"Blue Shade" Blooming Groundcover
QUESTION: Why won't the grass grow under my trees
ANSWER: St. Augustine grass tolerates shade, but it doesn't
thrive in it. It seems to do okay under young trees, but as
the trees get larger and cast more shade, the grass starts slowly
thinning out. The reason is not the lack of fertilizer, competition
with the tree roots, insect damage or disease. The grass thins
due to insufficient light. Finally, one spring, it disappears
and doesn't come back at all-leaving bare ground under the tree.
You re-sprig or re-sod with new grass-but it doesn't grow either
or fades away after a short time. Quite simply, there's not
enough light there for the grass to become established. So let's
look at your options.
If you haven't yet completely lost the grass,
take steps to keep it going. The following may help:
1. Raise the height of your mower blade to the
setting which will mow the grass as high as possible.
2. Practice deep, less?frequent watering of the lawn.
3. Avoid foot traffic in these areas.
4. Thin-out crowns of existing trees to allow
more light to penetrate.
5. Remove fallen leaves promptly in fall and
Feed the tree in addition to the amount of regular, slow-release
fertilization of the lawn grass under the tree.
Prune tree limbs to a height of 8 to 10 feet
to permit more sunlight to reach the grass.
If all of these techniques fail, ground covers may be the only
answer. Ground covers are low?growing plants that spread by
underground or above?ground stems with an inherent trailing-growth
habit. As these plants grow and develop, they produce a continuous
mat on the soil surface. Ground cover plants may range from
woody vines to dwarf shrubs.
Some of the prominent uses of ground covers in
typical situations are to cover bare areas of ground; prevent
erosion of the soil; give variety in the yard; regulate foot
traffic in the landscape when used as edging for pathways, or
to tie together unrelated shrubs and flower beds.
Ground covers are frequently used under or around
trees where grass grows poorly or where exposed tree roots make
mowing a hazard. Ground cover plants eliminate the need for
mowing as well as concealing the exposed tree roots.
Many possibilities for living ground covers are
now available locally. For shade or partial shade, consider
Algerian ivy, Blue Shade, English ivy, mondo grass, liriope,
aspidistra (Cast Iron plant), holly fern, River fern, Confederate
jasmine, Asiatic jasmine, and hypericum. Excellent choices for
sunny locations include Asiatic jasmine, mondo grass, creeping
junipers, purple leaf honeysuckle, liriope, daylilies, santolina,
cotoneaster, sedum, lantana (New Gold or creeping lantana),
rosemary, Confederate jasmine and dwarf yaupon. Here are brief
descriptions of some of these plants:
English Ivy: Dark green evergreen vine. Tolerates
heavy shade to moderate sun. Grows to 10 inches. Many varieties
Algerian Ivy: A larger leafed cousin of English
ivy. Beautiful glossy green foliage that prefers moderate shade.
Liriope: Clumping evergreen plant with grasslike
foliage. Blue or white floral spikes in the summer. Several
Mondo grass: A small-leafed cousin of the liriopes.
No conspicuous flowers, aggressive. Adapted to sun or shade.
Asiatic jasmine: Robust evergreen sprawling vine
for full sun or shade. Probably the best all around ground cover
Creeping junipers: Many low growing forms available.
Common for rock gardens, near patios, or in other hot areas.
Require full sun.
Blue shade: A perennial plant, meaning one that
survives from year to year. The plant spreads as a vine, much
like Asiatic jasmine but does so much faster. The foliage is
like velvet. The plant is drought tolerant, roots easily and
is low-growing. It thrives in sun or shade and BLOOMS IN BOTH.
For a perennial, Blue Shade is a prolific bloomer if given some
sun. If grown completely in the dense shade it will, like most
plants, bloom less. Blue Shade blooms profusely when growth
first begins, then the blooms fade as seed pods begin to form
and dry. To insure the initiation of new growth and, subsequently
more bloom, Blue Shade should be lightly sheared every 30 days
or so. Blue Shade dies to the ground by the first frost of fall
but re-grows the following spring in May. If Blue Shade doesn't
bloom as prolific as some desire, plantings can be enhanced
with the beautiful shady?tolerant color plants such as impatiens
(sultana), begonias, coleus or caladiums.
