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We have a lot of scrub oak around our home. In some spots we have some ground cover and other area are bare. We would like to add a nice ground cover to mix in with the oak in these bare areas. Do you have suggestions for ground cover? Also, in one particular area, we have a large amount of grass growing in the ground cover surrounding the scrub oak. What is the best way to get rid of this grass? Is there a ground cover that can overtake the grass?

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A

There are several different options to deal with scrub oak in landscapes. It depends on what type of "look" you want, and whether you have any other functional desires for that area.

In natural areas, scrub oak grows thick and shades most of the area under the trees very well. So only shade-loving types of plants will survive there. Native stands of scrub oak may grow tall, but shorter, almost shrubby trees are always bordering the edge. You can mimic this natural look by topping the scrub oak at the out er edge of the stand and allow suckers to spring up. Maintain that progression from short to tall with annual pruning - thinning out the tallest branches. When the front edge of the oak stand is short and shrubby, there will be little need to plant groundcover underneath the entire stand, since you won't even be able to see it anyway. Not much will grow under the trees since it is so shady - you could spread some mulch to help conserve soil moisture and prevent compaction and erosion.

If you prefer to leave the oaks taller, there are many shade-tolerant plants that will grow there. However, you will need to water more because of them. The oaks need water too, and groundcover plants will compete for soil moisture.

Mahonia repens, mountain lover (Pachystima myrsinites), mountain snowberry (Symphoricarpos oreophilus), Vinca major, Vinca minor, St. John's Wort (Hypericum sp.), Virginia creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia), Ribes sp., and Kerria japonica are a few woody species you could grow under the oaks.

Pussytoes (Antennaria sp.), columbines (Aquilegia sp.), Lily-of-the-Valley, ajuga, Bleeding heart (Dicentra sp.), Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), hosta, golden deadnettle (Lamiastrum galeobdolan), spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), bluebells (Mertensia sp.), and native violets are perennials that will perform well in the shade.

There are grass-specific herbicides that will probably work on the grass growing in your existing groundcover. The active ingredients to look for are fluazifop or sethoxydim. Be sure to carefully read and follow label directions.

Good gardening!

Posted on 3 May 2007

Maggie Wolf
Horticulture Agent, Salt Lake County

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