Home Home & Garden making the change to native groundcovers, with duncan himmelman of mt. cuba

making the change to native groundcovers, with duncan himmelman of mt. cuba


I’VE SPOKEN just lately on the present about my private conflict on sure groundcovers I planted years in the past which have turned out to be hideous thugs. Many different gardeners I hear from have likewise come to lament their overly cooperative, spreading plant decisions, like rambunctious vinca or pachysandra.

All of us need groundcovers to do weed-suppressing responsibility and tie the backyard collectively aesthetically, however the mistaken decisions can undoubtedly backfire. Native groundcovers are a wiser different that may present these and different advantages and so they’re right this moment’s subject.

My visitor to speak to about making the change is Duncan Himmelman of Mt. Cuba Center, the famous native plant backyard and analysis heart in Delaware, the place he’s the schooling supervisor. A course on native groundcovers taught by Duncan—from low perennials like heucheras or tiarella (above) or sedges to shrubby potentialities like ‘Develop-Low’ sumac—is considered one of the half-dozen on-demand recorded online courses that Mt. Cuba is at the moment providing.

I’ll purchase tickets to the Mt. Cuba digital class of your selection for 2 fortunate readers; enter within the feedback field on the backside of the web page.

Learn alongside as you take heed to the December 21, 2020 version of my public-radio present and podcast utilizing the participant under. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on Apple Podcasts (iTunes) or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).

native groundcovers, with duncan himmelman



Margaret: Earlier than we get began, we’ll say we’ll have one other giveaway like we did, I don’t know, a month or so in the past whenever you visited to speak weeds, considered one of the other courses that you just’ve been doing at Mt. Cuba, that’s obtainable just about. And I’ll purchase a ticket or two for individuals to attend the lessons because the giveaway.

However as I discussed within the introduction, I’m now eradicating some naughty vegetation. [Laughter.] Sound acquainted?

Duncan: Very a lot acquainted, and I agree with you when it comes to vegetation like vinca and Japanese pachysandra. Again 40 years in the past, individuals have been saying, “Hey, listed here are some nice choices for you.” And now, fast-forward, we’re regretting each second of getting planted any of these in our yards.

Completely, my curiosity in native groundcovers in fact comes from switching out these explicit groundcover choices to have native vegetation that may present ecosystem advantages and supply options to the garden.

Margaret: Sure. The naughty, un-environmental garden that doesn’t do a lot for wildlife and we mow, mow, mow and use all types of non-sustainable issues within the strategy of doing so and feeding it and no matter.

Duncan: The carbon footprint is wonderful. Keep away from it in any respect prices.

Margaret: So that you’ve been fascinated about groundcovers for a very long time, as I recall. I feel you even did possibly a part of your doctoral work or some graduate work at Cornell years in the past on groundcovers, didn’t you? This has been a protracted curiosity.

Duncan: Yeah, it has. I used to be within the City Horticulture Institute at Cornell, and we have been in search of a groundcovers that might survive city circumstances. The premise of the analysis was to make use of woody vegetation as a substitute of herbaceous vegetation. And the reason is that, woody vegetation have year-round construction. In case you’re in a metropolis like city surroundings, you possibly can respect the truth that herbaceous groundcovers lose their foliage over winter, and other people may step on them and compact the soil.

We have been in search of shrubs, in level the very fact, that might be as much as 3 ft in peak and have some alternative to unfold and canopy the bottom pretty shortly. It was an curiosity of mine at the moment. And when it comes to recommending shrubs as groundcovers, individuals have sort of shied away from that, as a result of they consider the groundcover as historically being one thing that’s low to the bottom, 6 or so inches, and spreads. However there are a selection of fronts that may fill that function.

Margaret: Sure. In some spots particularly, you need that further dimension. Plus I’m on a really steep web site, and there’s a small flat yard space after which a water backyard, after which there’s a steep incline once more, the place the property rises once more. I’ve a number of woody groundcovers on that space. It’s a tricky spot to get in there and work in on a regular basis. It’s precarious so it’s nice to have issues which can be sort of everlasting and stable and been there for a really very long time and I don’t must get in there on a regular basis and deadhead or tweak issues. Are you aware what I imply?

