NEIGHBORHOOD GARDEN FOR FEBRUARY 13, 2016 *************************************************************





          Gardeners are always looking for low growing plants that are as tough as possible to fill in along edges, under trees, on slopes too steep to mow, and helps to prevent erosion of a slope. Flowers are an extra bonus.  There are a few plants that fit this description that can be walked on but most cannot be used for a path.  One definition I found to fit this category is any spreading plant under 2 feet tall.

          Barrenwort (Epimedium sp.) is only about 12 inches high, looks dainty, but can survive to 30 degrees F. below zero, but won’t take tramping.  It has tiny, dainty flowers early in the spring of red, yellow, or white, above clumps of 2 inch to 3 inch heart shaped leaves.  It prefers shade and with damp soil can compete with tree roots.  Mine do best on the East side of a shrub where they receive morning sun.  They spread very slowly and seem to last forever.

          If you are looking for an aggressive plant, hardy into zone 2, about 8 inches high that can’t be walked on, try Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis). It probably does well in the deepest shade of any other plant.  Not only that, it blooms little white bells along a stem reaching above the leaves.  Not fussy about soil but needing some moisture, it spreads by underground stems and blooms in spring to produce flowers quite often used in weddings and producing perfume.  After dying down in the fall, one can put on a coat of compost to keep the moisture in the soil.  I have heard a few people complain about its spreading but the roots aren’t very deep so it is not too difficult to dig out.

          For a sunny creeper, try Creeping Phlox (Phlox sublata) that stays under 6 inches in blue, pink, purple, white, or red. Easy to get root rot, it needs well drained soil.  It is quite frequently found in rock gardens where the soil is usually gravely.  I have patches in several places in the parking strip. One buys a rather small looking clump that takes several years to spread. Compost is the best fertilizer as it also helps in drainage.  After blooming I can take a scissors and deadhead to make the plot look neater.  There is a Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) for a shady spot so check carefully when buying.  Phlox sublata is also known as Moss Pink, Ground Pink, or Moss Phlox.  Books tell me that it is hardy to 30 degrees F. below zero.  They are sold in little square “hunks” and my red one took 4 years to cover from sidewalk to the curb, about 3 feet.

          Lamium maculatum is another vigorous, low ground cover. One of its main interests are the leaves with white or yellow along the ribs.  Another shade lover that I have along a wooden fence where it crawled under and into the neighbor’s yard, is sometimes called Dead Nettle or Silver Nettle. It has small pink or purple flowers in Spring and its leaves will scorch if placed in full sun.  “White Nancy” is the usual plant you see in the nurseries with white flowers and silvery leaves.  It spreads by stolons along the top of the soil. 

          Another shade lover only about 8 inches high under my Redbud Tree is Sweet Woodruff, aka (also known as) Bed Straw or Asperula odorata. It likes acid soil and spreads quite rapidly, with square stems and tiny white flowers in the spring.  The dried leaves are sometimes used in potpourri or sachets or to flavor drinks. It is supposed to be like vanilla.  It can be divided either in the spring or in the fall.  If you do it in the fall, put mulch over the plant to prevent heaving.  In some books you will find it listed as Gallium odoratum.

Copyright 2016