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Tuesday - November 02, 2010

From: Benton Harbor, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like, Shrubs
Title: Ground cover to withstand dog traffic in Michigan
Answered by: Anne Bossart


I need a soft ground cover that will grow in sand, and be able to take four big dogs that love to run in the yard. Grass just doesn't make it. Someone suggested that groundcover might work. Thanks for any suggestions you might have.


Well, I am afraid that we won't be of much help.  The reason turf grasses are used is because they can withstand foot traffic better than perennial plants and groundcovers.

You say that the soil is sandy but don't mention if the yard is sunny and pretty much a wide open corral for the dogs to run in.  If that is the case ... good luck!  Just keep trying to encourage the grass to grow; the real reason the grass fails in the high traffic areas is due to compaction of the soil (yes, even dogs can compact the soil, especially if they run back and forth along the same path day in and day out).  So aereate the lawn and top dress it with compost every year to keep those roots healthy.

However, if you would like to have some sort of garden and would like to try to keep the dogs out of the beds you might look at the design the dogs have created for you.  In the areas (paths) they have trampled the grass, you could replace it with gravel or mulch and the areas they ignore could be turned into planting beds.  I would recommend planting dense shrubs, vigorous perennials and big clumping native grasses in beds that are deep enough that the dogs can't see through and barge through.

You can visit the Recommended Species page on our Native Plant Database and it will generate a list of plants native to Michigan that are known to do well in a garden setting and are readily available. You will have to narrow your search to match the conditions in your yard (light and moisture).

Here are a few you might try; you will notice that there are no ground covers on the list.


Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea)

Cephalanthus occidentalis (Common buttonbush)

Cornus sericea (Redosier dogwood)

Ilex verticillata (Common winterberry)

Physocarpus opulifolius (Atlantic ninebark)

Rhus aromatica (Fragrant sumac)

Rosa acicularis (Prickly rose)

Viburnum opulus var. americanum (American cranberry bush)

Perennials (although the dogs certainly could break off the flowers, the plants are tough enough to survive)

Anemone canadensis (Canadian anemone)

Coreopsis lanceolata (Lanceleaf coreopsis)

Heliopsis helianthoides (Smooth oxeye)

Lupinus perennis (Sundial lupine)

Monarda fistulosa (Wild bergamot)

Rudbeckia hirta (Black-eyed susan)

Tradescantia ohiensis (Bluejacket)

Vernonia fasciculata (Prairie ironweed)


 Calamagrostis canadensis (Bluejoint)

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)

Ceanothus americanus

Cephalanthus occidentalis

Cornus sericea

Ilex verticillata

Physocarpus opulifolius

Rhus aromatica

Rosa acicularis

Viburnum opulus var. americanum

Anemone canadensis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Heliopsis helianthoides

Lupinus perennis

Monarda fistulosa

Rudbeckia hirta

Tradescantia ohiensis

Vernonia fasciculata

Calamagrostis canadensis

Panicum virgatum

Schizachyrium scoparium

















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