Duncan: [Laughter.] Yeah, precisely. Yeah. There’s a number of upkeep that goes into herbaceous groundcovers. One of many main shrubby vegetation that I prefer to advocate for that precise scenario, a hillside that’s full sun-facing and well-drained is ‘Gro-Low’ fragrant sumac [Rhus aromatica, above and below]. It’s the only option for thus many conditions as a result of it roots in fairly simply, it spreads slowly however steadily. And it has a number of stunning options such because the inexperienced foliage through the spring and summer season. And so they flip stunning, stunning crimson and a wine purple within the fall.

It’s a plant that we have been recommending in fact in our graduate analysis at Cornell. I see it increasingly getting used out within the panorama, whether or not it’s city, industrial and even residential. Nice selection for that sort of scenario. They love full solar, well-drained soils, and so they’ll knit your hillside collectively. [Below, ‘Gro-Low’ sumac in fall color.]

Margaret: It’s humorous you talked about that proper off the bat as a result of a buddy of mine, she’s been calling me. She was the Vice President of Horticulture on the New York Botanical Backyard. She’s since modified her life and change into a doctor. [Laughter.] Made a life change and he or she lives close to me on this rural space. With the pandemic and every part we speak on the telephone as soon as per week and on Sunday, she mentioned within the weekly name, she mentioned, “Oh, I’m simply loving what’s occurring with my ‘Gro-Low’ sumac, my new planting.” So there you go. Yeah.

Duncan: Properly, that’s good to listen to.

Margaret: I assume it had such as you mentioned, totally different colours. It had some good shade. She’s been happy with it.

Duncan: The fruit of it, the purple fuzzy fruit that it produces late within the season, is once more, meals for robins, goldfinches, chickadees. That late fall, early winter, or when birds are in search of one thing nutritious. I feel it’s an incredible plant. I actually do. I adore it.

Margaret: As we’ve simply inadvertently mentioned, groundcover could be many issues which have totally different statures. It’s not simply flat to the bottom, herbaceous. However I do discover that a number of us with gardens, particularly… Mine’s an older backyard, I’ve a number of teams of shrubs and so forth, a number of space that I used to mow and I need to cease mowing possibly. Generally the herbaceous stuff is sweet, particularly below teams of shrubs. I really feel like all of us have areas the place we may use that moderately than dare I say, the heinous bagged wood-chip bark mulch. [Laughter.]

Duncan: Are we going to speak about mulch right this moment, Margaret?

Margaret: No. We’re simply going to say “ick.” I’m a lover of mulch, don’t get me mistaken. I consider in utilizing a good-quality mulch as a passive soil modification and enchancment, a cloth that breaks down.

Duncan: Proper. Yeah. I agree with you.

There’s a number of totally different alternatives to make use of groundcovers on any sort of scale. That was one of many realizations I got here to just lately, after I was instructing the category, and a girl from New Jersey mentioned that she had mixed three or 4 groundcovers on the entrance of her home in an space that was previously simply dedicated to mulch, as you simply mentioned. She mainly mixed, I feel it was Tiarella [above] and a few Heuchera and a 3rd groundcover, simply there on the entrance to her home.

And it wasn’t an intensive space. I feel one other factor that individuals take into consideration with groundcover is that it has to cowl acres. After I consider the groundcovers that we’re suggesting, the native vegetation right here at Mt. Cuba Heart, the quantity of floor that they’re masking could be comparatively small. As you mentioned, beneath your shrub mattress, for instance, that will solely be 10 ft by 6 ft. You possibly can put a groundcover below there, like among the tiarellas and even among the sedges, and it’s masking the bottom. It truly is fulfilling a job, though it’s not what individuals could consider when it comes to an enormous expanse of one thing.

Margaret: Which actually comes from our connection and affiliation with garden as groundcover, as a result of that’s huge. The backyard designer I like loads referred to as Claudia West of Phyto Design, she famously has said that “plants are the mulch”—in one other anti-bagged-mulch assertion [laughter]. Vegetation are the mulch and I feel that’s true. I name what you have been simply speaking about, that your scholar from New Jersey did, the place you don’t must make one mass of a monochrome of 1 plant the best way that the ever present pachysandra, vinca, Hedera helix or English ivy… You don’t have to do this sort of large stretch of it. I consider whenever you mix a couple of in a smaller or bigger space—I consider it as “making mosaics.” Are you aware what I imply? It’s like residing mosaics. I like that.

