We have just regraded our property and have torn up all the grass in the process. I am wondering if there is a ground cover I can plant now (January) to help absorb all the rain water that is turning our yard into a serious mud pit. In the spring I would like to plant some grass, a vegetable garden, and fruit tree orchard, so the ground cover will mostly be tilled back into the soil then.
Is there something like this available, and that I'm able to plant in January?!
Multnomah County Oregon
Thank you for your question to Ask an Expert about a temporary groundcover. Unfortunately, there is no groundcover (cover crop) you can plant now that would grow enough to absorb winter rains and then could be tilled into the soil. So you may need to address each area you wish to plant separately. But first you should consider the quality of the existing soil in your yard. Did the grading remove the top soil? Or was the area leveled but leaving most top soil (and perhaps torn up grass) in place? Assuming some top soil is still in place here are some suggestions for you:
1. Have your soil tested - perhaps in each of the three areas you want to plant. This will help you decide what if any nutrients you need to add to the soil before you plant. This lab in the Portland area can provide testing along with instructions for how to collect samples:
2. Fruit trees - These can be planted soon. Next month is the ideal time to plant bareroot fruit trees and deciduous shrubs. So this part of your landscape can soon be planted with permanent plants. Here is a publication that provides information on planting and maintaining a home orchard:
Growing Fruit Trees and Nuts in the Home Orchard
3. Vegetable garden - You can cover this area with good compost or mulch to protect the soil from washing away with the heavy rains and to prevent compaction of the soil. Then work into the soil, along with fertilizer, later in the spring. Here is an excellent publication about growing vegetables, including information about preparing the soil and planting dates:
Growing Your Own
3. Lawn area - Early May to mid-June is the best time to plant your new lawn (mid-August to Sept is ideal, but obviously you don't want to wait until then!). So what to do in the mean time...depending on the size of your yard, you could cover the area with lanscape cloth or other temporary covering until you are ready to plant (DO NOT leave in place) or you could cover with compost or mulch similar to what was suggested for your vegetable garden. You will find all you need to know about planting a new lawn in the following publication:
Practical Lawn Establishment and Renovation
Hope this helps. Let us know if you have additional questions.