By Molly Day
All the Dirt on Gardening
Wherever there are trees or a shrub row in your garden you can plant pachysandra to hold the soil in place and to prevent weeds from sprouting.
Pachysandra has gone in and out of fashion over the years because so many gardeners jumped on the Japanese pachysandra bandwagon and overplanted it to the point that garden designers said, “No more.”
But, pachysandra is back in the news with varieties that do not take over by spreading everywhere and a 2013 introduction that has more sweetly scented flowers.
All pachysandras are related to boxwoods and offer the same durability throughout the seasons. They are all rabbit and deer resistant because the leaves are thick and tough. Unlike boxwoods, pachysandras want shade. In fact, the leaves bleach and turn yellow in sun.
Another feature they have in common with boxwood is that they are relatively inexpensive. For example, at Classy Groundcovers (www.classyground covers.com) bare root Japanese spurge, Pachysandra terminalis, plants are under $1 apiece.
Pachysandras all grow very slowly. Until new plants are well-rooted, they will need to be watered every 10 days if there has been no rainfall. They will thrive in the acidic soil under oak and pine trees since their ideal pH is 5.5 to 6.5.
Whether you buy bare root or potted plants, place them 6 inches to 2 feet apart so they have room to spread. To prevent weeds in a new planting, cover the area with compost.
On most varieties, the flowers are small but have a sweet scent that wafts through the air. Each flower spike holds both male and female flowers. If pollination occurs, a small berry-like drupe will form.
Before you buy plants take time to consider the virtues and vices of the various varieties available. Some grow 6 inches tall and others grow almost a foot tall. Most are hardy in zones 3 or 4 to 8 or 9. (Northeast Oklahoma is zone 7.)
Japanese spurge is the one that has been complained about the most. Like many plants imported from Japan (think Japanese wisteria), pachysandra terminalis can spread beyond the garden to take over a lawn or nearby flower beds.
If that is not an issue for your garden, there are several Japanese hybrids to consider. Green sheen and silver edge are popular and easy to find. They both mature at 6 to 8 inches tall.
Pachysandra terminalis green carpet compact forms mounds and does not trail. Pachysandra terminalis variegata has cream and green leaves and grows 6 to 8 inches tall.
The American native Allegheny spurge is a semi-evergreen variety that creates a patchwork cover that grows more slowly. Pachysandra procumbens grows 6 to 12 inches tall and wide with 4-inch long flower clusters in the spring. It is native from Eastern Kentucky to Louisians. Allegheny spurge can be killed by being walked on too much, so it is considered endangered in parts of its native range. Boyd Nursery offers 50 bare root plants for $50 including shipping at www.pachysandra.net.
Pachysandra procumbens pixie is a clump forming variety that matures at 4 inches tall and would be a good selection for a Zen, shade or woodland garden. (Available at quackingrassnursery.com)
The new sweetly-scented Windcliff Fragrant Pachysandra axillaris is a recent discovery from China that will be available this spring. It matures at 4 to 6 inches tall and blooms spring and fall. Dan Hinkley discovered the plant in 2006 and Monrovia Growers (Monrovia.com) is making it widely available at garden centers this spring.
Each Windcliff pachysandra will form underground stolons or rhizomes and spread 2-feet wide with glossy, thick, serrated leaves.
A shade and moisture-loving plant, pachysandra is ideal for beds with a northern exposure, too. Plant them this spring to cover bare areas with thick beautiful leaves.