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Milberger's Nursery and Landscaping
3920 North Loop 1604 E.
San Antonio, TX 78247

Open 9 to 6 Mon. through Sat.
and 10 to 5 on Sun.

Three exits east of 281, inside of 1604
Next to the Diamond Shamrock station
Please click map for more detailed map and driving directions.

Click here

"Blue Shade" Blooming Groundcover

QUESTION: Why won't the grass grow under my trees anymore?

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 winter.

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 are available.

Algerian Ivy: A larger leafed cousin of English ivy. Beautiful glossy green foliage that prefers moderate shade. Very aggressive.

Liriope: Clumping evergreen plant with grasslike foliage. Blue or white floral spikes in the summer. Several varieties.

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 plant.

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 apart.

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 treatment.

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!