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Sunday - March 01, 2009

From: Arlington, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for wildlife in Virginia
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Looking for a good ground cover to replace what we've got growing in front of our condo in Northern Virginia. Something to provide cover for the birds and their fledgelings in the spring and summer, and to provide protection in the winter. This area faces North and is next to a hedge. When would be a good time to replace the ground cover?

ANSWER:

Native grasses are the perfect choice for ground covers that give some shelter and food to wildlife. Most of these grasses are not what you would consider turfgrasses, but grow naturally to somewhere between 1 and 6 feet tall, depending on your choices. They hold their place year round, are attractive without having flamboyant blooms, and are good for the environment, since they require less water, fertilizer and maintenance than a non-native turfgrass. So, before you make any firm plans, be sure this is permissible under your condo homeowner's association. What may look like a pleasant natural meadow to you could look like a bunch of weeds to someone not attuned to native plants. In Northern Virginia, this is probably a good time to start thinking about planting. Ordinarily, we recommend seeding grasses and wildflowers in the Fall, because they need the cool of winter weather to germinate and a chance to grow and develop some roots before the Texas Summer heat hits. In Virginia, you probably  have a reverse pattern of not wanting to put baby plants or seeds in the ground too early, lest they be zapped by a late freeze. 

If it's permissible to have a more natural look in your neighborhood, you might consider the concept of a wildflower meadow, which would offer even more diversity and attractions for birds and butterflies. This is usually considered a concept for a large space, but it can be easily adapted to a small space, as well. Please read our How-To Article on Meadow Gardening. We realize it is somewhat directed toward Central Texas gardeners, but the concept is the same. You will notice that it recommends a high percentage of grasses, but also allows for some additional color and interest in perennial flowers. From our Native Plant Database and our Recommended Species for Virginia, we are going to list some grasses, a couple of low growing shrubs, and some herbaceous blooming perennials, plus one groundcover if you can't have anything over 5" tall. Follow each plant link to the individual webpage on that plant to learn when and how it should be propagated, how high it grows, when it blooms, etc. After you have made a selection, if you are having difficulty finding the native plants, go to our Native Plant Suppliers list, type in your town and state in the "Enter Search Location" box and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed suppliers and landscape and environment consultants in your general area. 

GRASSES AND GRASS-LIKE PLANTS FOR VIRGINIA

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)

Calamagrostis canadensis (bluejoint)

Carex hystericina (bottlebrush sedge)

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)

Muhlenbergia schreberi (nimblewill)

LOW-GROWING SHRUBS FOR VIRGINIA

Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry)

HERBACEOUS PERENNIALS FOR VIRGINIA

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed)

Monarda didyma (scarlet beebalm)

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)

GROUNDCOVER

Dichondra carolinensis (Carolina ponysfoot)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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