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Sierrajeff
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Location: San Francisco CA & Sharon VT

Seeking native groundcover ideas for Vermont

I need to cover an south-facing slope (gentle - 20%?) that's about 90 feet east/west, 12 feet north/south - it lies between a stone retaining wall (to the north) and a gravel road (to the south). I'm looking for something that will grow dense and choke out weeds, but ideally also be beneficial to wildlife and/or aesthetically appealing.

I'd really like the groundcover to be native to northern New England. Candidates so far (and apologies I don't have the Latin names) are bearberry, bunchberry, checkerberry (creeping wintergreen), and lowbush blueberry. However most of these seem to be acid-loving plants, while I think my area is more neutral. (Also, I know that juniper is another option, but I've never been a fan of juniper, and it seems to do nothing other than sit there... no color, no berries for humans or wildlife, etc.)

Any ideas welcome!

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Seeking native groundcover ideas for Vermont

Hi and welcome to the Forum! It sounds like you have done a good bit of homework already! I applaud your concern for using native plants. And I think you are right to be hesitant about using acid lovers. Neutral isn't so bad and would make it easier to amend. I used to have a native woodland shade plants garden. I really wanted some of those acid lovers like the wintergreen and bunchberry, but my soil was alkaline (8 - 8.5). I tried to amend it, but the plants would be ok though not thriving for awhile, and then would die a slow death. Even at neutral, you would have to be amending your soil every year. Better to grow things that like the conditions you have.

What you didn't tell us though is the sun exposure. You said south facing, but I don't know how much trees are around. How many hours of daily sun does your area get through the growing season? Does the soil stay moist or is it pretty dry? Is having evergreen ground cover important to you? You said Vermont, but Vermont covers cold hardiness zones from 3 to 5b. Lots of things will survive the winter in zone 5 that will just curl up and die in zone 3. So northern or southern Vermont?

If you can answer some of those questions, we will try to come up with suggestions for you. :)
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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Sierrajeff
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Re: Seeking native groundcover ideas for Vermont

Hi, here's some more info:
* full sun, other than along the western edge of the bed where there will be afternoon shade from an old apple tree.
* I'd consider it "moderate to dry" - our property as a whole is pretty wet, but this particular area is a drier corner, and as noted gets full sun all day. However, the presence of the retaining wall (and the ~ 4' of dirt behind it) should help a tiny bit with residual moisture levels in the soil.
* I think we're zone 4b - east-central Vermont, around 1500' elevation.
* Not concerned about evergreen - in fact the appeal of some of the species I note is their fall color and, for blueberry, the contrast of their red stems against snow. My main concern is something Very Low Maintenance, as we're absentee landowners - and even if we weren't, I don't want to spend a ton of time having to weed such a large area. I basically want something that will grow thickly and crowd out grassy weeds ... BUT, I recognize that that may be a fool's errand, and that grasses are aggressive and there may not be a perfect solution to our needs.

Thanks again!

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rainbowgardener
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Re: Seeking native groundcover ideas for Vermont

Your south facing, sunny slope would be perfect for creeping phlox. It is a native perennial, forming thick evergreen mats of needle-like foliage. Given a little help to get established, it will crowd out most weeds. In the spring it gets covered in flowers, becoming a carpet of little pink or lavender flowers. It is listed as liking soil pH less than 6.8, but I happen to know it is pretty adaptable, since I grew it in my alkaline soil. Probably didn't thrive as much as it would have elsewhere, but unlike the true acid lovers, it did not die.

Other possibilities are barren strawberry, hardy geranium. Neither of them would be as fast spreading or thick covering as the phlox.

After that it depends on how strict you want to be on the native status. There are native sedums (stonecrops), but the only one I could find for sure is native is Sedum ternatum (Woodland stonecrop) . But unlike most sedums, this one is a shade lover (note the name woodland). Other sedum species make great ground covers. They like slopes for good drainage, they are very drought tolerant, they spread quickly and they have nice fall color. So if you were willing to cheat and have a sedum species that wasn't native, it would probably work well.
Twitter account I manage for local Sierra Club: https://twitter.com/CherokeeGroupSC Facebook page I manage for them: https://www.facebook.com/groups/65310596576/ Come and find me and lots of great information, inspiration

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Freedom
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Re: Seeking native groundcover ideas for Vermont

I have a south facing slope. Sept 2016 I put in some arctostaphylos uva ursi aka kinnikinnick aka "Massachusetts" aka common bearberry. (Apparently there are at least 3 types of bearberry.) I can tell you that it is low maintenance, grows densely, I walk through it and pull a weed here and there about 3 times a year. The tiny flowers in late May are pretty. I will put in a photo of my slope. You can read about it here: https://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org ... rcode=j380

Because this is facing south and open area, I had to water the new plants regularly the first 2 years to make sure they get started. I originally had lawn on the slope. I covered that with a layer of corrugated cardboard, and then 3 inches of mulch. The plants went in and have been filling in ever since.
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