What to replace gravel/rocks in Brooklyn back yard with?

chrismatson(6)January 25, 2009

Hello All: I just moved into a garden apartment in Brooklyn. The garden has earth sections with plants growing in them around the edge, and an oval earth section in the middle, but the rest of the ground was covered by the last tenants with white gravel (perhaps I'm using the wrong phrase as I'm from New Zealand - I mean small angular white rocks about an inch wide). I guess they did it to avoid the hassle of grass growing difficulties or browning/dying over winter, and it looks nice in an "ornamental" way, but I prefer a more natural garden and the thought of not being able to walk in your garden with bare feet in summer is incomprehensible.

So my question is, what would people recommend trying to replace it with? Raking up all of the stones and planting the entire yard (about 50 x 30 feet) with grass seems like a major job for a rental property I may ony be at for a couple of summers, so I'm considering removing maybe a quarter of it as a test project. I like the idea of growing ground cover other than grass (including moss although that may be a little difficult), and I've never tried to grow ground cover/grass over a large area, or in a place like New York with fairly extreme seasons, so I have no idea when I'd need to start the replacement.

Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated!



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Gravel or landscaping rock - it generally boils down to one's idea of a good thing becoming someone else's nightmare. If they're fairly new, haven't settled in and buried themselves, I'd make an attempt at raking a section of them up since you'd like to do some gardening. The rocks are not likely to prevent weeds.

Failing that, many things could be planted just by digging holes down past the rock - a sort of rock garden, a garden with rock mulch. For an experiment on the inexpensive side, the big box stores like Home depot, Lowes, Wal-mart generally have seasonal garden centers with all kinds of things you could use - Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (bearberry, kinnikinnick) is a nice ground creeper with pink-y flowers in early summer and red berries later. Juniperus horizontalis (Creeping juniper) is a good filler and can spill over edges. There are low growing sedums, phlox subulata, artemisia schmidtiana "Silver Mound", as well as other easy care/no care perennials... and there are always the annuals for instantly gratifying a need for space filling color.

If truly temporary digs, I wouldn't make a big investment, but would at least give myself something pleasant to look at and be out in.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 5:52PM
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Junipers would grow up nicely through the rocks, and they are a tough groundcover. They are ussed quite a bit for this purpose.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 8:59AM
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Thanks for these responses! I think I'm going to rake/pull up a section and try to replace with ground cover - any suggestions on fast-growing groundcover that will survive an NY winter? Thanks!

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 11:40AM
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Sorry I should have been clearer above - these are great "shrub"-style groundcover suggestions, but I'm wondering what options there are for more "grassy"-style groundcovers. Thanks again.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 1:01PM
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madtripper(5/6 Guelph)

If you decide to redo half or less of the rocky area, just rake the gravel over to the other side and doubel up on it's depth. Getting rid of the gravel is a big job. Or find someone to come and get it - other gardeners might want it.

Grass is your best option. But then you need some way to cut it. If you buy it in rolls, you can have a nice grass lawn in an afternoon.

You mention the hard winters - browning in winter etc. Actually grass like the cold, and stays quite green in winter. Your biggest problem with it might be a lack of sun. If it is mostly shaddy, grass will have a problem.

You could try moss. You can buy it in sheets, but I would guess it is not cheap for a larger area.

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 7:32PM
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If you want grassy - a roll or two of sod on a stone cleared and prepared surface would take care of it.

Or "grassy like" could be Narrowleaf Blue Eyed Grass (Sisyrinchium Augustifolia), Prairie Dropseed (Sporobolis Heterolepsis), Creeping Lily Turf (Liriope Spicata), Scotch Moss (sagina Subulata).

Mounding plants with almost grassy foliage that could grow together could be Blue Fescue, Dianthus Gratiopolitanus "Tiny Rubies", chives, parsley, Artemisia "Silver Mound.

All around good ground covers but not necessarily grass like: mazus reptans, creeping thyme, phlox subulata, dwarf plumbago, ajuga reptans, Canadian wild ginger, kinnikinnick, Dragon's Blood sedum... and the lists go on with a quick Google for zone 7 groundcovers.

Not to be undone by having to put in lots of things - depending on how big the actual size of the plot you might be clearing out actually is - a couple or three Juniperus Horizontalis "Blue Rug" which creeps but stays about 6" high would fill it up. An all around good ground hugger.

Have you had the opportunity to visit the Brooklyn Botanical Garden?

    Bookmark   January 31, 2009 at 9:17PM
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I have had a chance to visit the BBG - thanks. And thanks everyone for these suggestions - very helpful!

    Bookmark   March 26, 2010 at 7:57AM
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