Proper soil preparation is needed before ground
cover plants are planted. Dig the soil at least 6 inches deep.
Rake thoroughly to remove grass roots. Spread 2 to 3 inches
of organic material such as peat, well?rotted manure, or leaf
mold over the ground and spade it into the soil.
On rocky or uneven soil, where the entire area
cannot be worked, dig individual holes. Dig these deep enough
so you can backfill partially with soil mixed with organic materials
before you set the plants.
Ground covers can be planted any time during
the growing season. Fall and spring plantings give best results
if containerized plants are used.
Ground covers are slower than grass in covering
bare ground. Consequently, weeds are likely to grow, especially
the first year. A mulch of bark, compost, or other organic material
will control most weeds, as well as retain moisture in the soil.
Pull the weeds by hand if they break through the mulch. Grasses
can be controlled WITHOUT damaging broadleaf ground covers by
spraying contaminated areas with a new product called fusilade
(sold as Ortho Grass?B?Gon-NOT Weed?B?Gon-, Poast, Over-the-Top,
Bermuda Grass Killer). To eliminate a long?term weed control
war, plant ground cover transplants as thick as you can afford,
i.e., plant larger, more expensive 1-gallon containerized plants
1-foot apart, or plant 4?inch potted ground covers spaced 6?inches
Water ground cover on a regular schedule throughout
the growing season, particularly during dry weather. During
the winter months, water the plants thoroughly when the soil
becomes dry and the temperature is above freezing. IT IS JUST
AS IMPORTANT TO NOT WATER TOO MUCH AS IT IS NOT TO LET THE SOIL
DRY IN PLANTING BEDS. MORE ground cover plants are killed by
watering TOO MUCH, than by not watering enough. Check for the
absence of soil moisture by lightly digging around the base
of the plants with your finger before watering
Ground covers usually need pruning only to remove
dead wood and to keep the plantings in bounds.
More About Blue Shade-The Shady Bloomer
There is nothing nicer in the summer than relaxing in the shade
of a big tree. Just sit back, let the wind massage your personals,
sip a cool one (lemonade, that is!) and enjoy the beauty of
shade?loving flora while the rest of the world sears and burns.
Unfortunately most of the flora, especially the blooming flora
or plants, need at least 6 hours of sunlight daily to perform
best. The light?requiring, summer?flowering plants such as marigold,
zinnia, portulaca, purslane, periwinkle, salvia and verbena
far outnumber the shade?tolerant, summer?flowering plants such
as begonias and Impatiens (sultana). Because lack of light inhibits
blooming of most plants, people use plants that have colorful
foliage in shady areas. This type of plant includes caladium,
coleus and copper plant. Some people don't want to bother with
planting something every year in shady areas of their landscape
so they just establish a groundcover planting of English ivy
or Asiatic jasmine. These groundcovers don't have colorful foliage
but at least they survive from year to year and don't die as
grass does in dense shade.
Well, as usual, horticulturists for the Texas
Cooperative Extension found something wonderful for your shady
areas. It is a perennial plant-one that survives from year to
year. It is a plant that spreads in a vining fashion much like
Asiatic jasmine, but does so much faster. The foliage is like
velvet. The plant is drought tolerant, roots easily and is low
growing. It thrives in sun or shade and BLOOMS IN BOTH. That's
right, it is a perennial ground cover that continuously blooms
in the shade! There is no other plant that can claim all of
these characteristics. The wonderful characteristic of producing
a beautiful pale blue bloom while growing in the shade is the
reason for the common name of this surefire winner: Blue Shade.
