Need ideas for backyard ground cover
January 15, 2014 10:29 AM   Subscribe

The backyard of the house we bought has several raised beds (great!) and a couple of trees. The previous owners removed the lawn, so the rest of the ground is plain ol' bare dirt. They apparently liked it that way, but I don't. I'd like some ideas for a low-maintenance ground cover that isn't straight-up grass or sod. Other details within.

  • We're in northern California, zone 9B.
  • With the raised beds and trees, there are just too many obstacles for a lawnmower, so I want something that doesn't require trimming.
  • Must not creep into raised beds (or if it does, must be easy to remove).
  • Must withstand moderate traffic.
  • Must also withstand chickens -- scratching, grazing, etc.
  • If we decide to remove a patch of ground cover to add additional raised beds, must be fairly easy to remove (i.e, no killer roots).
  • Should probably be sown by seed, because planting individual plants, a la creeping thyme or its ilk, would be prohibitive due to the square footage.
  • Area receives full sun; shade won't be an issue.
Does such a thing exist?
posted by mudpuppie to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Oh, P.S.: I'd like a plant that covers the ground, not a clumping plant like sedges.
posted by mudpuppie at 10:32 AM on January 15, 2014

really coarse wood chip. That's what we have in the south bay. don't buy it by the bag at lowes, get a bulk delivery of a couple cubic yards of bark chips. The bigger they are they longer they last before breaking down. We also have chickens and they love it - they scratch through it and if they make a bare patch you just shove it back in place with your foot. We also have plants coming up through it in some places.
posted by GuyZero at 10:34 AM on January 15, 2014


I love dichondra, it's soft underfoot, it's lush and it's hardy in Northern California. It's shade resistant, which is good if you have big trees.

I have no idea if it's good with chickens or not, but you might want to check with a local nursery to discuss it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:36 AM on January 15, 2014

Let me also note from experience that chickens will eat nearly anything that's green. Not everything, but chances are if it works as ground cover, chickens will eat it.
posted by GuyZero at 10:52 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

Santa Barbara daisy? I can't guarantee it's chicken-proof, but it grows without much intervention in my yard.

People sometimes use vinca and Algerian or English ivy for this purpose, but I'm going to warn you against them because they're invasive. Also, dichondra: God, my lawn was invaded by dichondra, and it is EVIL. Please don't do that to your neighbors.
posted by purpleclover at 10:55 AM on January 15, 2014

My mother has creeping thyme as groundcover for a big section behind the house. Super soft on the feet, pretty resiliant (survives Canadian winters...), smells nice, and def. doesn't need trimming. No clue about chickens or your zone, but creeping thyme is awesome.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 11:03 AM on January 15, 2014

My chickens and I are big fans of white clover. It does need some mowing, but much less than grass. Maybe twice a season. Some native California clovers whose seeds seem to be available commercially are pinpoint, creek and tomcat.

But if ideas is what you want, this might be a good place to start.
posted by 0 at 11:59 AM on January 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you do go with wood chips (that's what I have in areas I don't want to grow stuff in - I have a HUGE yard and grass is too much work), don't buy the bagged and/or dyed stuff, even in bulk, unless you know where it came from. Quite often it's just ground-up Chinese pallets and other wood waste - basically you are paying for toxic trash.

Instead, use Nextdoor or craigslist to find a neighbor nearby who is taking out or trimming a large tree, and offer to take the resulting wood chips off their hands. Or you can call arborists and let them know you are looking for wood chips. You can also just walk up and ask any tree-removal crew you see with a chipper if they'd like to dump the chips in your yard. Most arborists will do this gladly - at least in my area - otherwise they have to drive the wood chips all the way to the landfill and pay to dump them. Or you could ask PG&E (if that's your utility) for wood chips from trees they have trimmed.

There are many benefits to this practice:
You are not putting shredded toxic scrap wood from Maude knows where on your soil, you are adding organic matter that will improve your soil in case you ever want to plant in it.
It's free, including delivery.
You are preventing a usable resource from going to the landfill.

Even if the tree has to come down because of disease, it's a myth that the chips will spread that disease to herbaceous plants.
posted by caryatid at 5:44 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Sounds like you are thinking plants, but if you go with wood chips and plan on walking on it you should make sure you're getting the right stuff. I bought some once, might have been redwood, and it gave you millions of tiny little splinters. Bought playground bark next time. Find a friend with a trailer or full size truck and buy in bulk. Otherwise delivery seems to be about $75 in our area (I'm also in NorCal). Also decomposed granite is another option that is prevalent here. I'm going to be putting a bunch around my raised beds this spring to get rid of the crab grass I've fought for years.
posted by Big_B at 9:35 AM on January 16, 2014

Dichondra or perennial alyssum would be nice ground covers.

Wood chips are nasty, I think, because sooner or later weeds begin coming up in them and they're really uncomfortable to kneel in to pull the weeds out. Plus they start looking dingy after a couple of years, they get picked up in shoe treads and brought into the house, and on a perfect summer day you won't be inclined to trip around barefoot in your yard if the yard is all woodchips, but dichondra or alyssum or thyme would be nice under bare feet.

One reason I hate woodchips is that every cheap rental in the area packs them around the building, between shrubs, under the mailboxes, where flowerbeds used to be, etc. It looks terrible in the first place, but the wood chips also give bugs a fine place to live - we had spiders, earwigs and ants living in the wood chips right by my front door and they had no hesitation about coming indoors.

Try something soft and green and maybe even fragrant. No mowing, but some watering, and always soft and nice looking.
posted by aryma at 4:52 PM on January 16, 2014

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