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Groundcovers often work better than grass

Burgundy Glow ajuga is an excellent ground cover. The variegated colors of its foliage make an interesting display where grass is difficult to grow.
Burgundy Glow ajuga is an excellent ground cover. The variegated colors of its foliage make an interesting display where grass is difficult to grow. Proven Winners photo

Some of you are already starting to think about repair to your fescue lawn, a job for mid-September to mid-October. Some of this work will be the simple addition of lawn fertilizer; in other cases, it will be more intensive work such as overseeding and patching of bare spots.

Before you get to that, consider whether there are parts of your lawn that can be turned over to something besides grass.

These are the difficult places where grass never seems to do well for you, even with a lot of attention. These include slopes, the root zones of trees and deep shade.

Yet while fescue grass often does poorly in such situations, certain evergreen ground covers perform admirably. The range of choices is large and while the initial cost is higher than grass seed, the annual maintenance expenses are less.

So, what are these little plants that serve so nobly in these difficult places? Here are just a few:

A great bloomer. One favorite for shade and part-shade is Lenten rose. This perennial produces excellent, long-lasting blooms and attractive, evergreen foliage. These plants are relatively carefree but benefit from removal of the old foliage in late winter each year or every other year. They tolerate drought once established and have no pests.

Great ferns. Hardy ferns are beautiful, easy plants made for shade or part shade. They can be evergreen, semi-evergreen or deciduous. Many choices are out there, but the best ground-cover ferns stay below 2 feet, such as the tassel, autumn or Japanese painted ferns. The foliage of hardy ferns is exquisite., a sight to be savored. Early on, you will see space between the young plants, which can be an invitation to weeds, so mulch is important to suppress these invaders. T

Really flat plants. Ajuga comes in a wide range of colors that make its foliage distinctive. The plants stay pretty low, usually 6 inches or less, and sprawl to make a nice mat that deters weeds. The dark blue blooms in late spring are quite pretty. Burgundy Glow, with touches of purple on the variegated leaves, and Catlin’s Giant, with bronze-to-purple leaves, are just two of the popular choices in the marketplace today.

A second low plant is creeping jenny, an evergreen that stays nearly flat on the ground. The variety Aurea is a distinctive bright yellow-green (more yellow than green I’d say) which really stands out in the landscape. It will form a weed-suppressing, dense mat quite rapidly, but you should give it space to avoid having it intrude where you don’t want it.

You can begin selecting and planting ground covers now, since the weather is beginning to get better. Pay attention to watering the young plants.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. My ficus plant drops leaves constantly, even though I put it outside in good light this summer. What am I doing wrong?

A. You moved it from one environment to a brighter one. That caused the leaves to drop. The leaves that the plant puts out are conditioned to the level of light at the time they develop. Your plant should put out some fresh leaves to replace the ones that fell.