Duncan: After I was speaking about it in my groundcovers class, I take advantage of the time period like a tapestry of residing vegetation. And residing mulch is strictly what we should always consider groundcovers as. Taking the place of the mulch that individuals historically see in a backyard.

Once you talked about the concept of mixing a few totally different vegetation, right this moment as I got here into work, there’s plantain-leaf sedge out right here within the backyard. It’s additionally referred to as seersucker sedge as a result of it has an incredible puckered leaf floor, actually neat. And there are numerous, many sedges on the market that can be utilized for groundcovers or different decorative makes use of. Plantain-leaf sedge out within the backyard is inexperienced right this moment. It’s not wanting tremendous June inexperienced, however it’s nonetheless inexperienced, and offering some visible pursuits on the market in the best way that we’ve used it. It’s one of many groundcovers that I like to recommend individuals use, as a result of it might probably take dry to moist soil and half solar to shade. I’m certain Margaret, you’ve gotten individuals emailing you always, asking “What can I develop within the shade?”

Margaret: Have you ever been studying my mailbox? Are you a hacker? [Laughter.]

Duncan: Yeah, actually. Individuals say, “What can I develop within the shade? What can I develop within the shade?” There are a variety of sedges. The plantain-leaf one I like due to its texture. And I used to be just lately wanting over among the photographs that we’ve right here at Mt. Cuba, and there’s one during which we’ve plantain-leaved sedge coupled with Tiarella, one other spring groundcover with fairly little dainty flowers early on within the season. The mixture of the 2 textures is kind of good. The linear texture of plantain-leaf sedge, and the extra heart-shaped or three-lobed form of the Tiarella, the foamflower, beneath that. An awesome instance of claiming, O.Ok., moderately than, as you mentioned earlier, having an enormous expanse of plant X, why not put two or three collectively that swimsuit the identical sort of circumstances. Shade: Tiarella. Shade: sedge. [Above, C. plantaginea and Tiarella together at Mt. Cuba.]

Margaret: Proper. The sedges, the Carex—I’ve been noticing in areas of my property the place I’ve stopped mowing out to the perimeter, out to the fence line, and I’ve type of let the areas go slightly wilder regularly. I’m doing these multi-year experiments to see what comes up and the way that might be managed as a substitute for extra variety and so forth. I’ve seen that some Carex, some sedges, have appeared. I feel the one which’s appeared essentially the most is finer-textured than the one you simply talked about, the plantaginea, is that proper, Carex plantaginea? is that what you simply have been speaking about?

Duncan: Yeah, Carex plantaginea.

Margaret: I feel the pensylvanica possibly, the Pennsylvania sedge, I feel which may be what I’m seeing a number of; it’s finer-textured.

Duncan: It’s. Once we have been speaking about garden, individuals consider that very high quality, slim leaved grass that’s on the market being mowed and Carex pensylvanica has that very same sort of skinny, slim foliage that comes up from a central crown, if you want—I assume crown is the one phrase I can use. And it grows up after which the tall, skinny foliage cascades over on itself. It will get a few foot tall. Once you plant them as a collection of vegetation collectively, it provides you a really fine-textured and candy look within the panorama, a really relaxed and casual look.

It seems to be like grass, however individuals shouldn’t be mowing it. I feel that the fantastic thing about the plant is in the truth that its construction is so visually engaging. Individuals have planted it very intently collectively to present the impression of garden, if you want. It should do this. It should develop as a uniform mass, however individuals then have to recollect to depart it wanting because it does in its type of lax kind till late winter, after they can mow it down after which it comes again and it seems to be nice. It’s a gorgeous plant. Possibly that’s what you’ve gotten coming in, however it does give the impression of grass.

Margaret: Sure. But it surely’s very stunning, as a result of as you mentioned, it’s slightly arching and it’s not as stiff as mown grass. Very stunning. We should always say after we have been speaking, I forgot to type of disclaim this, however clearly you’re in Delaware, I’m in New York State. The solid of characters—although in our case, some do overlap, and there are some native vegetation that might be good groundcovers which can be even wider-spread across the nation. However every individual in every space who’s listening, we’re speaking inspiration right here, however we are able to’t inform you the vegetation for each place of everybody listening.

