clearing a few years ago. Some is still under the pine, but it is spreading out into the sun, so it might be worth a try if you like the look of it.
Name: DaisyDo
close to Baltimore, MD (Zone 7a)
Irises Cat Lover Plant and/or Seed Trader Organic Gardener
DaisyDo
Apr 30, 2019 12:51 PM CST
If it's shady enough, wild ginger makes a pretty ground cover. And it's deer resistant. I am thinking of trying it in the dry, shady corners of my gardens, where little wants to grow.
Name: DaisyDo
close to Baltimore, MD (Zone 7a)
Irises Cat Lover Plant and/or Seed Trader Organic Gardener
DaisyDo
Apr 30, 2019 1:04 PM CST
If it's shady enough, wild ginger makes a pretty ground cover. And it's deer resistant. I am thinking of trying it in the dry, shady corners of my gardens, where little wants to grow.

I don't really think of iris as a ground cover, nor as easy care. If they get too crowded, they tend to get rot and borers. They don't so much "spread" as they get congested. So then they need to be dug up, rhizomes checked for borer, divided and replanted, spread out a bit. And If you want to minimize both borers and rot, You need to get down on hands and knees every fall and clean out every bit of the old iris foliage, and finishing with even more cleanup in the very early spring. You can't even just mow it off. The old leaves (which contain the iris borer eggs) have to be manually picked out and either burned or bagged for the landfill pickup. I'm getting a bit old for this back-breaking work, but I love my irises, because they are among the few things that the deer and groundhogs generally spare.

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