Sunday, August 2, 2009

Discover Mazus

Homeowners spend a lot of time, energy and money trying to get grass to grow in the wrong places. Wet areas can be most frustrating. Plants (some more than others) need oxygen in the soil to thrive, and grass is no exception. In fact, it needs plenty. That is why aerating the lawn is a useful practice. But sometimes too much moisture seems to accumulate, particularly in low-lying areas, so grass won't grow. So what do you do with a soggy bottom?

The best solutions often take advantage of seemingly difficult situations, working with rather than against them. Instead of trying to change the hydrology of wet areas, it may be better to incorporate them into "bog" gardens featuring water-loving plants. Mazus is such a plant.

Mazus (pronounced MAY-zus) comes from the Greek meaning "teat", referring to the swellings near the center of the flower.

Wouldn't you like to follow plant explorers around to listen to their conversations?

"What does that look like to you?"
"Well, I think it looks like...a teat."

"Hmmm. That's what I was thinking, too. We've been away from home far too long."

The genus contains around 30 species of which very few are available, and not widely. Mazus reptans ("reptans" means "creeping") is most common. The evergreen to semi-evergreen, low-growing plant is native to the Himalayan region and parts of Australia. Mature height is usually from 1-1/2" to 2". Lots of purplish-blue flowers appear in late spring to early summer. A white-flowered form is also available. Foliage is light-green and oval-shaped.

Mazus reptans is cold hardy in USDA climate zones 4 to 9, thriving in consistently moist soil in full sun to partial shade. Some protection from the sun is appreciated in very hot climates. Recommended soil pH is 6.1 to 8.5. Plants spread rapidly, rooting as they go. Small, plug-like portions can be dug and re-planted elsewhere.

Prepare the planting bed for Mazus by cultivating at least 4" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Service office to determine the pH and to receive any recommendations they might offer. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 8" deep. Composted manure may be incorporated into the soil. Fertilizer may be used. If you choose to do so, incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4" to 6" of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Mazus can be planted any time you have a shovel handy, but it is very important to water more frequently during hot weather to avoid plant stress.

Plant Mazus 8" to 12" apart. Keep in mind that my spacing recommendations are approximate. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill. Press soil around the roots. Do not cover the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 2" deep. Irrigate thoroughly.

Apart from watering (if necessary) and weeding until established, maintenance is minimal. Mazus has few serious pest and disease problems. Most only cause cosmetic problems. Aphids may be attracted to fast-growing shoots. Fungus may attack during spring when temperature fluctuates widely. Cold weather may damage foliage in coldest regions. It tolerates a little foot traffic.

If you need a low-maintenance, flowering ground cover for wet sites, this may be your plant.

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