Duncan: No, no.

Margaret: Individuals must go to a spot like the web site or instructional programs at someplace like Mt. Cuba, or their native wildflower heart or native plant society or regional native vegetation society. There could even be an Audubon heart or one thing like that in your space. One factor I’ve been doing is, the flora, F-L-O-R-A—as in a survey of all of the vegetation in an space. In case you put into Google search, “the flora of,” and say, “Japanese Pennsylvania” or “XYZ County,” you could provide you with somebody, some scientists, some non-profit, no matter, or some tutorial establishment who’s really been learning that.

You could even be capable of get nitty-gritty all the way down to your native space and get some inspiration. It’s sort of fascinating and it’s sort of enjoyable to do that sleuth factor, to seek out out what your native groundcovers are. I like that half, however I assume I’m a geek. [Some suggested resources for such a hunt are in a box lower down the page.]

Duncan: You’re proper and individuals are listening in from God is aware of the place right here. That is without doubt one of the main ways in which they’ll discover out about what it’s of their particular area that’s going to fulfill their groundcover wants. I echo your sentiments.

Get on the market on the web and discover the flora of your area, and see what there may be obtainable. The vegetation that I usually discuss right here at Mt. Cuba vary from Zones 4ish all the way down to Zone 8ish. Zones 4 to eight usually, generally 9, slightly South of us right here into the Carolinas or Virginia. The vegetation that I usually discuss in my class are inside that sort of a spectrum of hardiness. [Above, a fancy-leaf selection of Allegheny pachysandra called ‘Silver Streak.’]

Margaret: I need to simply zoom via some extra vegetation. I’m taking out Lamiastrum, horrible plant, I want I’d by no means planted it. Oh my goodness. I’m taking out miles of it.

Duncan: [Laughter.] Good luck.

Margaret: I’m often repeating three digs or three uprootings in every space to clear, and even then I get extra re-sprouts. It’s taking me a yr or one thing to prep, after which I’m beginning to add some little child vegetation, which I requested my nursery for—they purchase them in usually and pot them up and promote them as huge vegetation.

However I mentioned, “Look, cost me no matter you need, however I don’t want them potted it up. I want trays of the little vegetation and so they marked them up and bought them to me. They purchased them wholesale and I acquired like Christmas fern and a few Dryopteris whose names I neglect. Anyway, I appeared up some ferns that have been round my space and I’ve been plugging these in regularly to exchange Lamiastrum. Ferns are an entire separate subject.

Possibly as a substitute, I’d like to ask you about heucheras. You talked about them earlier than briefly. Though those that do one of the best for me as groundcovers, aren’t native to right here in any respect—it’s the Heuchera villosa sorts. Are you able to clarify to me slightly bit about which Heuchera make an excellent groundcover?

Duncan: Properly Heuchera villosa is definitely one of many ones that we advocate down right here at Mt. Cuba Heart, as a result of it does it cowl a big house of floor. It should unfold to about 1-½ even 2 ft. In foliage it’ll stand up to a few foot. After which in flower, it’ll stand up to 2 ft. The cultivar ‘Autumn Bride’ of hairy alumroot is one which we use right here on web site. [Above, the plant during Trial Garden tests of the genus Heuchera at Mt. Cuba.]

It truly is for us a comparatively no-fail Heuchera. It’s hardy from Zones 4ish to eight, and it’s a part-sun to part-shade plant. I’ve seen it right here the place it’s in a sunnier location, the heucheras usually, in full-sun places, aren’t at their greatest. I feel that they’re actually the sort of plant that does much better in a partial shade surroundings the place the soil can stay slightly bit extra moist.

I feel Heuchera usually is a woodland plant, and it grows in organic-y woodland soils with ample moisture across the roots. ‘Autumn Bride’ is one which we use as a result of it blooms late within the season. Individuals consider Heuchera as blooming early within the season, a lot of them do, however that is one that may come on in flower as I mentioned, as much as 2 ft, white flowers late within the season. That’s one we’re utilizing.

The opposite Heucheras which can be obtainable to individuals, and there’s an entire host of them ranging in shade from inexperienced to silver to purple, and so forth.

