Landscaping thoughts - mountain edition
July 18, 2020 2:31 AM   Subscribe

Have a couple of hundred square feet of rabbitbrush, asters, and formally enough poison hemlock to take out a small country. We’ve high up and gets lots of snow. Thoughts on landscaping?

So we have a house with approx 500 hundred square feet of weedy, rocky ground at the bottom of our drive we’d like to landscape in a fairly easy way (photos here).

My current thought is take out as much of the weeds as possible, leaving the asters and rabbitbrush, till the ground as best we can and remove as much of the junk (like rogue asphalt pieces etc) as possible, Then put down a natural hessian/jute ground mat on as much as possible, and cover deeply with mulch. Leave for a season and kill any weeds that come through, and slowly over time add some more plants and maybe some planter boxes. As you can tell I don’t have much imagination or a green thumb - but am prepared to put the effort in to tidy it up and maintain it. And I just never want to have to deal with that much poison hemlock ever again. Long term I want to put some white aspens in there (most common tree in our area). Thoughts on easy landscaping in this type of environment?

Key constraints
  • We are at around 6700 feet In Utah
  • The area is covered with 3+ feet of snow for 4-5 months a year, and some parts 6-8 feet where the driveway and road plows store snow. It can snow anytime from October to June (we had snow twice in June this year)
  • We get Moose and Deer regularly. We want to keep getting them swing by! We aren’t looking to actively restrict them and are happy for them to eat whatever is on our property (we’ll protect any trees we plant till they’re established). It’s their land and they have plenty to eat around us so they tend to just graze a little and move on.
  • Shit tons of weeds - not shown in the photos but took me a full two days to get rid of the poison hemlock alone this year, plus lots of ragweeds of various types, mustard garlic, curlydock, knapweed, etc.
  • The ground is very rocky but appears to drain well. Lots of broken up asphalt as well. But not so rocky things can’t grow.
  • Full day sun. Enough rain to generally allow growth (very green area), plus I can irrigate it as needed (we have 40-50k gallons of annual water allocation on our water share that is not being used currently). Not looking to do a rock garden - we get enough water through snow melt and rain - so it doesn’t need to be a low water usage landscape.
  • Not going to use chemical weed control - the corner is a drainage point for the subdivision it is in and it drains a quarter mile down the road into a lake where the Moose and Deer and other wildlife drink. I’m not going to be the neighbor who poisons Molly Moose and friends.
posted by inflatablekiwi to Home & Garden (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: On a phone so excuse brevity but Re asphalt, it's quite high in nitrogen = good for most plants. Where is the 'high water' line in the stormwater basin? How long does water pond for?

I often use some weeds (whatever is local that's invasive, the right height etc to suit my site's needs) as temporary groundcover on the way to a permanent cover of something else.

Cornus Alba Sibirica, would look nice; there are also black and yellow stem forms. They stay below 5' for a long time, and should be fine to zone 2. Just plant them, 4-6' apart, plus your aspens, which'll suppress the Cornus as they grow
posted by unearthed at 3:20 AM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'd suggest not tilling it if your aim is to kill the weeds. Tilling creates soil disturbance that many plants that are classified as weeds love. Especially some of the ones you listed like ragweed. You can do something like sheet mulching instead, where you leave the soil untilled and add compost, cardboard, and several inch of wood chips. It will help build your soil and make a nice base to plant other perennials into. If this area regularly gets induated with water, you will want to make sure any plants you choose are ok with that. Some keywords to figure tbat out are rain garden, which will have plants that don't mind standing water for a period of time. I'm not from Utah so unfortunately I can't recommend any specific plants but I'd encourage you to plant things that are native to your region to benefit things like pollinators. If you google your are + native plants you can likely find lists of plants that you can start with and groups that can help you with plant selection for your area.
posted by snowysoul at 7:46 AM on July 18, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Have you browsed the archives of the Utah Native Plant Society? Seems like there's a ton of potentially useful material there.
posted by saladin at 9:36 AM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you might be in zone 4a or 4b, which would be similar to my parents, though they are in a mountainous area on another part of the continent - further north but lower toward sea level. Similar snow profile though. I think your idea to cover and supplement over time is good, unless you have a bunch of cash to throw at the area. snowysoul's layering will be more successful than the jute. Going with native plants (and keeping your asters and rabbitbrush) also seems like a great idea to me. You might consider looking at iris for the ditch/ditch adjacent area, as there are some types that do well in both dry and wet soil. They require very little care (like none, really) but also don't spread uncontrollably. I know my mom has great luck with them and grows multiple types. Other flowers she does very well with, with little effort, are columbines, salvia, hardy oregano and hardy lavender (all of which are deer resistant and like full sun and kinda crappy soil). If you want to try spring bulbs, you probably want to stick with daffodils and muscari otherwise you might as well spread out a buffet for the local wildlife. I don't know much about bushes and her luck planting ornamental or fruit trees of any type over the 30 years they've been in their place has been abysmal. They either get eaten up by wildlife or die from the cold after a few years of struggling through, or a combination of the two.

Why are you waiting to plant the aspen? Wouldn't it make sense to start with that since they will totally change the climate/shade profile over time?

Do you have neighbours? You've probably already done this but if you can scope our their gardens it will let you know what grows well in the area. Sometimes in those micro-climates this is really the best way to see what will work. And talking to local gardeners of course.

Good luck, it looks like a gorgeous spot.
posted by Cuke at 1:53 PM on July 18, 2020 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Thanks all - very helpful. I'm going to go through some options and see what I can do. Yes we are in hardness zone 4B I believe (-25 to -20 F) . Not sure on where the high-water line is (have to investigate). We don't tend to get any ponding (the snow melt tends to make the ground muddy for a few weeks but we don't really get any surface water accumulation). May not be super accurate on my wording on that. The humidty here is low (like 25-40%) for a decent chunk of the year. I also went and brought this book on High Altitude Planting and by a local gardener so will browse through that as well.

Going to take a stab at the layer approach (sounds more fund than tilling that hot mess anyway :-)

On the Aspen, it probably would make sense given the shade profile, huh. Hadn't thought of that. I'm going to go check out what's available in the local nursery's I have a long term plan to get a few established so at some stage I can hang a hammock (in lock 10 years time....)

I went walking around the neighborhood with my camera and the PictureThis app to identify plants that seem to be common, and in some cases in gardens that don't seem to be especially cared for (which probably indicates they can survive my level of skill....) A few that I noted are as below - few photos are here:

- Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
- Common Hollyhock (Alcea rosea)
- Maltese Cross (Silene chalcedonica)
- Oxeye daisy (Leucanthemum)
- Common chicory (Cichorium intybus)
- Sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata)
- Woolly yarrow (Achillea tomentosa)
- American beachgrass )(Ammophila breviligulata)
- Foxtail barley (Hordeum jubatum)
- Crested wheatgrass (agropyron cristatum)
- Common sunflower (Helianthus annuus)
- Great Scarlet Poppy (Papaver orientale) (it goes by a more common name but yeah...needs to be renamed)
- Sticky geranium (Geranium viscosissimum)
posted by inflatablekiwi at 2:29 PM on July 20, 2020

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