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Wheeler: Grass and trees just dont mix
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Here in Hall County people are generally very passionate about their lawns. Many want a nice turfed area, even under trees. But sometimes that reality is harder to come by even when everything has been planned out perfectly.

Those who want grass everywhere eventually come to the conclusion that trees and turf do not mix, and they abandon the grass idea and go with something else. So what do you do with the area under the trees?

Trees don’t just compete with turf for valuable nutrients and water. Mature trees with large canopies also cast too much shade on our sun-loving grasses, even fescue.

This usually isn’t a problem when the trees are young. But as they grow and the shade becomes denser, the turf begins to suffer.

Your best bet

Seeding or sodding turf grasses in heavily shaded areas may prove to be a waste of time, energy and money. Your best bet may be to avoid the disappointment by planting an alternative.

One popular choice is dwarf mondo grass. It grows 2 inches tall, never needs mowing, thrives in shade and is green year-round.

Most garden centers sell dwarf mondo grass in 4-inch pots. However, if you have a large area to plant, bare-root divisions may be the most economical.

Your local nurseryman can order these from wholesale suppliers in Georgia. If you’re really frugal and observant, you may find a friend who is willing to share a few clumps of dwarf mondo grass from their landscape.

Taller mondo

Another good choice for shaded areas is regular mondo grass. It grows 6 to 8 inches high and has a fine, grass-like texture. Like its dwarf cousin, it stays green all year and requires very little care once established. Plant mondo grass 12 to 18 inches apart and dwarf mondo grass 6 to 10 inches apart.

Liriope is another great choice for shaded areas under trees. It has coarser foliage than mondo grass and grows 8 to 12 inches tall. There are two types on the market.

Liriope muscari, the clumping form, spreads outward from the parent clump. Liriope spicata, a spreading form, moves by rhizomes (underground creeping stems) and seeds. The spicata is more aggressive. But it may be invasive, too, and harder to confine to a bed.

More choices

A popular newcomer to the ground cover market is creeping raspberry. It creeps along the ground and forms a dense, evergreen mat in sun or shade. It doesn’t bear edible fruit, but it’s a reliable plant sure to tolerate the competition and shade of trees.

Japanese pachysandra is another choice under shaded areas. The leaves of pachysandra will yellow if exposed to sun. It grows best in well-drained soils that have a high organic matter. This plant will reach a height of 6 to 10 inches and spreads by rhizomes.

When you plant ground covers under trees, remember that 80 percent of the tree’s system is in the top 12 inches of soil. So avoid disturbing tree roots by tilling the soil. Instead, carefully dig individual holes for the ground covers to minimize the root damage to the trees.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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