Plants near alley?

junicbAugust 22, 2011

We live on a small city lot backing up to an alley. There is a parking pad that juts into our yard from the alley, and that leaves us about 5 feet of yard on either side of the parking pad. We had been using these areas for vegetable gardening but decided against it this year because of the lack of sunlight. Now, they are overgrown with weeds.

We'd like to spruce up the back yard a bit, and those areas look the worst. We are in need of something low maintenance, does well in part-sun (maybe 3-4 hours/day), and preferably relatively fast-growing (so it can hold its own again the brushy weeds that are trying to take over).

It doesn't need to be breathtaking; I mostly want to stop embarrassing my neighbors. I would appreciate any suggestions!

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junicb, first step would be to pull, dig out all the weeds. Bag them for disposal - they probably have seedheads. I wouldn't consider planting until all weeds are removed.

Can't recommend plants for your zone. Suggest a trip to a good nursery locally.

HTH, Rosie

    Bookmark   August 24, 2011 at 8:23PM
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Hi Junicb - your loca nursery might have something, or you could look at the classy ground covers website. A lot of their stock is sold in 24-packs or 50-packs, and perhaps that's all you'd need for covering that area. Their search engine will help you find something that meets your needs.

Just a question, is grass too high maintenance? With those areas it sounds like you could mow them in 20 minutes & you'd get all your wish list covered (not breathtaking, chokes out weeds).


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 8:02AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

One of the low maintenance groundcover possibilities would be pachysandra, though it takes a year or two to fill in. If you know anyone who has a patch of pachysandra, they'd likely be willing to give you cuttings.

Inkberry (Ilex glabra) is a shrub I've admired around town for its classy leaves and neat appearance. It's often planted in rows. It does well in partial shade -- will even tolerate full shade. There are various cultivars; "Shamrock" is the one I'm considering for a shady area. [Though a holly relative, there are no spines.]

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 9:54AM
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A solution that will work immediately and buy time (so you have a chance to pick the right plants or groundcover) is to remove the existing weeds and install a thick, uniform layer of mulch.

You can remove weeds by digging them out. An easier way is to spray them with herbicide. (Glysophate--often sold as 'Round-up' but also available via other brands--is the standard. However, there are many weeds it will not kill. A more effective solution is glysophate combined with any of the 2,4-d weedkillers.) After removing weeds--or a few days after spraying them--apply a 2-inch thick layer of your choice of organic mulch to the area. (By organic, I mean one that will decompose over shredded bark.) For it to look nice, keep the edges of the mulched area crisp and sharp.

The advantage to this solution is that area will look good immediately. Weeds are the bane of any new landscape (especially, where they've been prevalent.) It will be easy to keep weeds out of a mulched area. Any weeds can be sprayed with herbicide without worrying about killing desirable plants.) The thick layer of mulch will also keep many weed seeds from germinating. Later, after the weeds are under control, you can install whatever plant appeals to you...without removing the mulch. Chances are that after the area in question becomes ready for planting, you will become a keen observer of similar landscape situations and as you travel about your town, you'll soon "discover" the perfect planting solution.

A low-growing groundcover sounds about right. But because it's near the alley, I wouldn't hesitate to use interesting plants that die back in the winter. It doesn't have to be evergreen. Variegated goutweed would be one example. It is super tough, prolific, and does a great job of brightening up an area. (Since this plant can be invasive, using it depends on what's growing nearby and how that's maintained.)

Here is a link that might be useful: Picture of var. goutweed as a groundcover

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 12:04PM
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You are suggesting that she goes to all that trouble to eradicate weeds and then plant Ground Elder!? I am gobsmacked.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 3:50PM
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karinl(BC Z8)

I have a couple of narrow areas like this on either side of our shed. For me a key to managing them is a pathway through the area. This also helps to define it. You would have the freedom to make the pathway winding or put it to one side or the other.

Your plant selection would depend on your taste - does not need to be A "ground cover" plant. Could go with ferns and hostas, both of which cover ground well without actually being ground covers. Or any plants that work in that condition that you like.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 5:31PM
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Thanks to everyone for your responses.

Pam29011 - grass isn't too high maintenance, it's just that it's never really had a chance since the back yard is such a mess. I suppose I can just clear out the weeds and then put down grass seed? I'm sure the internet is full of advice for me. I'll go google for a while.

Missingtheobvious - I do like both pachysandra and inkberry. We use the MoBot site often when perusing new potential plant acquisitions.

We've started yanking/digging/cutting out the worst offenders. At this point, I'm considering trying to lay down a lot of newspaper/cardboard and then mulch over it until we decided what to do next. Is it scandalous to consider wood chip mulching half of my backyard? At this point, anything would be an improvement...

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 6:40PM
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I think that the newspaper/cardboard with heavy mulch over it is an excellent interim solution until you decide what to do with this area. If you mow it closely first that will help also. Keep an eye on the area and quickly remove anything that comes through the mulch. If you want to dress it up a bit, find a couple of nice planters (run rebar with a hooked end down through them if you need to worry about them disappearing) and plant with something for the fall or even a really hardy pair of evergreens that can survive the winter and that you might want to use elsewhere later.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 8:05PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

junicb, because of this thread I bought 6 inkberries today instead of the one I had intended to get.

Oh, they're so cute!

I don't know whether I should blame you or thank you.


    Bookmark   August 25, 2011 at 9:55PM
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Missingtheobvious - you're welcome or I'm sorry, whichever you prefer.

I went out today, with the help of my hardworking dad, and cleared the areas of the worst offenders. We completely covered one side with corrugated cardboard and pine straw (because we had leftover pine straw from last season's mulching). We ran out of steam before we did the second side, but things look immensely improved. Now, it just looks like we are slightly lazy yard caretakers instead of being criminally negligent.

Thanks to everyone for your suggestions. We have a long way to go, but it feels good to have made some progress.

    Bookmark   August 27, 2011 at 10:00PM
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