Ideas needed for wooded, piney, sandy soil

SnailLover(5a MI)August 11, 2013

I'm in northern Michigan. Just purchased a house in a wooded subdivision, mostly pine, some hardwood. Along the edges of the woods the grass just isn't growing. I'm looking for ideas on how to spruce up these problem areas with the right grass or ground cover. I have a huge lawn in front that's enough to mow, so the less mowing here the better. Would centipede grass be ideal? Any other landscape suggestions welcome. I just want to keep it simple and natural looking.

Those sticks are fallen birch branches. I thought it would look pretty there as a border, but it just ended up looking like a pile of sticks.

This worn path leads up to the back deck. I'd like to put in a stone walkway here. Should I leave the rocks and whatever vegetation that is? It grows everywhere here. I don't mind it really.

The bird bath and feeder are being replaced.

This post was edited by SnailLover on Fri, Sep 6, 13 at 22:06

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Turf grasses just do not grow well in very shady areas. You could select some sort of shade tolerant groundcover but that looks like a pretty large area to cover. I'd be more inclined to lean towards a woodland type garden with a mix of larger plants, perennials and groundcovers together with some hardscaping (pathways/eating areas) that connect.

    Bookmark   August 11, 2013 at 6:19PM
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First, an answer to the two questions asked. Centipede grass is a deep south grower. Not a chance that it will survive the Michigan climate. And the rocks piled along the rear wall appear to fill an important role as there is no gutter along that roof to buffer the soil from erosion during rain storms/melting snow. Rocks best left in place to prevent erosion on that sandy slope. Weeds among rocks can remain or be discouraged with Round-up.

Sandy soils have just one mantra, "feed me". Plan to work with the grasses on site presently. They are survivors. They will fill in if a feeding schedule is set up for those areas of lawn to be mowed.

What remains as unwanted land to mow is better mowed to right along the edge of the woods. Ground cover is not the answer as it attracts weed growth which requires hours of hand pulling.

Love the idea of retaining the natural look. If this were my land I would set out to collect ferns that are native to your sandy soil and native wild flowers to plant in groups beneath the shaded woodland edge. This can become an interesting hobby identifying and locating potential plant families. Plus a few natural bird houses scattered about on trees.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 4:11PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Thank you both. Great points made about ground cover and the rocks. I really did not want to move them! Love the idea of pathways, perennials and ferns. I'll have all winter to plan this out. Feels like fall already here :(

    Bookmark   August 13, 2013 at 9:49PM
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I have piney sandy shady soil in zone 5b. The grass was not growing well at all. I tested my soil. It was WAY WAY acidic. Pine trees acidify the soil, which allows the grass to get no nutrients. The state of Maine soil testing told me to add 140 lbs of lime per 1000 square feet. I added 40 lbs of lime per 1000 square feet in Fall and another 40 lbs of lime per 1000 square feet in Spring so far. I used the slowest acting lime you can buy so as not to burn the soil. Then I bought two bags of corn meal feed which is an organic fertilizer and I dumped it on my yard in early spring and then I dumped a bag of bone meal, another organic fertilizer, and dumped it on my yard. Then I bought 2 large bags of some organic fertilizer with manure and dumped it on my yard 5 weeks apart. Then I seeded with Pearl's premium grass seed for shade, which you can buy at Whole Foods. Now I have an unbelievably thick, gorgeous lawn. If your grass isn't growing, test your soil.

This post was edited by iluvmaine on Wed, Aug 14, 13 at 21:42

    Bookmark   August 14, 2013 at 9:35PM
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One thing that would help with giving things a cleaner, sharper more "cared about" look is if you would make a distinct division between where the woods (aka "the bed") ends and the grass begins. Trees smack on the edge of a bed look awkward. Instead, they should be clearly IN the bed (by at least 3', or more if possible.) Putting some separation between the tree trunks and the lawn helps by keeping the grass away from where the light is too low to grow it well. Another thing that helps a lot is to limb up trees that are near the lawn so that light reaches below the tree canopy. Personally, I can see no reason to have a tree in a yard whose limbs are so low that they smack one in the face... or actually, as low, or lower, than the ceiling in a house. (Others might claim that such a reason(s) exists, but they never offer up that phantom reason for vetting here!) But creating a way for more light to reach the grass will help it grow better. You might consider limbing up the tree in the picture to either of the red lines I've shown in the illustration.

To look the best, the bed line that divides the two areas should be a smoothly curving line that fits the site ... not cute loops and curls. The illustration gives examples of what you might do, but you could easily alter the line to suit the needs of the site. If you merely placed a uniform mulch in the wooded area and improved the grass that has hope of being improved, the whole picture would look immensely better. (You would not need to mulch the entire woods, but just its visible edge. And even free -- "tree trimming" -- mulch would be okay.)

My experience with groundcover is not so much that it attracts weeds, but that if there are weeds present, groundcover will not cure them and the combination will truly be an intractable mess to behold. It's better to deal with weeds first. The one could mulch a place for a couple of years while making sure the weeds were dispensed with, and add (tried and true) groundcover later. Also, pulling weeds is not an effective way to get rid of them. Smother with card board with mulch on top, or use herbicides, or some combination of the two.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2013 at 8:44PM
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Looking again at these images, I believe your soil also looks very poor in organic matter. I had a few areas of my yard that looked pretty bad like this and I decided to add a couple inches of compost in addition to the lime and fertilizers. The grass grew fine in those areas after the compost. To add a couple inches of compost to a whole lawn is going to take some serious back-breaking work though. One fit adult working alone can distribute about 3 cubic yards per day from the driveway where it is dumped by the garden center to the yard with a wheelbarrow and shovel. I have done 4 yards in a day but I was in total tears begging my husband to help me for the last yard.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2013 at 9:59PM
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SnailLover(5a MI)

Oops, I just discovered I didn't have my "reply email" box checked, so I missed these additional posts.

I agree about the tree branches. I've trimmed some lower limbs since starting this thread and am in the process of hiring someone to do the higher cutting. Two late winter storms in the past 2 years which brought down lots of trees and limbs - the property was never maintained in any way. The diagrams are much appreciated as I'm a visual person. I've noted all the organic fertilizer suggestions. All my neighbors have beautiful lawns so I know it's possible. I think getting the lawn healthy and trimming the trees will go a long way in improving the landscape.

Thanks to all for sharing your expertise!

    Bookmark   September 1, 2013 at 11:08AM
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Generally, best off planting compatible with your soil rather than fighting the natural conditions. I lived in the New Jersey Pine barrens where the soil was acidic and mostly grey sand. Pine needles acidify the soil. Grass hates acid soil and thus does not grow well under pine trees.

While adding lots of lime can compensate(but hurt native acid loving plants), it is simpler to try and plant compatible items. If the soil is acidic, the following work well: Rhododendrons, Mountain laurel, pine, holly. Pachysandra will work as a ground cover in shady areas. It likes acid sandy soils but is not a high traffic ground cover. Also to its benefit, it does not require mowing. I also used surplus pine needles as a ground cover since with a thick enough layer, few things will grow through them and the brown surface is reasonably neat and attractive once they (naturally) pack down.

    Bookmark   September 2, 2013 at 3:18PM
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