The scientific name of Blue Shade is Ruellia squarrosa. Blue
Shade is a low?growing bloomer that will steal your heart and
enhance any shady lounging area.
Everyone who has grown the plant knows of no
insect or disease pest that attacks it. Everyone agrees that
it is a survivor-a drought?tolerant, xeriscape?type plant. It
really does bloom in shade and sun. The only complaint was from
a lady who didn't like the flower's shade of blue. EXCUSE ME!
I don't think that I want to eliminate one of the best, shade?tolerant
ground covers because of a color hue!
I have grown Blue Shade for many years and I
will now identify some complaints or problems that some people
may express about the plant.
First of all, it is indestructible. Of all the
plants I have distributed for test plantings, I have not seen
one-not one, mind you-die during transplanting. Granted, I have
heard that a group of dogs once dug them up and slept on them
in Pearsall that didn't help matters, but other than that, they
survived all adversities. Blue Shade is a prolific bloomer for
a perennial. This is a characteristic that initially attracted
me to the plant. I want a plant's bloom show to literally stop
traffic-a plant with one bloom here and there is not welcomed
in my yard! Blue Shade will stop traffic if it is pruned periodically.
This can be said of most blooming plants. Blue Shade blooms
profusely when growth first begins then the bloom fades as seed
pods begin to form and dry. To insure the initiation of new
growth and, subsequently, more bloom, Blue Shade should be lightly
sheared every 30 days or so. You will soon get a feel for this
after growing this plant. Shearing can be done with hedge shears
or a flexible string trimmer-I am not talking about removing
blooms one by one-life is too short! I am talking about a massive
cutback of about 1/3 of the plant. The cutback should not be
severe enough to cause the plant to have an ugly appearance,
but enough to remove old bloom pods. Such a cutback results
in numerous, massive blooms throughout the season. Cutbacks
also cause denser plant growth and an attractively shaped or
manicured appearance. All ground covers benefit from similar
Blue Shade is a true perennial with one perennial
characteristic disliked by some people. Most of the Texas perennials
are not evergreen. After the first hard frost in late fall,
perennial plant lovers are confronted with a seemingly "dead"
plant which should be cut back to ground level.
Those who are familiar with perennials know that
spring days will stimulate new growth from the living root system;
those who don't understand this fact think that the entire plant
is dead. Blue Shade is no different-after the first frost it
looks like the day after in Hiroshima. This may be a problem
for those who are planting beneath evergreen shade trees such
as the live oak, since there is no winter hardy, shade tolerant
annual that can be planted to beautify the area. For the person
who has Blue Shade planted beneath a deciduous tree that loses
their leaves every year, such as peach, ash, and Chinese pistachio,
it is a God-send. After the leaves fall from the tree and Blue
Shade has frosted down, shred the dead plant rubble with a lawn
mower and plant a hardy, blooming annual such as dianthus, pansies,
Johnny jump?ups, phlox or bluebonnets between the remaining
plants. No planting-bed preparation should be done that will
disturb the Blue Shade roots. It will be the ideal time to establish
spring?blooming annuals. The following spring you will enjoy
the beauty of the annuals until they are finished blooming in
April. When you remove the annuals the Blue Shade will begin
its active growth for free-you won't have to buy new plants!
Because Blue Shade doesn't bloom as awesomely
as I like, I enhance it by adding the beautiful shady bloomer
called Impatiens (sultana). I have planted red Impatiens with
Blue Shade. When bloomed together airplanes crashed when the
pilots looked down in shock from this visual experience. I am
sure that planting begonias, coleus or caladiums with Blue Shade
would be just as showy.
We need to tip our hats to the San Antonio Zoo
for spotting this strain of Ruellia. I got cuttings from Tony
Poncik, who was once the horticulturist for the San Antonio
zoo, and from that meager beginning, Blue Shade has been enjoyed
by thousands of shade?loving people. Blue Shade has a place
in everyone's landscape. Enjoy this shady bloomer this year
and sip a cool one for me as you do!