Ideas for evergreen coverage of an eyesore

schabadooMarch 31, 2012

Hi everyone,

My patio faces a northern slope into a small creek, and it's terrible to look at. The conditions are lousy: part sun, very dry, steep slope. I planted a few fall clearance red twig dogwoods towards the bottom, but I don't think they'll have much of an impact. Here's a pic:

My latest thought is to take down a few trees to clear some sun and try and terrace a spot or two down behind a larger rock. My thought for planting is leatherleaf viburnum. They aren't the best looking plant around, but they are evergreen, get large and are supposed to be hardy.

If anyone has any suggestions or ideas, they'd be most appreciated. Thanks.

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Sacrilege...not an eyesore at all. There's a natural and wild beauty in what you already have. I can almost guarantee that, without extensive soil amendments and re-working of the slope, adding a shrub to an already established woodland would be futile. Why not just clear away all the dead fall, and add a few native ferns, wild ginger, bugloss, oxalis or even bergenia into any existing cavities capable of sustaining a root ball? They will spread where they can on their own without further disruption of the terrain.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 12:22AM
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I like a drought river bed is nice to add some evergreen tough shade,drought tolerance rosemary,hosta,conifer,juniper...

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 1:19AM
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    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 1:45AM
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Please post more pics from further away that show what is beyond the fence. Do you want to cover up the fence? Cover up what is beyond the fence? How tall do youwant the evergreens to be, eventually? Is your soil acid? If so, hollies would be a good choice.

I quite like all the rocks, and the slope. The area has good potential.

I'm sorry, I disagree with hosta as a suggestion. I don't know any hosta that thrives in dry conditions. Well, I just googled 'plants for dry shade' and inexplicably, hosta was on the list. That is just wrong.

English ivy might be a good choice. It is evergreen and can be invasive, but it seems that is exactly what you want.I think it's very attractive. And it looks nice with hollies.


    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 10:18AM
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I go with adriennemb - clearing away the deadfall will make a world of difference. Does the creek ever run heavy? It might not be as dry as it appears. I grow hosta in dry shade and, though not a fanatic, have about 25 different varieties; they get rain.

The ground clean, a few ferns here and there - ostrich ferns are super easy, but there are crested lady ferns, Christmas ferns, ghost ferns, deer ferns, shield ferns and more all appropriate for zone 6 shady woodland type gardes.

Tuck in some crocus, scilla which bloom before trees leaf out, maybe a random bleeding heart or two - and call it good.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 11:23AM
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When posting pictures, it would be helpful if you could make them just a little smaller... about 60% - 70% of the size of your picture above. Also, as mentioned, the picture above is too close up. It doesn't show the context. Please include a picture taken from a further distance that shows what's around this area.

Converting this eyesore into an attractive area is a multi-step process. As weeds have been allowed to grow for a long time, the first step is getting rid of them and keeping them gone. It's not an overnight process (unless you were going to throw huge amounts of $ at it) so it would be best if you think about using the coming growing season to accomplish this goal. Then, when unwanted plants are gone for good, you could plant the desirable plants.

Many people think that herbicide is a magic bullet, but it's not. Plants can store a lot of energy in their roots. The way I would attack this is first by cutting every unwanted plant to the ground (with hand tools: a 10" Corona folding saw and a stout pair of loppers would be the most useful tools.) When everything regrows, but is no higher than 3' would be a good time to spray with herbicide. I'd use a combination of glysophate (the active ingredient in Round-up) and a 2,4-d herbicide (such as Weed-b-gone.) Separately, each will leave certain plants unaffected. Together they will lick almost anything. This process would need to be repeated at intervals of several weeks as unwanted plants regrow from the residual energy stored in the roots. But each time regrowth would be less and by end of summer, most will be gone.

With all the rocks and roots, this would be the kind of place that's a chore to dig in. I'd use the summer to start some cuttings of English Ivy, and after the weeds are under control, install them. They would spread on their own with no need for further digging. With extra water during the establishment phase, they grow quickly. Choose to let the ivy grow on fence and tree trunks, or not. It's up to you. There are easy ways to control it.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 11:46AM
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I don't know yard - sometimes an area can enhanced to death.

The forsythia is in bloom and many areas had warm snaps, but I'm supposing the picture was taken mid March or shortly after? I don't see a lot of underbrush start, perhaps snuffed out by shade, rocks, and assorted debris. A pruning saw is really handy for weed tree saplings.

