Lawns are a standard part of most Atlanta landscape designs. They provide places for children to play, they are pleasant to walk across, and they are a way to unify a landscape. There are places however, when lawns are not practical and that is where an alternative groundcover should be considered.
Grass needs two things: It needs to be mowed and it needs sunshine. Growing grass under the shade of trees is a pointless waste of energy; and mowing steep hills is dangerous and impractical. These are just two scenarios where alternate groundcovers should be considered. Conversely, large areas though are frequently impractical to cover with anything other than lawn of some type.
When considering whether a slope is practical for grass you will need to look at how you intend to mow and maintain it. Hand mowers can be used in places where garden tractors cannot, and small areas can be trimmed and cleaned with a trimmer. Common areas that are borderline for mowing include the drainage area near the roadside. These areas are usually small in size and can easily be maintained. More significant slopes are good candidates for an alternate groundcover. It is important that you do use some sort of year round cover on these areas so that the slope is stabilized during heavy rains that are common in Atlanta summers, as well as frosty winter weather. Spruces, pyracanthas and gardenias are just a few evergreen species that have low growing varieties capable of covering large areas well, as well as giving an attractive contrast to your lawn area.
When covering a significant slope with any groundcover, you will still have some maintenance in the early year or two as the groundcover fills in. This is primarily keeping the area weed free. Try to avoid the temptation to put more plants in than necessary. The plants need some space to grow and mature, so while over planting may have some short term gains it will defeat the objective if the plants are weak and competing for nutrients from the start.
Shady areas under trees are another area where grass cannot thrive well. A groundcover in these areas can be annual or perennial, or a combination of both, as slope stability is not usually a requirement. Atlanta is blessed with long summers that give many annuals the chance to grow and flower for long periods of time. Annuals though do need to be planted each year, so mixing some perennials with them will ease the yearly planting if you have a large area.
Some groundcovers can also be used in areas where grass in inappropriate such as gently creeping over a wall, or filling in cracks along a walled area. Both groundcovers and grass can be used to fill in between paving stones and steps but care should be taken to make sure they do not cause a hazard when wet and slippery. Keep the main part of the steps well clear of material.
So when designing your landscape do not limit your groundcovers just to lawn. Try to mix in a few other materials, such as low growing shrubs particularly on slopes where lawn maintenance is difficult.
"Faith sees a beautiful blossom in a bulb, a lovely garden in a seed, and a giant oak in an acorn." William Arthur Ward
Botanica Atlanta Landscape Design 2870 Peachtree Road NE #231, Atlanta GA 30305 404.641.3960