Pass on the grass | March 21, 2008 | Danville Express | |

Danville Express

- March 21, 2008

Pass on the grass

Creeping perennials provide a solution for problem areas

A welcoming, lush and green lawn is something to be proud of, but the challenges of maintaining such a lawn can be tough for the greenest thumb. Where traditional turf fails in the landscape, using creeping perennials is an alternative that is both ornamental and functional.

"Almost every homeowner has an area in the landscape where grass just won't grow," says Frances Hopkins, founder of Under A Foot Plant Co. "Creeping perennials provide the solution for these problem areas."

Creeping perennials should not be likened to common groundcovers, though it is easy to confuse the two.

"The difference is definitive," Hopkins says. "Groundcovers grow much larger at 12 to 24 inches and do not make for a pleasant walking surface. Creepers will grow only about 2 to 4 inches creating a pleasant, low visual plane typically associated with a lawn, plus they are sturdy enough to handle foot traffic."

Stepables, Hopkins' line of more than 140 creeping perennial varieties, provide solutions for troublesome landscapes.

"Creeping perennials have thousands of tiny, compact root nodes that firmly grasp the soil," Hopkins says. "As often as you step on them with the soles of your feet, they will vigorously take root; the more they are walked on, the faster they will creep across the landscape space."

Stepables plants can be purchased at Navlet's Garden Center on Camino Ramon.

Plant selection

First, it's important to decide how much you are going to use the planted area. "Foot traffic and function are among the most important considerations when selecting lawn replacement alternatives," Hopkins says.

This is why she has categorized Stepables into three usage groups - for light, moderate and heavy foot traffic areas. Light foot traffic means someone will be walking on the creeping perennials one to two times per week; moderate is one to two times per day; and heavy is three or more times per day. When choosing plants, the denser a plant, the more traffic it will take.

Therefore, a list of specific areas, including expected levels of walking and strolling, is a good, initial means to a successful change from grass to this type of planting. Curb appeal is another important consideration - improving a home's landscape and overall appearance.

"Think about the elements of decor - brick, slate, concrete, paint color and color schemes," Hopkins says. "Make plant choices that work well with the surroundings."

With these considerations in mind, the next step is choosing the right plants for the area's environmental conditions. Hopkins says the No. 1 thing to look for is sun-to-shade ratio and where the light hits. Next, homeowners are able to find out their soil quality by taking a sample to a local garden center for analysis. Based on the results, garden center employees can help choose a soil amendment, which ideally should be something with excellent drainage. Correct drainage allows an appropriate amount of water absorption by the plant's roots, while permitting excess water to be drained away from the plant.

The turf transition

Making the transition from a conventional grass lawn to one with creeping perennials takes planning. Be sure you choose the proper plant for the area and function, and one that is readily available. Next, determine the density of the plants. Spacing them 12 inches apart, for example, will require fewer plants, but they will take a year or more to fill in and need a bit of maintenance. Spacing plants just 2 inches apart will require more plants, costing more. Deciding how densely to plant depends on how much money is in the budget and if instant gratification is a priority.

The next step is removing the sod, and tilling and amending the soil with high-drainage components. Once the bed is ready, consider placing a slow-release fertilizer at root level.

"Do not place fertilizer directly on the plant because this will burn the foliage," Hopkins says

To avoid hand weeding, homeowners may opt to apply a ground cloth or pre-emergent herbicide, though creeping perennials naturally inhibit weeds. For best results, plant creeping perennials even or just above the soil line, but never below. Planting below the soil line will cause water to collect and, ultimately, drown the plants, Hopkins says.

Step on it

The final step is just that - gently step on each plant to set it in place and get it growing.

"Believe it or not, gently stepping on each new plant actually attaches the roots to the soil line. In about three days, little roots will emerge from the nodes," Hopkins says.

As with traditional lawns, the more thought, planning, effort and care that homeowners put into installing a bed of creeping perennials, the more it will pay off in the end.

Courtesy of ARAcontent