Artful Ground Covers

by Chris Olsen

Are you tired of your turf getting thinner each year? Are you fed up with mowing your lawn each week during the hot summer? Have you ever given thought to actually getting rid of your lawn? Do you really need that typical expansive front lawn? So what if you actually did something different? What if you actually removed your grass? Tough question for some of you.

This summer, I did just that at my own home. As my trees grow big- ger and taller my lawn just suffered. Each spring I had to replace at least half of my front lawn. Shade is a blessing in the garden but a curse to a lawn. Whoever develops a warm-season grass that not only tolerates shade but also thrives in shade will become a very rich person. With that being said, I finally had the courage to pull out my lawn and replant the area with an assortment of evergreen ground covers.

People now tell me how awesome my yard looks like without a lawn. When you drive down my street you can’t help but notice how different my yard looks from the other typical suburban houses. Stop trying to look like everyone else and make your own statement!!!!!! What was once a plain lawn is now an artful planting of ground covers. Have fun with your design and push the limits!!!

I like to keep things simple, so I decided to use just two types of ground covers. One of my favorites is regular mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus). This baby will spread and take over. Because of its aggressive- ness though, I decided to go with its cousin the dwarf mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus ‘Nana’). A clumper instead of a spreader, dwarf mondo grass is very controllable. Most of what was once my lawn is now a green stand of this durable ground cover. But the added twist to my design is a planted wave of variegated carex.

Variegated sedge (Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’) is so easy to grow. What I don’t understand is why more people don’t use it. Maybe no one has ever heard about it? Today is your lucky day. If you are looking for a ground cover that gets about 12 inches tall and mounds but does not spread, then this plant is for you. Its variegated leaves are so vibrant and will brighten up any shade or part-shade area. Full sun will often enrich foliage color, but sunburn can result. Moist, rich soil is a common preference among most sedges. This plant likes water so if you don’t have a sprinkler system and you hate to water then forget about it. You will be wasting your time and money. Otherwise, go for it.

There is also the orange sedge (Carex testacea). It has lime-greenish evergreen foliage with a touch of orange. I love this plant as well. But the variegated variety is a show stopper. The orange sedge is just as easy to grow. Both varieties don’t have to be cut back like liriope. So being very low maintenance is another advantage to these plants.

So here is what I did with the sedge grass. I have a walkway that divides my front yard into two halves. Starting on the right side of my walkway and then jumping over to the opposite side, I continued plant- ing a wave of the variegated sedge. The stark contrast of the rich dark green foliage of the dwarf mondo grass next to the glowing blades of grass of the variegated sedge, I now have major visual impact. That’s a good thing. The design concept really worked.

You can go ahead and use what ever ground cover you desire. Make sure you mix different textures and colors together for design purposes. If you are using spreaders such as English ivy (Hedera helix), make sure the different varieties don’t grow into each other. A little maintenance and grooming will be necessary. If they grow together you will lose the look.

With no mowing and therefore no exhaust fumes, you can help our environment by planting ground covers. Reduce your chore load and thus your stress by replacing your lawn with other plants. Be creative and let your imagination go wild during the designing process. Soon you will be the talk of the neighborhood.

Happy Gardening

Chris Olsen


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