Truth be told, I'd as soon sit on my patio and look at a cleaned up natural rocky woodsy area than one with everything covered over with English Ivy.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 1:42PM
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And with all due respect, I think using ANY herbicide near open water (rather than vigilant mechanical control) for merely cosmetic reasons is ecologically inappropriate...

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 2:00PM
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catkim(San Diego 10/24)

Good advice from duluthinbloom. The cleanup may appear daunting, but drag away one or two downed limbs and a time, some today, some tomorrow, and soon enough the natural beauty will emerge. I would avoid a lot of digging which would only stir up weed seeds.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 2:03PM
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I have just started posting on this forum, and here's what I have noticed. The responders end up arguing with each other. And folks from far away zones give advice that probably doesn'y apply. I have lived in many different areas of the country: Montana, Louisiana, Virginia, Utah, Pennsylvanie and now Delaware. Hot, cold, windy, humid, acid, alkalaine, sandy, clay, sea level, high altitude. And I've learned that you don't know what works in your area until you live there and garden there for a while.

so my advice is, take advice only from folks who live in your area.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 3:22PM
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Point taken, but there are some universals regardless of the part of the country where you live and garden/landscape. What interest would there be here if any and all posters were simply directed to their regional forums?

Let me ask - since several of us have mentioned at least cleaning up the debris - don't limbs and trees fall in Delaware? Seems that happenstance transcends hardiness zones and growing conditions. :-)

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 4:17PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

Telling us where this place it would definitely help. Without it though, well people tend to jump in.

It does look a lot like things you see in this part of the world. And in this part of the world, if you work *with* what is there, it can be a very nice, restful, pleasant place. If you work *against* what is there, it will be an awful lot of work for something that will never feel right, or be successful.

The first part of this is to embrace the shade. Nice native plants like shade. Bad exotic weedy things like sun. The red twig dogwoods are a good start, though they will probably get much bigger than you expect.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 4:42PM
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Many people would kill for a little stream like that. Those rocks have a lot of character.

Thinking about the least labor-intensive way of clearing that undergrowth, there is a product--I've used it but can't recall the name of it--that you can apply with a brush. You would cut the tree down, then immediately paint the top of the stump with the product. The freshly cut bark will absorb enough of it to kill the tree. After it's dead, you can then come back and cut the stumps flush with the ground. Far less messy than spraying something on the foliage.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2012 at 10:00PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Many hostas are actually quite drought tolerant.

Karin L

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 12:29AM
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Many of them seem to be, but I'm going on my experience with the varieties I have only. When I first came to my mild interest in them, I spent some time on the hosta forum and was surprised to read about the amount of water most of those folks used on theirs. Perhaps we "dry" gardeners don't get the whopping big specimens the twice daily waterers do, but the hosta is a good utility plant regardless.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 12:11PM
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Thanks, I'll take some pics from further away and make them a little smaller.

The water never gets to the top of the rocks. Even the hurricane last August didn't get that high.

It's the 'dustbowl' appearance all winter that I'm not a big fan of. I can live with the viewing the fence.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 5:39PM
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bahia(SF Bay Area)

I'm guessing you've been living with this view for a few years now, and from the jumble of brush and saplings it is probably pretty green and leafy in summer? I'd tend to agree with some others here, that English ivy is not a great solution, particularly if it is prone to becoming an escaped weed in your zone, and such a no o culture ground cover is stifling to a more diverse habitat for wildlife. The only advantage it presents is that it isn't dry and dusty looking in winter it would also be useful to know your location and zone, and some idea of what those trees are, and what the understory vegetation is in summer? Clearing out some of the dense saplings, limbing up some to keep, and maybe adding some zone and site appropriate evergreen shrubs/herbaceous plants for the year round interest.

I'd also avoid using herbicides so close to running water, seasonal or not, as most, including Round-up aren't meant to be used adjacent watersheds.

    Bookmark   April 2, 2012 at 10:09PM
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carol6ma_7ari(zones 6 & 7a)

That hurricane really did a job on all our east coast gardens, didn't it? My suggestion is to get the viewer's eye focused at elsewhere in your view, by creating a focal point such as a fountain, statue, or several large interesting planted pots that are not directly in front of this "bad" area, but elsewhere in your view. The winter appearance, without being hidden, might be solved simply with a re-directed view. Re-direction: magicians do it all the time, and a gardener is a kind of magician.


