Finding plants that make the grade Slopes: Land on an incline presents a challenge to the gardener, who might have to take cover ground cover, that is, or shrubbery.

August 25, 1996|By Nancy Brachey | Nancy Brachey,KNIGHT-RIDDER NEWS SERVICE

Slopes, be they gentle or steep, may not delight gardeners -- at first. Even slight slopes often prove inhospitable to grass, and if grass does manage to grow, steep slopes are too difficult to mow,

But there are alternatives, ones that will avoid the problem of sowing grass seed each fall only to see it perish the next summer because the young grass could not get enough water while getting established.

One alternative is sod. Because the grass already has roots, it has a better chance of getting established on slopes not too steep to handle with a mower.

A slope of gentle or moderate pitch also is easier to keep watered and thus offers a better chance for success with sod.

But steeper slopes, particularly ones in shaded areas, pose a greater challenge. This brings us to two alternatives: ground covers and shrubbery.

Ground cover is the term usually given to plants that serve most purposes of grass, but that look different. These are the familiar English ivy, vincas and monkey grass, as well as lamb's ears, pachysandra, thymes, moss phlox and day lilies. Some of these plants, such as ivy and vinca, are ground cover by their nature; they sprawl across the ground and usually can adapt to growing on steep slopes.

Though not a sprawler, monkey grass looks wonderful when massed and is well-adapted to the dry soil of a slope.

Some of these potential ground covers are better noted for their flowers or their fragrant or unusual foliage. A day lily or creeping phlox planted solo is a garden flower; massed, either becomes a ground cover suitable for a sunny, gentle-to-moderate slope.

Thymes are very low plants best suited for tucking into smaller spots; ajuga is well suited for shady areas, but it spreads like crazy. And lamb's ears make a ground cover in a hot, sunny spot.

Some writers might consider such low shrubs as junipers and satsuki azaleas ground covers because, when massed, they serve that purpose. But I see these woody plants as having a look distinctly different from ivy or vinca.

Junipers make good choices for the hot, steep slope because they tolerate (I didn't say love) dry soil.

Just look at them massed on high banks rising along interstate highways, particularly at interchanges. Those are really stressful areas, but these evergreens look good and do well.

Some of the shorter roses that grow more horizontally than vertically can serve the purpose in a sunny area. The low azaleas are suited for the gentler slopes where you can count on water soaking into the ground.

And if none of this seems feasible, there's a third alternative: cover the area with pine needles.

Pub Date: 8/25/96

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