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Groundcover can solve problem of sloping clay yard

QUESTION: "I have a problem with a side yard. The ground is red clay that currently has no vegetation on it except weeds. The yard is a rather steep slope. We tried to grow grass for a few years but due to the slope it was very difficult mowing the area. So now we are back to the bare ground. We need a surface we can walk on and not worry about slipping and falling and something that is low maintenance. The area gets quite a bit of sun and the rain runs down the slope. Do you have any suggestions (besides concrete)?" – Nancy Ramsey

ANSWER: A good solution would be an attractive ground cover. You could plant one or more of the following: Creeping Phlox (varieties: Red, White, Emerald Blue, Candy Stripe or Apple Blossom); Sedum (Baby Tears, Dragon’s Blood Red or Tricolor). If much of the area is shaded, consider planting Trailing Periwinkle.

QUESTION: “I have some fungus ridden red-tipped photenias that I sprayed faithfully with antifungal spray last summer/fall and they appeared to be coming in great this spring. But now, all of a sudden, they are showing the fungus spots again! Will I ever be able to totally get rid of the fungus? If so, HOW?” – Mary Jane Riley ANSWER: I am afraid this is a common problem with the species. I’m sorry to say that to maintain fungus-free plants you will have to keep on spraying. Perhaps some other readers will be able to offer alternate solutions. QUESTION: “I recently purchased a Red Bud Forest Pansy. I received it about 2 days after the shipping date and waited one day to plant it. It was stored in the garage for that short time. I followed the planting instructions sent along with the tree and it will have been in the ground a week as of today. I was wondering how long I should expect it to take before I begin to see signs of life.” – Ben Lighthall

ANSWER: I planted three of them two years ago and mine did not break dormancy until June. I do not know why, but the forest pansy is a hard one to break. Just keep the soil around the plant moist but not wet until it begins to break, then back off the water a little. Scratch the bark on the tree to see if it is still green or fleshy white underneath. As long as it isn't dark brown or brittle, I think you’ll find that it will still come out of it.

In addition to questions about landscaping challenges, I often receive interesting and helpful comments from readers of this column. Here are two that were e-mailed to me recently: 

COMMENT: “I have a new book out. ‘Arborsculpture- Solutions for a Small Planet.’ It's about the power of trees and the art of shaping trees into all the things we need. You can find out more at http://www.arborsmith.com – Richard Reame

ANSWER: There are some really “unique” pictures at your Web site, Richard! I’ve included a link to your Web site from this column archived under the Plant Man header at my site, www.landsteward.org in case any readers want to see art and furniture formed from the trunks of living trees.