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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native replacements for English ivy in Atlanta

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Friday - April 17, 2009

From: Atlanta, GA
Region: Southeast
Topic: Seed and Plant Sources
Title: Native replacements for English ivy in Atlanta
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

What to plant instead of English Ivy in Atlanta, Georgia. We have a nice lot with trees in back of our lot. To protect our trees there I'm clearing out the ubiquitous English ivy (lots of gardens in the neighborhood have it.) But what do I plant instead? I looked at Apois and another vine, but they said they would "take over"; or "become a pest". I need some evergreen ground cover that will not die under the trees and won't kill them either. Flowers aren't a must, but if it would have some, anything but white or pink would be welcome. We have some moss in one place, but it gets washed away too easily in heavy rains. Also, are there any native flowers that I could use as a flower carpet? i.e. they'd have to grow low to the ground and not mind the lawnmower going over them every other week. (My aunt in Germany could buy native plants for that in a 15 oz can at her nursery. Here all I find at the garden centers are things from India, China, Europe. anywhere but local plants. :-( It's very hard to even find information on what actually is indigenous here. There have to be more than azaleas and a handful of endangered species the conservationists list. Love your site, but what I'd really need is an indigenous garden catalog just for our area

ANSWER:

We believe you are referring to Apios americana (groundnut), which can be a little aggressive, but if it will work under trees in heavy shade, we'd say go for it. Anyway, we're certainly glad you're replacing your English ivy, as it is a non-native invasive.See this Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Working Group Least Wanted website on Hedera helix (English ivy) for reasons why it is not a good choice. You are obviously already in favor of using native plants, but you might read our How-To Article A Guide to Native Plant Gardening to reinforce your ideas. 

Before we try to find some other satisfactory replacements for that ivy, lets address your problem of being unable to find natives or information on them in your area. Our Native Plant Database has thousands of plants native to North America and to specific states and Canadian provinces, and can be easily searched. You can use "Combination Search" to search on Georgia, and for the habit of plant you wish to have, including how much sun is available where you want to plant, and soil moisture. When we did a test run on this, selecting on Georgia, vine (habit) and shade, we got 13 possibilities, including the aforesaid groundnut, but some others we weren't too keen on, including Toxicodendron radicans (eastern poison ivy). So, we opted instead to try Recommended Species, used Narrow Your Search after clicking on Georgia on the map, and again searching for vines and shade. This time, we got three suggestions: Parthenocissus quinquefolia (Virginia creeper), Celastrus scandens (American bittersweet), and Wisteria frutescens (American wisteria). 

We used vines as an example so you could see how our Native Plant Database works, and find plants on your own. For instance, you could search on "Herbs" (herbaceous flowering plants) under Habit, selecting on shade and perhaps bloom color. You might not get any selections at all for that, or you might get several. Or try "Ferns" under Habit and see what that yields. Follow each plant link to the individual page on that plant and learn its preferences as to soil and moisture, whether it is deciduous or evergreen, how big it can be expected to grow, etc. 

Now, as to your complaint that the local nurseries have nothing but non-natives, you may not be visiting the right nurseries. The plants we recommend in our database are all commercially available. Go to our Native Plant Suppliers section, 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. We can't provide you with a catalog of plants indigenous to Georgia, but we can come pretty close.


Apios americana

Toxicodendron radicans

Parthenocissus quinquefolia

Celastrus scandens

Wisteria frutescens

 

 

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