Changing a groundcover bed from threadbare blanket to
I read that a lot of groundcovers had a bad year,
something about last winter that made it thin and patchy this year.
Well, that's my bed of myrtle, which looks like a threadbare
blanket where once it was lush. I tried to replant but the new
plants didn't seem to take.
If I should take the myrtle out and plant something
different next spring, what are my choices?
I'm not surprised the replanting efforts failed. When plants are
injured by bad weather, they're often so weak that they succumb to
disease pathogens that are always around but not able to take hold
on healthy, vigorous plants. Late warmth in fall 2002 followed by
early, lasting cold without snow cover killed many plants and
weakened others. By spring 2003 the damaged plants were sitting
ducks as it became warm enough for fungi that cause plant disease
to proliferate -- Pythium root rot, Sclerotium crown rot and
By the time it was apparent that your plants were dead or in
trouble, the fungi had proliferated. Into that disease-ridden area
you unwittingly put new plants which would struggle a bit even at
best as they dealt with transplant shock. That was like putting
healthy but jet lagged people into a room full of sneezing,
This year I saw some winter-injured plants -- fragrant white
hostas, blackeye Susans, ajuga -- limping along even into summer.
Their gardeners were aware that they weren't wonderful but were
nonetheless shocked when they suddenly collapsed and died as the
going got toughest in the heat and drought of July.
Switch to a groundcover that is not related to myrtle and so is
not likely to be susceptible to exactly the same fungi as have
accumulated there in killing the original myrtle. You can remove
what's there and plant all new, or add a second or third species to
create a quilt.
I favor quilts, which have built-in resistance to bad times. In
a year when species A isn't doing well, it's likely that species B
or C will muscle in to fill any bare spots before weeds can take
On the Internet, go to www.premiumplants.net, a website
developed by that master of groundcovers, Dave MacKenzie of the
nursery Hortech, Inc. Choose groundcovers (or grasses, vines or
ferns) and then go to the "Plant Selection Wizard" feature. Pick
the buttons that describe your site's light and soil, and your
preference such as bloom time, drought tolerance and attraction to
wildlife. You'll be treated to a customized, illustrated
encyclopedia culled from Hortech's 400 selections.
Alternately, go to a library or bookstore for David MacKenzie's
books, "Perennial Ground Covers" (Timber Press) or "Premium Plants:
Superior Plants for the Great Lakes States" (Hortech, Inc.). Or
stop in at a garden center to ask which of Hortech's line of
Premium Plants they are carrying or whether they have a catalog you
can peruse. The majority of garden centers in Southeast Michigan do
carry at least some of that line. Since it's slow season at the
garden center, you're liable to get more help than you ask for.
Don't worry, the plants are fine in this
We're bundled against the coldest weather we've had in a while
but so are the plants, muffled in an insulating layer of snow.
Besides, this isn't severe cold for zone 5 plants. If the plant is
hardy to zone 5 then it's capable of surviving that average minimum
winter temperature expected in zone 5, twenty below zero.
Three cheers for that groundhog!
You don't put much store in a groundhog's reaction to his
shadow? I hold the date in high regard! The sun's higher and days
are longer so light is stronger now. That combination stirs plants
at a cellular level, changing internal chemical mixes to rev up for
You may not be able to see trees' buds swell or buried crowns of
perennials start to grow but you'll see the February effect if you
keep an eye on your houseplants. Soon after Groundhog Day they'll
kick into a higher gear to push out new growth or flowers. Outdoor
critters sense the change too, and begin to shake off their winter
torpor. Odd as it seems, I am thrilled each February to catch my
first whiff of skunk, because that animal's stirring is another
confirmation that the big chill is ending.
Green thumbs up
to vegetable growers already planning their planting and
arranging to share their harvest with people in need. You can
donate vegetables, too. Search the internet for details of programs
in your area.
Green thumbs down
to sitting still and getting soft! Take a walk in the woods, go
stroll in a nursery's greenhouse or botanical garden conservatory,
patrol your yard to pick up windblown litter, or shovel walks for
neighbors. Or put a couple dozen seed catalogs under each arm and
do laps in your family room. You need to stay in shape for the
Originally published 1/31/04