One of my readers tells me he is ready to give up trying to grow fescue grass on the narrow strip of land between the curb and sidewalk because of the poor results he gets.
What is the alternative, he wonders?
This is the sort of problem many people wrestle with at this time of year, when lawn renewal is going full-tilt and problems rise to the top of the to-do list. This man wants an evergreen ground cover.
Dwarf mondo grass seems like the right choice to me. This is a very short evergreen plant that works well in narrow spaces, tolerates sun or shade and rises about 4 inches, which is not much taller than fescue grass. It produces neat, dark green clumps with thin, arching leaves that tolerate light foot traffic, an advantage over woody ground cover shrubs such as creeping junipers, which can be broken.
It doesn’t run rampant like vinca or, heaven forbid, English ivy. It is shorter and neater than another popular ground cover, monkey grass, which looks better as an edger than in mass planting. A casual look at a dense bed of dwarf mondo grass could be mistaken for real grass. But it is not grass, being a member of the lily plant family.
This dwarf form is named Nanus and matures at 4 inches or so tall, about half the height of regular mondo grass. But there are other named dwarf varieties, such as Nana, as well. Whatever name you get, make sure it is the short type for this purpose. The taller mondo grass looks better as an edger.
Plants should go in about 4 inches apart, in soil that has been well-dug and enhanced with some compost. This will encourage more rapid growth, as will a light dusting of balanced fertilizer in early spring. Mondo grass tolerates drought, another point in its favor.
It will take a few growing seasons for the clumps to expand and cover the ground entirely. In the meantime, weeds will erupt that must be dealt with by pulling at the first sight. A light mulch spread around the newly set clumps will give a finished look and help suppress some weeds.
While the plants are young and getting established, do your best to keep foot traffic off the plants.
If a paved walkway leads to the street, this should encourage people not to walk on the mondo. If there isn’t a paved space between the sidewalk and curb, take this opportunity to define and create one with pavers to direct visitors. Define the pavers with an outline of dwarf mondo on the sides and in between.
Planning and planting this space will take some time and effort, but you should be rewarded with a permanent solution to the problem that has become an annual aggravation.
Nancy Brachey: firstname.lastname@example.org
Q. I have snapdragons that were planted a year ago, bloomed this spring and summer. They survived the really hot summer Will they survive winter and grow again next year?
A. Cut off the spent flower stems, then look closely at the base of the plant. If it looks fairly robust and green, leave it alone and see what happens next spring. If the leaves look brown and worn out, pull up the plant and plant fresh snapdragons from the garden centers.