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I have just completed a drainage project (trench lined with landscape cloth, #2 stone, perforated pipe in a long "sock," more #2 stone, then #3 round stone on top). The stone goes right up to the side of the house. On the other side of this strip of rounded stones is a 16-inch-wide strip of soil, and then a tall wooden fence. A lawn mower won't fit in there, so I'd like to plant a ground cover on that strip of soil between the rocks and the fence.

I'd like it to be quick to get established.

What doesn't matter:

  • Doesn't need to stand up to foot traffic.

  • I don't have to worry about it creeping over to the neighbor's yard on the other side of the fence, because the neighbor has three dogs who tear up the back yard quite reliably.

I am in upstate New York. The soil is a bit on the clay-ey side but I've seen worse.

I don't mind watering it regularly while it's getting established, but after that it should be able to withstand a dry August.

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Update: I had pretty much convinced myself that vinca minor (myrtle, periwinkle) would work, but when I phoned around no one had it yet in flats. One store offered me lamium instead so that's what I went with, given that we wanted to get it all in this weekend before starting some other planned projects.

  • strawberries could work here, and get a great crop. some are even known to be a ground cover – black thumb Apr 20 at 4:39
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I'm assuming that this is a pretty shady area, since it's between a fence and a house. I'm also assuming that it will get walked on occasionally for basic house maintenance, so tripping hazards are something to avoid. For myself, I prefer groundcovers that are relatively well-behaved and easy to kill should I change my mind. Here are some ideas for you for zone 4; they're in order of my own personal preference:

Mazus reptans - very nice, very low groundcover with pretty blue flowers in late spring. Establishes itself pretty quickly.

Carex pensylvanica - This is a sedge, so it looks like 5-6" tall grass clumps until it grows into a green shaggy carpet. Rhizomatous, so it spreads pretty well after the first year in the ground. A popular choice in Southern Wisconsin for many landscapers for exactly your situation.

Hosta - Not a traditional groundcover, but if you plant a row of hosta between the fence and the rock they will, in only a couple of years, completely shade the ground. An advantage to hosta is that you can probably find someone you know who wants to get rid of some - or, if your area is like mine, you might find a pile of plain old green ones on the side of the road for free. One possible issue (depends on how much you like your neighbor) - because the leaves are so high off of the ground there's a good chance that the hosta will trap moisture and help rot the fence.

Liriope splendens - A grassy groundcover. Liriope is much-used in the Southern US as a great filler plant, with nice flowers. Supposedly hardy to zone 4b.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum) - A pretty little thing that covers ground very fast. My sister gave me a two-inch diameter clump once, and three years later it took me 6 hours to get dig it all out. I estimate it spread about six feet in three growing seasons.

Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria) - This will take over the area and probably grow into the rounded rocks, too, as soil filters between them. Note that this plant is considered an invasive species and restricted in some states. It's also very difficult to remove (usually done over two or more years).

Ostrich fern (Pteretis nodulosa) - This is quite tall and spreads by the ferny equivalent of rhizomes. It will, guaranteed, eventually leave the side of your house for front and/or back of your house. It's easy to mow, though, in that case. Note that it also may promote rot on the fence. Possible tripping hazard, too.

Any Lamium hybrid - This plant is fast-growing and has colorful leaves. It flowers in early summer, but has a tendency to run wild, like ajuga and ostrich fern.

Any of the Ajuga hybrids - Bugleweed is one of my least favorite plants because it usually covers your lawn as well as where it's supposed to cover. I've also found that it's a "loose" groundcover, leaving openings where weed seeds can germinate. If you don't deadhead it the hybrids, you may wind up with seedlings that do not look like the plants you planted; of course, this may not be a concern in your situation.

Pachysandra terminalis - Another much-running plant, difficult to eradicate. Nice flowers, though. Evergreen.

Note that I haven't checked any of these for toxicity to dogs or other animals. This should be a consideration for you, given your neighbor's dogs and that the groundcover will certainly go under the fence into their yard.

There are lots of other plants, like Epimediums (barrenwort), Mitchella (partridgeberry - a native plant), or Dicentra exima (fern-leaved bleeding heart) that make decent groundcovers, but they're expensive and don't grow particularly fast.

  • No danger of anything actually growing on the neighbor's side -- the three dogs make certain of that! – aparente001 Apr 21 at 21:48
  • I'm curious as to what you eventually choose - if you'd like, you can add a comment to this thread with your choice :) – Jurp Apr 21 at 22:42
  • Jurp, please see update to question. Thanks for a great answer -- this will add a lot to the site. – aparente001 Apr 22 at 3:23

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