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These plants make a slope an asset

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. Is this the right time to prune butterfly bush?

    A. Yes, because these wonderful plants bloom on new growth that comes out in spring. You may have seen new growth already, but it will do no harm to cut it off while you put the plant in good shape. Left unpruned, butterfly bushes get tall and leggy by midsummer. Between now and mid-March, prune the plant so that it has a well-spaced framework of stems at the base of the plant from which the new growth will develop.

    If you have a young plant, cut back the main stems to about 1 1/2 feet high, just above where you see strong buds and shoots. These become apparent in March as the plant begins to break dormancy. As years go on, cut back the plant late each winter to just above this framework.

When people look at a slope that is too steep for mowing grass and, once again, sigh at the difficulty of dealing with it, their first thoughts often turn to monkey grass or something similar but better, such as the finer-textured mondo grass.

Monkey grass is certainly one solution. It has its merits. It doesn’t cost a lot, and you might get all you need free from someone eager to unload a truckload or two. It is evergreen, grows to a uniform size and does not spread as rampantly as English ivy, though the creeping species, Liriope spicata, will outrun its designated space, so beware of it.

But there are other choices for a slope. Certain ground-cover junipers, which are evergreen, needle-leaved plants that stay short and prosper in the typical dry soil of a sunny bank, could be right for this project. The chief one is the creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis), which comes in many forms and heights from nearly flat on the ground to a foot or more.

The flattest form is Blue Rug, which rises only 4 to 6 inches tall and grows well in many different environments of the United States. The foliage has a bluish hue during warm weather and changes to mauve in the winter.

Other choices exist. For shade, a good collection of Lenten roses, spaced 1 1/2 feet apart in a zig-zag fashion, will look good all year. But Lenten roses require annual maintenance in late winter by removing the old stems and foliage to look its best. Still, for a shady place, it is hard to beat. Plus, seedlings will appear to expand your collection rapidly.

The ajugas have improved rapidly, with new ones appearing almost every year. These newish ones, such as Chocolate Chip and Burgundy Glow, are quite pretty and distinctive with their flat sweeps of color in shade or part shade. Chocolate Chip foliage has tones of chocolate, purple and green on its leaves and can become quite dark brown in a sunny spot. There it can be enhanced by a brighter color such as white, silver or yellow in the vicinity.

Burgundy Glow is colorful, bearing a mix of hues – rosy purple, green and cream – on its foliage and pretty blue flowers in early spring.

Choosing plants such as ajuga or Lenten roses for your bank will also give you the opportunity to sink in some seasonal color, such as daffodils in spring and bedding begonias for summer. That will make the area seem more like a garden than just a problem bank.

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