Ground-cover suggestions for the absolute beginner
May 22, 2014 11:47 AM   Subscribe

For the first time in my life, I have a yard, but I need to find something to cover my special-snowflake hill. Help?

Our new back yard includes a very steep hill that's fairly impossible to mow (both because of steepness and old stumps). I'd like to plant some kind of attractive ground-cover so that I don't need to take a weedwhacker to it every week. However, I have a few challenges:

-the hill is pretty wet, because it's at the bottom of a larger hill
-it doesn't get a ton of sun, mostly some in the late afternoon
-the hill is also home to a small herd of deer that like to eat beautiful plants
-I really don't know anything about most plants

I'm in zone 6a. Our next-door neighbor uses English ivy, so I know that's one option, but does anyone have other suggestions?
posted by specialagentwebb to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Don't do the English Ivy. It'll grow quickly, and it's beautiful, but then it will go further than you want it to, and you will spend the REST OF YOUR LIFE trying to get it back under control, while weeping bitter tears and occasionally getting horrible rashes from poison ivy that is invisibly hidden by all the damn English Ivy.
posted by instead of three wishes at 12:37 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

All of these are deer-resistant groundcovers that will readily tolerate excess moisture and shade.

They're also all a bit invasive, as many groundcovers are, so you'll want to keep an eye on the edges of their territory for stragglers to pull up.
  • Periwinkle/creeping myrtle (Vinca minor): super-tough, low-maintenance, very easy to find at big box stores, medium purple flowers
  • Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum): delicate foliage, smells wonderful when dried, medicinal benefits, tiny white flowers
  • Japanese spurge (Pachysandra terminalis): thick evergreen leaves, particularly cold-hardy, tiny white flowers
  • Creeping thyme (Thymus): many different foliage and flower colors, spreads in a thick carpet very quickly, some varieties can be used as cooking herbs

posted by divined by radio at 12:37 PM on May 22, 2014 [4 favorites]

In my experience, periwinkle and sweet woodruff are less agressive than ivy or pachysandra. And generally thyme prefers at least partial sun, while the others do well in quite a bit of shade.
posted by mr vino at 12:58 PM on May 22, 2014

Consult your local extension service site for general tips.

Take a walk around your neighborhood and see which yards pose similar problems and seem to be thriving nonetheless. Ask those yard-owners for advice. They will be very, very happy to oblige.

Find a good, local garden center. (Not Home Depot/Lowes.)
posted by dogrose at 2:18 PM on May 22, 2014

English ivy is not an uncontrollable thug in my garden (in fact I wish it would spread faster). I'd assign that trait to Virginia Creeper instead, because it was never planted in my yard or my neighbor's yard, but it keeps trying to pop up and take over anyway.

So where in zone 6a are you? The zone can be found from Massachusetts to Oregon, and every state in between, whether desert, plain, or mountain. That's a lot of variation within one zone.
posted by caryatid at 4:54 PM on May 22, 2014

Violets! The violets are going nuts in Missouri (zone 6) this year. You get adorable flowers and big fat heart-shaped leaves as groundcover.
posted by limeonaire at 5:29 PM on May 22, 2014

Other thoughts: lemon balm (it can be a little invasive, but pleasantly so, and you can use it to make a lemony tea), mint (also invasive, but again, pleasantly so), and yarrow (this is tall, so only plant it if you don't need to walk on this hill).
posted by limeonaire at 5:44 PM on May 22, 2014

Lamium maculatum forms a thick carpet over time. It's happiest in shade, and its silver leaves look particularly beautiful in such a setting.
Sweet Woodruff is, truly, a beautiful plant, but would take a loooong time to spread out. Maybe some closer to the front, where you could admire its springtime white flowers.
Pachysandra is the toughest, and quick to spread, but the least beautiful.
Head to your local, independent gardening center and ask what they have! They know their stuff. Often nurseries will have whole, open flats of ground covers. They're the best bang for the buck -- you tear out little handfuls and plant 'em two feet apart, or maybe a little closer, and let them fill in.
posted by missmary6 at 7:12 PM on May 22, 2014

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