    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 9:46AM
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It's zone 6.

I'm not going to use Round-Up or anything like that.

And no, English ivy I won't use. I'd feel terrible if it gets to my neighbors.

    Bookmark   April 3, 2012 at 11:33AM
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Here are two other views:

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 12:42PM
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A fairly common way to treat saplings that you don't wish to come back is to paint their freshly cut "stumps" with straight, concentrated herbicide. (I'm sure it's the basis of--"the product"--mentioned above by whitecap.) Glysophate or 2,4-d will work. Probably others, too. While this works well for saplings, it is not a solution for all the herbaceous weeds that will be here. Shabadoo, if you won't "use Round-Up or anything like that" how is it that' you'll eliminate the weeds and keep them gone? What will you do instead? There is absolutely nothing worse than planting desirable plants that become infested with weeds. It's guaranteed to be unattractive and un-maintainable. Or are you only looking for something to plant in front of them and screen them from view?... which, of course, the weeds will attack from the back.

"And no, English ivy I won't use. I'd feel terrible if it gets to my neighbors." Where is the logic that your neighbors will recoil in horror at English ivy--a pretty, useful and manageable plant--relatively easy to keep at bay--but somehow be less fearful of the much more difficult to manage weed-seed patch that you're already offering them? Any groundcover you use will likely expose itself to the neighbors. At the root of this post is a weed problem. I think you should provide feedback on the overall direction you will lean in order to solve it. It would be futile to try to help you if you won't actually commit to the problem. Planting other things around the yard in order to distract yourself from seeing weeds is not really a solution.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 2:06PM
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mad_gallica(zone 5 - eastern New York)

How do you know the ivy won't be a problem, when ....

you don't know where they are.

How do you know this is a weed problem when ....

you don't know where they are.

How do you know what an effective ground cover is going to be when....

you don't know where they are.

Do you detect a pattern here?

Zone 6 isn't a place. Coastal Maine is a place. Southern Illinois is a place. Northern Arizona is a place. They are all possible zone 6 locations. What is going to work is going to vary tremendously depending on which one you pick. Now if I have to guess, I'd guess Westchester Co, NY. I'd also suggest a quick and dirty solution to the currently stated problem is to stop raking the leaves. There should be a healthy layer of leaf litter there making a nice mulch. Parts of it may be too steep, but the entire area has been meticulously 'cleaned up'. That's not how you play it around here.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 2:23PM
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Spraying weeds with white vinegar can make you feel good about yourself.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 2:49PM
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One other thing that you might try is to go into a public forested area near where you live and, where there is thick moss, dig up some small patches, maybe 1 ft square. Transplant them into your little corner of paradise, water well for the first month or so and watch them spread on their own. It's free, causes no damage at the donor site as it grows back quickly and is evergreen over the winter.

Anyways, that's what I've done this in the past. Only the first picture below is mine but I was very happy with the re-naturalization of our ravine after an over-zealous clearing. And mad_g is right - allow the leaf litter to accumulate for the health of the land.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 3:38PM
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Gee mad_gallica, it sounds like you REALLY ARE mad. And I guess you're talking to me.

But your point is taken. When I first mentioned E. Ivy here, I thought we had a location. Participating in so many threads, sometimes it's not easy to keep all the details separate. And I guess I confused another location with this thread. I should have added the words--"or something like it" after "E. ivy" and then all would be well. Consider them inserted.

No matter if its Juneau of Miami... the picture clearly tells me that uncontrolled weeds are at the heart of this problem.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 4:07PM
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Jeez louise - if the OP's member page stating New Jersey Gardening is the favorite forum, can we guess this property might be in New Jersey?

Only the OP can confirm that much of the problem is uncontrolled weeds - don't see much evidence of it in the pictures so far; a few scrubby bushes maybe and a patch here and there. But it's early in the season yet. Is that a roller shade or fluorescent light tube in the bottom pic?

