Friday, September 11, 2009

Pachysandra - A Ground Cover Of Choice

Pachysandra terminalis - Japanese Spurge

Pachysandra (pronounced pak-ih-SAND-ruh), commonly called Spurge, is a genus of 4 species that are native to Asia and the U.S.  The genus, a member of the Buxaceae or Boxwood family, is named for its thick stamens.

It's a solution plant for a common landscape problem:  too much shade.  Pachysandra loves shade.  It spreads quickly, too, doing what a ground cover is supposed to do; it covers ground beautifully.  For that reason, pachysandra is the ground cover of choice in some areas.

Of the four species, only two are of commercial importance.

Pachysandra procumbens (pronounced pro-KUM-benz), known as Allegheny Spurge, is native mostly to the southeastern U.S.  Procumbens means "on the ground".  Its distribution roughly follows the Appalachian range, from parts of Florida through Georgia, Alabama, the Carolinas, Tennessee, Kentucky and Pennsylvania.  But it also occurs in some parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and Indiana.  As a side note, I'll mention here that the geological foot of the Appalachians does reach into north Florida around Tallahassee.

Plant height is up to 12".  Mature leaf length is about 4", with toothed margin.  White flowers are insignificant.

It thrives in USDA climate zones 4 through 9 in well-drained but consistently moist soil high in organic matter.  Recommended pH ranges from 5.1 to 6.0.  Full sun may be tolerated in the cooler regions of its range, otherwise grow it in full sun to partial shade.

P. terminalis (pronounced term-in-AL-iss), known as Japanese Spurge, is native also China and Japan.  Insignificant white flowers are produced at the terminal ends of the stems.  Plant height is under 12".  Mature leaf is 3" to 5", with toothed margin.  Foliage is glossier than P. procumbens.

Its cultural requirements are similar to P. procumbens, but it tolerates lower pH levels from 4.0 to 6.0 and drier soil conditions.  In fact, P. terminalis is reasonably drought-tolerant.  Do not over-water.  As with P. procumbens, full sun is tolerated in cooler regions of its range.  Having said that, I recommend partial to full shade for I've observed that the foliage tends to yellow if grown in full sun.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office.  For a nominal fee they will provide a helpful analysis and recommend any necessary improvements.

Pachysandra can be planted almost any time of year so long that the ground is not frozen.  Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add plenty of organic matter such as compost, peat moss or humus.  If used at all, incorporate 5-10-15 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.

Space 12" to 18" apart. 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, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely 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 1" deep.

If planting bare root spurge, plant them no deeper than their original growing depth.  You can usually determine this by inspecting the plant stem.  There should be a change in tissue color and texture at the original soil level.  When adding soil around the plant, lightly tamp the soil to remove air pockets, or add water to help settle the soil.  Add mulch.

For the first year until plants become established, monitor moisture levels in the soil.  Though P. terminalis is drought-tolerant, young plants should not be allowed to dry out.  Water both species deeply and slowly enough to allow the water to soak in.

Though pachysandra is frequently used, it is certainly not humdrum.  It covers ground and does it well.  The foliage is beautiful; its needs are few.  Our native species is perfect for moist areas, the Asian species is great for drier places.  The choice should be easy.

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