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Coping with Creepers

Most of my favorite ground covers are creepers. Attractive and easy-care... but they need firm discipline to keep them from taking over.

Periwinkle, English ivy and pachysandra, good in dry shade, all do an excellent job of keeping weeds down (except for tree seedlings). At least once a year their runners must be ripped out and cut back.

Lily of the valley, another shade-lover, is as bad as mint, sending out its white underground stolons a long way before they come up into new plants; even a tiny piece of stolon produces new plants quickly. Mowing controls it.

Deadnettle (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), I planted for its variegation. Not 'Herman's Pride,' something about the finicky little lines on those leaves bothers me; it looks almost artificial to my eye — but 'Variegatum,' with larger leaves and a gentler pattern to the silver. Under a littleleaf linden, this creeper didn't like how dry it got from the tree's surface roots. So I had no idea it was invasive — until it escaped the compost pile. It's lush in the rich soil there, but it's getting into the woods. Ripping it out is not hard, but it grows back fast.

Several of the lower-growing speedwells are invasive, especially Veronica chamaedrys. But I love its true-blue flowers in Spring. Stems and roots break easily, pulling it leaves most of the roots: it must be dug to control it. Since it needs sun, at least it won't escape into Howard Park.

Bugleweed, another blue spring bloomer, struggles in dry or soggy soil... but now I've found a place it likes, I keep pulling up runners. The only neighbor holding its own is an 18" tall magenta Geranium sanguineum (whose magenta flowers look great next to the Bugleweed's bronze leaves).

Wintercreeper is woody, with tough stem and roots. Two feet high, it creeps over other plants. In one spot, where I just wanted it to "fill in," it was smothering everything in a six-foot radius. My daughter Wendy, who had volunteered to do a little weeding for me, spent five hours clearing it. I hope I can cram it into trash bags: no way am I going to let it into the compost pile or the woods.

Still it's pretty: a froth of small, dark green leaves with white veins. Wendy decided to take some home to her yard. "At least you know what you're getting into," I said.

© Copyright 2003 Catherine Holmes Clark


Published in the six Nashoba Publishing papers on Friday, 20 June 2003

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For more information

Invasive Non-native PlantsHow Does Your Garden Grow? — invasive plants to avoid, and suggested alternatives for the garden

Green Aliens Invade the US , an article from Allbright Seed Company. Details the costs of environmental takeover.