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 5:08PM
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"Only the OP can confirm that much of the problem is uncontrolled weeds - don't see much evidence of it in the pictures so far"

Now it's obvious that "weeds" is a question of semantics. I see nothing, but weeds. Every bird-planted or wind-blown sapling or vine is a weed to me.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2012 at 5:17PM
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I think your "eyesore" has loads of potential if it is cleaned up a bit (removing dead wood and thinning out the saplings a little bit) and planted with things that will thrive under the conditions. I'm not familiar with your area or zone, so I'm sorry I can't offer specific suggestions. I would ask for help at a local garden center to get started, and let the area naturalize with whatever winds up thriving there. In addition to whatever dwarf or groundcover evergreens might work there, I can picture things like hosta, Japanese painted fern, various creeping ground covers, and lots of spring bulbs. We just added a dry stream bed in our yard along our swale, so count me among those that would kill for a natural stream in my landscape.

I don't know how big your property is, but I have found (now granted my entire property, including house, is 1/4 acre) that it is possible to keep weeds at bay by simply pulling them vigilantly. We get LOTS of weeds, with weeded lots on 2 adjacent sides of our property and strong winds blowing weed seeds into our huge veggie garden and planting beds (many of which we haven't filled with plants yet) on a regular basis. We manage to keep them under control by spending an hour or so weeding every weekend in the spring and early summer, gradually less as the summer progresses into fall. I just use a weeder to loosen the root, and take advantage of any rain we get in our dry climate to do as much weeding as I can. We have 2 little kids so I don't have tons of free time, but make it a priority weed along with the other gardening tasks. While I'm sure it's not practical for everyone, it IS do-able to manage weeds without herbicides. I'm also probably unusual in that I don't hate weeding. It's not my favorite thing to do, but it's kind of peaceful and satisfying in a way.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 3:09AM
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It's northern New Jersey.

And no one is over there clearing leaves. No one goes over there at all.

I believe ivy is on the invasive list around here, that's why I wouldn't want to use it.

I have pachysandra on the near side of the stream. I'm not a fan, but maybe that would work.

Thanks for the replies.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 10:10AM
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maureeninmd(z6 MD)

I'm not seeing an eyesore, but a natural-looking area. I would clean it up a bit, adding some ferns, hellebores, bulbs, etc and accept it for what it is. This may sound silly, but I can imagine a small, decorative bridge placed somewhere. However, I would not go as far as adding some garden gnomes on the bridge (well, maybe I would).

Almondstriations makes some good points about weeding. Nothing works better than two arms and a shovel. Except nothing works on english ivy. I've battled it for years!

    Bookmark   April 6, 2012 at 11:04AM
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deviant-deziner(Oh zone)

I see the potential for an amazingly beautiful view.
With a multi-pronged plan and a fresh perspective you can improve upon the view, gain return on your investment, and be happy to come home and enjoy the the fruits of your labor.

The first phase that I would recommend is a change of perspective. Try seeing this area as beautiful. Conjure up your tabula rasa , from this blank slate envision a natural bubbling stream teaming with natural beauty.

The second phase is to selectively edit the weedy and lanky understory out. It may take you a season but keep in mind that you will eventually have something to be proud of . Keep positive.

Once you have selectively edited out the lanky undergrowth, fallen branches and weeds start seeing your naturescape with broads drifts of hellebores, ferns, epimediums and perhaps a few Rhodo's, dogwoods, astilbes and some trillium.

If you are within driving distance to Framingham MA try visiting The Garden in the Woods for spirited inspiration.
If you are not able to visit in person then look at their website and google photos.

The biggest first hurdle is adjusting to the point of perspective that you have something wonderfully unique and that you can create a thing of beauty.

Below is a photo of a project that was once a tangled mess. Season by season the owners hack away at the ivy, create undulating paths and plant woodland natives. The view is no longer an eyesore and is a pleasure to stroll thru and look upon.
From California Gardening

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 8:54PM
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whaas_5a(5A SE WI)

I think that area has so much potential. It takes so many years, sometimes a lifetime to create a woodland.

Cleaning it up, re positioning some of the rocks will go a long way.

I'm not sure how shaded it is in there but I have a Viburnum pragense that is positioned on the the northeast corner of my home and gets very little sun and it is flowering and leafing out quite nicely with 3 hours of sun.

Although thin, I've seen Pinus cembra and parviflora growing in filtered sun. There are many dwarf selections available.

Not suggesting you use these to block anything but just a splash of evergreen during the bare months.

I apologize if I missed any mention of the sun levels.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 9:19PM
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I was thinking of tabulas idea as well, adding a small bridge over the stream. I think a Japanese maple in a clearing would work. I normally don't recommend bamboo but if its a really large area, couldn't tell from picture that would take care of it.

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 11:20PM
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