Thursday, December 10, 2009

Blue Star Creeper - Flowering Lawn Substitute

It is unlikely that any ground cover will ever be as popular as turf grass.  It is beautiful when well-maintained, tolerates a lot of foot traffic and makes a fine surface for entertaining and sports.  Many types are available, so it's not difficult to find one for almost any climate and soil type.  What's more, turf grass is conventional and doesn't raise eyebrows.  On the other hand, turf grass requires frequent maintenance, which can become rather expensive.  Furthermore, it is not particularly interesting, so some homeowners seek alternatives.

There are a host of substitutes, and Blue Star Creeper is a good one.  It may be that the most difficult thing to know about the plant is its name.  It has been called Isotoma  (pronounced eye-SOT-oh-muh), Laurentia (law-REN-tee-uh), Lobelia (low-BEE-lee-ah) and Pratia (PRAT-ee-uh), and those are just the genera.  The species names have been as many and confusing.

The genus is native to parts of Asia, Australia and New Zealand.

Tiny green leaves form a low, dense mat that is evergreen in warmer climates or semi-evergreen in cooler ones.  Small, light blue flowers bloom from spring to fall.  Mature height is 3". Spreads to 18".  It tolerates some foot traffic, but not much.  Use it where you want a low-maintenance cover at a distance from high-traffic areas.  It's perfect around patios and between stepping stones, but bear in mind that foliage and stems that spread over the edges of hard surfaces will be crushed if mashed.

As with many ornamental plants, Blue Star Creeper can be toxic if ingested in large amounts, and may cause skin irritation in sensitive persons.

Blue Star Creeper is often used in container gardens where it forms a nice mat beneath taller plant subjects, and it makes an effective ground cover beneath small deciduous trees, landscape shrubs and other perennials.  It grows densely enough when established to smother many less aggressive weeds.

It thrives in full sun to partial shade in USDA climate zones 5 or 6 to 10 in fertile, well-drained, slightly moist soils with pH ranging from 6.1 to 7.8.  Blue Star Creeper will not tolerate consistently wet soil.

Begin by taking a soil sample to your local Cooperative Extension Service office for testing.  The results will specify any soil amendments needed.

Prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 6" deep, removing all traces of weeds. Compacted soil should be cultivated to 10" deep.  Add enough soil to raise the bed at least 4" above the surrounding ground level. This will help to promote good drainage. Compost may be incorporated into the soil.  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.

Space the plants 18" to 24" apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container.  Water the plants in the pots, then drain.  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.

Plant Blue Star Creeper with other plants having similar cultural requirements.  Fertilize sparingly and allow soil to dry between watering.

It has no serious pests and few diseases.  Warm, wet soil may encourage common fungal diseases which can cause some problems if not treated, but the best way to avoid them is to plant in a proper environment as mentioned before.

If you're looking for a low-maintenance, low-profile, quickly growing ground cover with a long bloom season, consider Blue Star Creeper.

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