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Let’s Talk Dirt for May 15

by Susan Simons

HUERFANO- Week five and we’re at ground level now.  We want hardy groundcovers that will look good all season long.  Groundcovers fill in at the front of the bed, shade the feet of other plants and help keep in moisture.  The three ground covers we’ll look at generally get a slow start the first year, taking a while to establish root structure.  It’s worth it to baby them at first because they take off and spread in succeeding years needing almost no care.  Whichever you choose, plant in groups of three to five or more.

    Creeping Basket-of-Gold (Alyssum montanum) is a native alyssum with bright yellow flowers in spring and low-growing gray-green leaves.  It grows in clumps around 4” tall and 18” wide.  It especially likes to grow at the base of rocks.  It would harmonize with the Pineleaf Penstemon.

    Snow-in-Summer (Cerastium tomentosum) has silver-green leaves and masses of white flowers in spring.  It grows 6” tall and spreads each year.  The foliage may brown in spots in summer heat but it comes back in cooler weather.  Shear off the flowers when they are done to tidy up the look.  I’ve grown this on the curb of a busy Denver street.

    Greek Yarrow (Achillea serbica) has gray-green, evergreen leaves and white flowers in spring.  It forms a slow-growing mat about 4” high and 15” wide.  It is rugged and xeric and grows larger each year.

    What about weeds, you may be thinking?  If you dug your plot a few weeks ago, weeds are probably coming up right now.  I’m going to suggest that you just pull them.  I hand pull them or I use a hand hoe (called a Korean hoe) and go out after rain or after I’ve watered. Right now, the soil is still damp a few inches down from winter snow.  This is a great and satisfying time to pull weeds. 

    Some people have good success with weed cloth to cover the plot. If you choose to try this, be sure to get weed cloth that lets moisture through, not black plastic. If you lay cloth, then you will cut holes in it to plant. My experience is this:  weeds will grow happily under the weed cloth where it is moist and funky. I’d rather just pull them when they’re young and out in the open.

    If you have an especially thick weed patch, you can lay down issues of the Huerfano Journal, which is printed with soy ink, harmless to the microorganisms you want in the soil.  Cover the paper with mulch.  Eventually it will smother the weeds and rot away.

    Some people will choose to spray, and this is the right time of year to spray weeds.  If you do so, I recommend Round-Up. It will kill everything it touches, but it will biodegrade in two weeks so that you can plant without poison in the soil.

    Next week, we’ll talk about edging, mulch and watering and we’ll actually lay out  a couple of sample plans for arranging plants.