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Kill the ivy, nurture the mondo grass

We've moved into a house that has an ivy-covered slope in the backyard. The ivy has climbed up into several trees. I'd like to get rid of the ivy and replant with a ground cover that won't be so invasive.

To eliminate the ivy, you'll need concentrated glyposphate and a surfactant if it isn't included in the formulation. Read the label and prepare the strongest mixture recommended. If you have a weed eater, you can rough up the ivy - the waxy coating on ivy makes it hard for the chemical to penetrate. Either way, spray the area on a day when the air is still and the temperature moderate. You'll have to make repeated applications.

Where the ivy is growing up the tree, cut the vines close to the ground and immediately cut the exposed stem with the full strength herbicide - the easiest tool is a sponge paintbrush. The ivy in the tree will die and look pretty ghastly for a while but will eventually decompose and fall off.

After you have killed all the ivy, pull it out of the ground using a hard rake or your gloved hands. I did this at my house recently and used my clippers to cut uncooperative roots. Rake and smooth out the area so you'll have a good bed prepared for your new ground cover.

I love dwarf mondo (Ophiopogon) grass in settings like yours. It's short enough to sit on and treat almost like a lawn, minus mowing. A trick to getting an even area is to plant lots of tiny plugs instead of a few great big ones - think of how much better men's hair transplants look now compared to the earlier versions.

This grass is usually sold in flats. Take the plug out of the plastic cup and gently tease it into two or three sprigs. Plant these about one inch on center for the fastest coverage. You want good root contact with the soil, so press the soil down firmly as you plant.

When you disturb the soil, you activate weed seeds. Putting down a pre-emergent herbicide, which works only on germinating seeds, will help keep down the weeds while your mondo grass spreads. Preen Garden Weed Preventer is one pre-emergent product that is labeled for use over the top of mondo grass. Read all the directions before you use it. After you put down a pre-emergent and water it in for activation, you shouldn't disturb the soil, so try to keep your kids from running on it with cleats.

Keep your new planting watered as needed. Don't put out any fertilizer until this spring, and then use a slow-release formula that will gently feed all season.

After your ground cover is well established you can mow it once a year in the spring to keep it fresh and to cut down any seedlings that may pop up. As the area gets more densely covered, you'll be able to take out small plugs and use this same ground cover in other parts of your yard. Dwarf mondo grass is particularly beautiful used between stepping stones. I'm writing this article from Portland, Ore., where we visited the Japanese Gardens and saw this plant used in lovely combinations with other ground covers, rocks included.