ivy or pachysandra for ground cover?

kswl2November 16, 2013

Our front yard oak trees have grown so tall that their drip lines extend way out and the small patches of grass there are just not growing well. We've had St. Augustine sod that's been replaced I. Several areas over the past five years, and have tried centipede sod with similar, poor results. We're re landscaping the area by pulling the planting beds in front of the house forward, replacing the 25 year old shrubbery and adding yews to extend the plantings forward, then using swaths of a ground cover where the beds end. I like ivy very much, but we have a brick retaining wall between the front end of the yard and our circle drive. I've been warned that the ivy would have to be pulled off that weekly to keep it from overrunning the wall. Also, several people (nursery guy, landscaper and lawn guy) have all told me that snakes like to hide in ivy. So we selected pachysandra as a substitute--- a lighter variety called "green carpet." It does not climb, and stays at about a 6" height, where ivy gets thicker and taller.

But I recently read that Boston ivy is less invasive than English ivy, with smaller leaves and a lower profile. What would you suggest?

Brick path to front door, notice dying grass on both sides of the walkway:

Same area from porch point of view:

This is the house from the driveway. The front yard is all behind the retaining wall; the drive is about 18" higher than the yard at the wall, and the yard then slopes down another 18" or so. We have remediated water runoff with swales, underground pipes to draw away downspout drainage, etc.

And from farther back, head on (you can't even tell there is a front yard from this aspect but it gives you an idea of the scale:

Here is a picture of the yard from last Christmas after resodding both sides of the walkway ---again--- that summer. It was a lot warmer last year at this time, but you can see the grass is already thinning and is is now dead in patches.

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Mike Larkin

Ivy will grow everywhere if allowed . I prefer the pachysandra for the same reasons your landscape person said. And since he probably deals with this on a regular basis, would follow his suggestions.
Also why even have ground cover, Beds, that have a nice layer of mulch , sharp bed edges may look just s nice, and much easier to care for a few years down the road.
I have seen too many over grown, IVY landscapes. Ok if you are prepared to keep cut back.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Design Ideas

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 9:34AM
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I am an English ivy lover, too, and think that it has a proper place in the landscape. But one must be practical; it's not for small, tight areas such as a strip next to that front wall (even though people sometimes put it in such places.) Once established, it spreads out at about 3' per year, so it's best for large areas, such as that tree island your driveway encircles.

Old wive's tales never die. Snakes don't eat ivy and there is no scientific evidence that they like it for any particular reason other than the fact that it provides cover, which is true of ANY groundcover, perennials, shrubs and many other plants. The claim is a scare tactic promoted by those who don't like ivy for other reasons.

While I'm not promoting ivy for the place you mention, the claim that it must "be pulled off [the brick wall] weekly" is also not true. The fresh growing tips of it are very tender so cut easily with a string trimmer. Edging it that way once every three or four weeks would be quick and easy ... like edging grass.

I wouldn't recommend Boston ivy for you either. It has it's place, but is also too rambunctious for a small area. It's deciduous, so wouldn't be anything during the winter months. To my thinking, mulch wouldn't be much different than a deciduous groundcover in the winter. I don't think it's as attractive as a lush bed of groundcover. While it can look good when fresh, it ages, requires dressing and doesn't protect an area from washing like a living plant does if there is any slope involved. Too, it would need some kind of edging to look its best.

    Bookmark   November 16, 2013 at 10:04AM
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rosiew(8 GA)

STRONGLY urge you to forget about ivy. It can be such a scourge, as you've already been told.

I think pachysandra is a very good option. You could interplant it with shade tolerant shrubs. Your place is wonderful looking!

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 6:49AM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

Not only snakes-rats love ivy, too. One of our city inspectors told me that after I called when I saw one in our backyard shortly after moving into our house. Needless to say, we got rid of the ivy and bamboo, too, which they also apparently love. His exact words? "Oh, they must LOVE your backyard!"

