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If you are thinking of putting in a lawn to cover an area of ground, you may want to consider planting some groundcovers instead. Groundcovers are plants that spread across the ground but do not grow tall, so no cutting is required.
Areas planted in groundcover need little to no maintenance. During the first year, new plantings of groundcover will require weeding and mulching, but once established, little care is needed.
Groundcovers are usually chosen for texture, density and how well they spread and choke out the weeds. They enhance the soil by acting as mulch, and some groundcovers are nitrogen-fixing. They also control erosion; many survive in shade and under trees and most are immune to ground pearl. Some native perennials that can be used as groundcovers include: ajuga, chrysogonum (green and gold), delosperma (hardy ice plant), dwarf plumbago, heuchera, hosta, litope, dwarf mondo grass, pachysandra, moss phlox, dwarf ruellia, sedum, thyme, verbena, and creeping veronica (speedwell).
Some require full sun and most demand well drained soil. The Agricultural Research Center in Castle Hayne is currently working on a new blueberry plant called Creeping Blueberry, which can be used a groundcover.
Gardeners often plant clover as a soil conditioner. It grows quickly and easily, chokes out weeds and is easily “turned in”’ to the beds when planting time draws near. The deep root system reduces soil compaction. Clover is also a nitrogen-fixing plant, which enriches the soil with natural fertilizer.
Clover also works well as a replacement for turf. Consider the benefits: low maintenance, clover needs little to no watering or mowing, fertilizers are not needed to grow clover, stays green even in the driest part of summer, inexpensive (it costs about $4 to cover 4,000 square feet of turf area), and it’s easy to walk through or play on, although not as durable as grass.
Commonly available clovers are Dutch White, Yellow Blossom and Red Clover. Of these, Dutch White is best suited for lawn-type use. It can be mowed low if you like and it can handle dog urine.
You can also convert a sunny part of your lawn to a display of ornamental grasses. These grasses are low maintenance and grow well in most soils. They seldom require fertilizer, and have few pest and disease problems.
Ornamental grasses are also drought-resistant and low maintenance. Most grasses prefer a sunny area, especially the more brightly colored varieties. Low growing ornamentals such as liriope or mondo grass are running grasses and can be useful for erosion control on slopes or as groundcover.
Flower and shrub beds can be strategically located to add color and interest while expanding the low maintenance areas of your yard. Terraced beds are a good solution for sloped areas that are difficult to mow. Beds of shade-loving varieties can be planted beneath trees with low-hanging branches or protruding roots that cause mowing problems.
Choose native perennials, as they will require less attention, less fertilizer and guarantee good results. Perennials will require occasional dividing and replanting as they grow. Divided sections can be given to friends as gifts. For sunny areas, use: achillea (common yarrow), hollyhock, artemisia, butterfly weed, aster, chrysanthemum, Shasta daisy, coreopsis, dianthus, foxglove, purple coneflower, hardy ageratum, gaillardia, gaura, swamp sunflower, heliopsis, daylily, rose mallow (hibiscus), candytuft, iris, false aster, lantana, liatris, lobelia, monarda (beebalm), Russian sage, phlox, balloon flower, rudbeckia (black-eyed Susan), salvia, scabiosa (pincushion flower), sedum, goldenrod and stokesia. Bleeding heart, helleborus and coral bells are on the short list of shade lovers.
Converting your lawn to a mixed landscape can save water and energy, while reducing yard waste and the need for fertilizers and herbicides.
When planning how to reduce the size of your lawn, lawn shape should be considered. Maintenance can be reduced and simplified by designing the lawn areas in continuous, easy-to-mow swaths. By eliminating corners, mowing becomes quicker and easier. Corner areas can be replaced with shrub or flower plantings. Islands in the lawn, such as trees or flower beds, will slow down the mowing so it is better to have one or two large islands than a number of smaller ones.
Trees will do better with bark mulch or groundcover planted beneath, as grass will compete with the tree roots for nutrients. Trees with low-lying branches can have ground cover planted beneath, so the person mowing doesn’t have to duck below. Trees in the lawn can have a wide skirting surrounding the base, using mulch, groundcover or native plants. A flagstone or brick border can be used to define the edge; set this border below the level of the lawn, so mowing is easy and no other trimming is required. This looks attractive and cuts down considerably on maintenance.
Edges of the lawn can also be defined with inset flagstone, landscaping brick or slate. Set the edging below the level of the grass so the mower can go right over. This eliminates the need for edging. With careful planning, you can do without a weed eater for edging. A little extra work now can save a lot of work and water later.