Nancy Brachey

Take stock of your lawn

Burgundy Glow ajuga is a good choice as ground cover in shady areas
Burgundy Glow ajuga is a good choice as ground cover in shady areas Proven Winners photo

Lawn renewal season is still a month away, but in these hot, dry, difficult days, it is hard to think about the work this will entail. Fortunately, it will be cooler by mid-September. Since there is time to think about it, some of you may consider the idea of reducing the size of your lawn.

This is particularly important where grass simply does not grow well. Dense shade and competition from tree roots are two major reason lawn grasses grow poorly. And these are not easy to remedy.

Extending the size of existing beds is one answer. This gives you space to add hardy ferns, hostas and Lenten roses, all good choices for shady areas and reasonably low in maintenance. These plants always fit it well with other plantings and give a cooling effect even in the hottest weather, like now.

This is something you can get going now by deciding how much and where you want to create this non-lawn, killing existing grass and setting the boundary of the new space. Wait until September and beyond to plant.

Evergreen ground covers such as ajuga, pachysandra and mondo grass make good choices. But beware the uncontrollable ramblers such as English ivy and the big periwinkle named Vinca major. They are impossible to keep in bounds. Their rampant growth will soon be out of the beds and everywhere you don’t want these plants.

Expansion of existing beds can work in several ways. First, you can simply extend the width of a bed. Second, you can stretch the length of the bed, perhaps linking it with an area under trees. This gives a more unified look than two solo beds sitting side by side.

The evergreen ground covers will tie these areas together and create a more harmonious look.

Another advantage of creating these areas is that, even with ground covers, you have places to add seasonal color such as pansies through the winter and flowers for summer shade such as impatiens and begonias. It is also an opportunity to test your interest in woodland wildflowers, which have short bloom season but are exciting to see when they emerge.

The most important perennial not to overlook is Lenten rose, one of the best perennials. It grows beautifully, and the flowers are long-lasting after they emerge in February. The foliage looks good through the summer and autumn. If it has a pest, I have never seen one.

Hostas are fantastic foliage plants, but my readers often remind me that deer love them.

One of the lesser known among the better ground covers is ajuga. It tends to grow rather flat on the ground and to not outgrow its space, at least not very soon. It blooms in spring, but the foliage looks good most of the year.

Nancy Brachey:

Ask Nancy

Q . My edgeworthia has done very well since I bought it, growing to a wonderful size. But I am thinking of pruning it a bit and wonder when to do this.

A. Enjoy your plant but do not prune it now since buds will be forming in late summer and early autumn. After the bloom ends next winter, prune the tips very lightly if necessary for space or shape. Edgeworthia is naturally rather wayward looking, but still very beautiful.