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Zone 6b SE PA north facing front porch, red clay soil - help please

8 years ago

After 20 years of waiting, we finally put in the front porch. Due to drainage issues, we added topsoil around the edge so the porch slab is only 6 inches higher than the soil level. The exposure is facing north, the soil is heavy red clay, this particular location tends to run moist to wet, although some of the front porch construction included adding a 12-24 inch deep French drain all across the front slab location, in an effort to divert some surface water (the house foundation has its own French Drain system as well). The front yard is uphill from the house slightly, the only location we could perc was in the front yard, so the septic tanks and drainfield are in the front yard. Because of this the house main drain pipe exits high out the front toward the septic tanks and they were unable to cut a deep swale around the front of the house because the septic drain would not have been protected from hard freezes with a deep swale.

We have issues with nut grass that I will have to eradicate over time on the front edge, unfortunately. I also have hand strength issues, so would like a more or less as-low-as-possible scenario for constant weed pulling. We have aggressive morning glory vine here too (the weed, not the flower), that can develop in beds.

I have access to a troy bilt rototiller but am reluctant to possibly damage my new French drain system (it is about 2 feet out from the house, all along the front of the porch). But if needed, I have an expert user and can grind up a few inches and amend the soil thusly.

I would like to develop a zone between the porch slab and the front yard grass (previously grass came all the way to porch slab) so the mower doesn't get close to the porch, so say 5 feet or so, with undulating lines or something interesting. Something like the red hatch marks in my drawing.

I have already had the fortune (via craigslist) to get 150 dormant mature cinnamon fern plants which were put into soil, under the oak leaves as shown late (LATE!!) in the fall. I would like to sort of fringe the front porch in ferns, with some hostas peeking out, and maybe some flowers. Dense plantings or whatever I need to keep weeds down. I can mulch with oak leaves (free from my yard and unlimited supply in the fall) or buy mulch. I have a LOT of earthworms in my soil.

(The bricks are holding down netting that you can't see well here, keeping my oak leaves from blowing away.)

I need shade tolerant, acid tolerant, moist clay soil tolerant, idiot proof plants. My goal is basic greenery; I do not need exotic or huge variety. I will have access to a LOT of daylilies and hostas in a year or two (bought my father in law a ton of varieties that he is growing up the past two years and multiplying). From mid to late summer the front edge does actually get full sun a few afternoon hours, due to the sun angle, but most the year this is a shady location for the most part with filtered sunlight.

Thank you for any help developing a plan and listing suitable plants for these goals. I do realize the cinnamon ferns have the potential to outgrow the reasonable height for the front porch since they are near slab level; the plan is if this happens I can move them around the corner to the east and put something smaller along the front.

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Kwon Contracting
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