13 years later, I am still finding ivy trying to come back. Aaarrrgghh.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 1:53PM
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"13 years later, I am still finding ivy trying to come back." Over that period of time you cannot have employed competent and effective methods against it. It's not that difficult to eradicate on a yard-sized plot.

Is the glass half full or half empty? As far as English ivy being a scourge ... to others, in the right place, it's a panacea!

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Sun, Nov 17, 13 at 22:06

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 10:04PM
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Yard, please share some of those competent and effective methods. One of my neighbors has allowed English ivy to grow rampantly in their wooded back yard, and it is a huge job for me to try to control the ivy constantly growing under, over and through the fence and into my yard and into my plantings... which, if left unchecked, it proceeds to climb as well. So, it's a matter of grubbing around on my hands and knees, untangling and pulling ivy.

    Bookmark   November 17, 2013 at 10:54PM
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I don't want to commandeer this post and redirect it about English ivy maintenance so recommend, agsom, that you begin another thread about it. Clarify the particulars. Photos or detailed descriptions will help. If ivy is coming from neighboring properties, you will probably need to resort to chemical control--Round-up, at least -- but how you employ it will depend much on the physical particulars. Provide some details. Keeping it corralled at a solid board fence will be fairly easily.

This post was edited by Yardvaark on Mon, Nov 18, 13 at 19:35

    Bookmark   November 18, 2013 at 6:40PM
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I would agree Ivy is not ideal for that spot and Japanese Pachysandra probably is. That being said since you are in zone 7 maybe you would consider our native Allegheny spurge (Pachysandra procumbens). The Japanese pachysandra would probably be functional for you, but I know if I was in zone 7 I would use our native (it is not evergreen in my zone 5).

    Bookmark   November 19, 2013 at 8:26PM
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Thanks for all your replies, I am coming back to let you know I acted on the the majority opinion and put in pachysandra. Since it will take at least a year to have a solid green presence there, we separated the front bed (now replanted with boxwood, nellie R Stevens hollies at the corners where there are jogs in the façade, Yuletide camellias on either side of the front steps and espaliered to the back of the brick columns, and dwarf yews) with a 4 ft strip of zoysia turf. This will give us a nice bit of green while the pachysandra us filling in.. Once it is well established we will take out the turf and replace with the same pale flagstone that leads from a side gate to the tennis court.

Pictures below...and thank you for all your opinions, I really appreciate the advice!

Camellias will be espaliered next week.

Pachysandra on left, yews on right:

    Bookmark   November 28, 2013 at 11:04PM
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Thanks for adding the follow-up with photos. The change should work out fine. It would be great if you follow up, too, with photos after the Pachysandra has grown in.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 10:09AM
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A seldom used method to plant pachysandra or vinca which encourages rapid coverage. As each clump is planted scrape away a shallow depression around it and then lay all the tender branches (still attached to the plant) flat around the plant, covering lightly with soil so that only each tip end shows above soil surface. The buried stems will quickly root encouraging multiple new growth. This could still be done on the planting shown as one has time to play in the winter/early spring garden when the pine straw mulch settles a bit, working the branching down under the mulch along the soil so just the growing tips are exposed. Worth the effort. Speeds up coverage of pachysandra and vinca ground covers.

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 1:04PM
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Thanks for that tip, I will pass that along to the Lawn Guy. He is anxious for the pachysandra to grow in because he will then be able to lay the stone paths, which is a lucrative job for him. :-)

We had mondo grass growing between the stones on the path to the tennis court, but it was so hot on that side the grasses died towards the court, so we filled those lower spaces with pea gravel. I am looking forward to having shady paths where the mondo with be thick and luxurious between the stones.

Thank you again for all your help!

I forgot to add the existing path photo, this was taken a few months after it was installed. After one summer the mondo from the middle of the length through to the lowest point was completely dead--- even with twice weekly watering, and was replaced with pea gravel. Even the mondo between the stones at the gate end has not thrived as we had hoped it would.

This post was edited by kswl on Sat, Nov 30, 13 at 8:24

    Bookmark   November 29, 2013 at 5:11PM
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