Patchwork: Covering ground with style and purpose

June is almost here, and it’s time to think about ground cover plants.
Ground covers such as carpet bugle, perennial vinca, pachysandra, ivy, spreading foamflowers (some new cultivars form clumps instead), and deadnettle or lamium can be divided and transplanted now to create new beds, to enlarge existing ones, and to replace turfgrass especially under trees where it grows poorly. On a cloudy, cool day, use a sharp shovel or trowel to separate offshoots from mother plants and transplant them into a shady new location. Keep them well watered. Some of these spread quickly in good soils, so site them carefully. A solid edge between beds and lawns may be needed if they get out of bounds.If groundcovers start to spread out of bounds, or if you don’t have an edging material around the borders of your garden beds but want a trim appearance, use a flat spade to shave off clumps of sod to define the edges. You’ll probably need to do this a couple of times, but if you don’t you’ll be fighting encroaching grass all summer. There are hand and electric edger tools just for this purpose.
Grubs are short, squat white larvae that feed on roots of lawn grasses and other plants, and eventually turn into beetles that feed on leaves. While you’ll see recommendations and ads for products to apply now for these, the best biological controls are beneficial nematodes. These are best applied in late summer during the young stages of new grubs.A frequent sprinkling from the hose is primarily beneficial for keeping seeds moist until germination. Most trees and shrubs need deeper watering both to encourage new roots to grow deeper and to reach those deep roots of established plants. Watering often and lightly will just encourage roots to stay in the top couple of inches of soil where they will be very susceptible to drying out. It’s best to set up a sprinkler for half an hour and then dig to see how deeply the water penetrated. If it didn’t reach the depth of the root ball, or at least eight inches, set the sprinkler for another half hour and check again.
Milky spore is another organism that attacks grubs, but only those of the Japanese beetle. There are other types of grubs, such as those of the rose chafer and Asiatic garden beetle, so before using this product make sure you know which grubs are present. Your state Extension diagnostic lab can identify grubs (www.nepdn.org). Milky spore is often not recommended by insect professionals in New England as it is less effective and spreads more slowly in cold climates and soils, needs to be applied over a larger area than a home landscape to be very effective, takes two to four years to work, has variable results, and at best only will keep populations of grubs lower and not eliminated.
One recommendation you’ll often see and hear is to apply Epsom salt (magnesium sulfate, not related to table salt) to improve fruiting of tomatoes and peppers. The reality, if one examines the research on this chemical back to early in the last century, is that it does correct and has been effectively used for magnesium deficiency in soils or plants. Other than this, adding too much may affect availability of other nutrients, causing other deficiencies, and add to water pollution (www.informedgardener.com). In most gardens magnesium deficiency doesn’t exist.
Editor’s note: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally known horticulturist, author, gardening consultant, and garden coach. Leonard Perry is the horticulturist with the UVM Extension.

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