When individuals plant them as groundcovers, I feel they’ve to appreciate that they don’t unfold within the sense of being rhizomatous. They mainly stay in a clump that will get greater and larger yearly. If I used to be to make use of a wide range of Heuchera, I feel that I’d use them in a smaller software, not an enormous swath of them essentially, though ‘Autumn Bride’ is taking on a 15-by-6-foot space in considered one of our gardens. And simply watch out to just remember to’re being attentive to the moisture degree within the soil. However there are many choices there for individuals to select from.

Margaret: One other factor I needed to ask you about: native pachysandra—very totally different from the Japanese pachysandra. It’s not native the place I backyard, however I’ve had it for a few years in my backyard. It’s sort of a variegated leaf.

Duncan: Yeah. It doesn’t have a look at all just like the Japanese pachysandra, you’re fairly proper. It doesn’t have that shiny darkish inexperienced foliage. It has extra of a silvery-gray to muted foliage. It’s very brief to the bottom prefer it’s Asian counterpart, 6 to eight inches in peak. It blooms early, early within the spring with very brief little cylindrical flower shares which can be, when you’re means down there, you will get your nostril in, you possibly can scent them. They’re aromatic.

However the factor about Allegheny pachysandra, Pachysandra procumbens [above, leafing out in spring], is that it is extremely, very sluggish to unfold. In case you are getting it, you need to be affected person with it since you’re going to spend a good sum of money on a plant. In case you’ve acquired three or 4 of them to place in an space the place they may thrive—which is once more half shade with a level of moisture—they may unfold over time, and once more, it is going to be comparatively sluggish.

Very stunning vegetation and actually a softer look than the Japanese pachysandra. We’ve planted it right here together with considered one of our Christmas ferns. So we’ve Christmas ferns dotted in amongst it. In a single a part of the backyard, we’ve additionally put in among the variegated green-and-silver-leafed Heuchera. All of them require the identical sorts of circumstances: cool, moist, semi-shade, and so they make a pleasant textural composition.

Margaret: Within the final minute or so, possibly yet another shrub that you just need to say that you just’ve efficiently used. You shared one for my again hillside [laughter] after I want to exchange what’s there. Every other shrubs that you just’re enthusiastic about or that you just guys use as groundcover at Mt. Cuba?

Duncan: Yeah. We use drooping leucothoe, Leucothoe fontanesiana [above]. It’s an incredible plant for the shade, cool shade. It’s native to areas the place it’s on hillsides and banks and related to waterways south of us right here. It’s hardy from zones 5 to 9, however I noticed an enormous patch of it at Wellesley School years in the past on a hillside—once more, a hillside—in shade. As soon as it’s established, it’ll actually do fairly nicely in that sort of surroundings. It’s evergreen, it’s associated to blueberries, it’s ericaceous, and so the white flowers within the spring are very, very engaging. So evergreen giant shrub, 3 to 4 ft excessive by 3 to 4 ft unfold once more, in these cool shady environments. Sort of the other of the ‘Gro-Low’ sumac. Sizzling solar for sumac, and funky shade for drooping leucothoe. Don’t plant drooping leucothoe within the solar. Please don’t.

Margaret: [Laughter.] Don’t torture it. Simply in closing, I need to say there are, about six lessons now among the many choices? There’s weeds, there’s groundcovers…

Duncan: Vegetation for container gardening, butterfly backyard. There’s one on the milkweeds for monarchs. We’re going to be altering a few of them out in February-March. We’ll have a couple of new ones approaching board, considered one of which might be native evergreens. Individuals can get wind of what’s on the market when it comes to evergreens for his or her property from brief little groundcover evergreens, all the best way as much as tall pine bushes.

Margaret: Oh, attention-grabbing. I used to be going to ask you about and we don’t even have time, however I used to be going to ask you concerning the Japanese Pink Cedar, Juniperus virginiana, there’s these type of gray-leafed cultivars. ‘Gray Owl,’ I feel. And so they’re not too brief. They’re possibly knee-high or so, and people are wanting very attention-grabbing to me for bigger expanses. So many concepts to speak about. [Laughter.]

Duncan: Proper. Precisely. Yeah. The ‘Gray Owl’ will do rather well in sunny places. That’s one for one more dialog.

