Q. I have trouble growing grass on the border beside my driveway and someone said I should use ground cover there. The area gets some sun and is well drained. Do you have some suggestions?
• Two Master Gardeners took on this week's reader question. One suggested creeping, perennial ground covers and the other suggested noninvasive flowering perennials.
A. Ground covers are a good idea for areas that are difficult to grow turf grass, but you have to be aware that many ground covers can escape into your lawn and other gardens and become a problem. You will need to establish a definitive border, possibly even with edging, between your lawn and the ground cover so you reduce the spread of the ground cover into your grass.
You may also want to consider adding a wood chip or small stone path or pavers through the ground cover bed into your lawn if that is your usual path to your home.
You can mix plants with different flowering seasons to keep the blooms coming. As long as they all like the same soil, water and sun conditions, you can mix them in your border. Here are three that are not known to be invasive or aggressive that will give you a mix of bloom times.
A spring flowering plant with nice green foliage in the summer is phlox moss or Moss Pink (Phlox sublulata). This plant likes either full sun or full sun to part shade and a moist, well-drained soil. It grows to a height of 3 to 6 inches, flowers in April through May and many cultivars with different color blooms are available. This plant is native to our region so the straight species (non-cultivar) will attract native pollinators.
Crested Iris (Iris cristata) is another pretty spring flowering plant that stays green after the flowers have gone. It grows 6 to 8 inches tall, flowers in April through May, prefers moist, well-drained soil and full sun or partial sun/shade. Flower colors are blue, purple and white.
Golden Star, Green and Gold Chrysogonum virginianum blooms May through September with small yellow flowers. It can grow 4 to 10 inches and likes moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial sun/shade. This plant is native to the southeastern United States.
If your local nursery does not carry these plants, you can try looking online for a nursery that will send them to you. Good luck with your border!
A. Perennial ground covers make a good replacement for turf grass. There are creeping ground covers and walkable ground covers. They need little watering and no mowing, which should make any gardener happy. Creeping ground covers come in many colors, textures and shades of green. Most are drought resistant, do well in shade and also are deer-resistant. Some do not require much care, less water, no fertilizer and pesticides.
Creeping perennial plants are cushy green carpets. Some grow 2 to 6 inches tall. Landscapers use them in rock gardens and plant them in between steppingstones.
Visit your favorite nursery and ask to see creeping ground covers. Creeping Jenny, sedum, bugle weed, Vinca Minor, New Zealand brass button, Irish moss, red creeping thyme and Snow in Summer are a few to consider.
You may want to consider taller versions of ground cover such as wild ginger, small hostas, Hakon Grass, Lady's Mantle and Coral Bells, which all like less sun.
Purchase ground covers for the Chicago area, which is a Zone 5 growing zone. In the case of replacing turf grass along the side of the driveway, you may want to use 12-square-inch or larger steppingstones placed 12 inches apart. Plant your choice of ground cover in between the steppingstones.
Should you choose not to use steppingstones you will have to purchase more plants. Take into consideration the height of the plant. Ajuga or Moss plants are tough and durable. They are great at filling patch areas where it is tough to grow grass. They also hold their color almost all year-round.
When you decide to plant, prepare the soil and plant in the spring. You will have to remove all turf grass, weeds, roots and all. Amend the soil with a good top soil. Plant the ground covers 6, 8 or 12 inches apart. Six inches should give you faster coverage. Keep them watered and use a balanced fertilizer until they have established themselves. The larger the spacing, the longer the wait for the ground cover to fill in and cover the ground. The nice thing about ground covers -- they grow close to the ground with a network root system which, once established, keeps weeds from growing.
-- Joan Jeske
• Provided by Master Gardeners through the Master Gardener Answer Desk, Friendship Park Conservatory, Des Plaines, and University of Illinois Extension, North Cook Branch Office, Arlington Heights. Call (847) 298-3502 Monday, Wednesday and Saturday or (847) 201-4176, ext. 14, on Fridays.