Margaret: Properly good. Properly, Duncan, we’re going to have a giveaway, as I mentioned. I’m so glad to talk to you once more and let’s be in contact. I all the time study a lot after I speak to individuals from Mt. Cuba. So thanks.

Duncan: You’re fairly welcome. Good speaking with you.

enter to win a mt. cuba digital course ticket

I’LL BUY on-demand classes of their selection for 2 fortunate readers, from amongst Mt. Cuba’s six present choices: summer season weeds, natives for containers, milkweed and monarchs, butterfly gardens, native groundcovers, and one on soil. All you need to do to enter is reply this query within the feedback field farther down the web page:

Are you dealing with down any thuggish groundcovers–or rising any native ones to advocate? (Inform is the place you backyard.)

No reply, or feeling shy? Simply say one thing like “rely me in” and I’ll, however a reply is even higher. I’ll draw a random winner after entries shut at midnight Tuesday, December 29, 2020. Good luck to all.


extra from mt. cuba

(Photographs from Mt. Cuba Heart besides the place famous.)

which native vegetation match your web site? some references

YOU WANT TO GET as native as you possibly can in matching native vegetation to your home, as Duncan Himmelman and I talked about within the transcript above. Typically merely an online seek for “flora of —” (insert your state and even county and state) could yield nice outcomes. Nearly each state has a state flora, and a state native plant society (I’ve included the place to browse an inventory of these), or each. I’m beginning with my native examples–particularly with New York, since I stay there–after which adjoining regional ones and on as much as nationwide (and even Canadian). Like we mentioned: some sleuthing required (however value it)!

  • New York Flora Atlas: seek for an inventory of vegetation recorded for a specific NY county. (The New Jersey one, as another example, is here.) You possibly can then prohibit that record to native vegetation or non-native vegetation. For different states strive beginning at…
  • a list of state wildflower societies, from American Horticultural Society. The state societies will most likely present a hyperlink to the state flora database on their web sites. There are additionally wildflower societies and different nonprofits (together with Mt. Cuba) to discover, like…
  • Go Botany (New England regional), from the New England Wild Flower Society
  • Native Plant Finder from Nationwide Wildlife Federation, College of Delaware and U.S. Forest Service (searchable by Zip Code; launched 2018).
  • Atlas of the Flora of New England by Ray Angelo and David Boufford of Harvard. Doesn’t specify native, however does point out if the species’ origin from different international locations/continents is thought.
  • Calflora (California), of native and non-native vegetation, together with the flexibility to go looking by plant identify or by location–so as an example to discover the vegetation of a park, or different space you could be visiting.
  • Native Plant Information Network (Nationwide, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Backyard): Get an alphabetized record of all of the vegetation (8,593 species) on which they’ve information, then slim your search to a specific state.
  • Vascan, a searchable on-line atlas of the vascular vegetation of Canada, will present a map together with nativity standing, and let you create a province-based guidelines.
  • The Biota of North America Program (BONAP) permits you to map species to county, for every state, and search on a specific species and perceive what its distribution is, native and non-native. Coming: instruments that let you create a guidelines on your personal county.
  • The USDA Plant database, together with maps and the flexibility to search by state, for instance.
  • You can too use Missouri Botanical Garden’s Plant Finder, which specifies native vary within the outcomes of every plant description (however doesn’t embody maps).
  • NatureServe Explorer: Searchable database on 70,000 plant, animal, and fungi species, up to date in 2016.

favor the podcast model of the present?

MY WEEKLY public-radio present, rated a “top-5 backyard podcast” by “The Guardian” newspaper within the UK, started its eleventh yr in March 2020. In 2016, the present gained three silver medals for excellence from the Backyard Writers Affiliation. It’s produced at Robin Hood Radio, the smallest NPR station within the nation. Pay attention domestically within the Hudson Valley (NY)-Berkshires (MA)-Litchfield Hills (CT) Mondays at 8:30 AM Japanese, rerun at 8:30 Saturdays. Or play the December 21, 2020 present utilizing the participant close to the highest of this transcript. You possibly can subscribe to all future editions on iTunes/Apple Podcasts or Spotify or Stitcher (and browse my archive of podcasts here).