Q: We can't get grass to grow in the space between the house and the flower bed around our dwarf Japanese Maple. Is the area just too narrow for grass, or has something else been causing the problem?
— Ed and Sandy Pasko, Torrington, Conn.
A: Roger Cook replies: Grass doesn't mind narrow areas—as anyone who's weeded out the joints in a brick walkway can tell you. From looking at your photos, I'd say you have bigger problems with compacted soil from too much foot traffic and too much shade from your maple. Loosening the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches with a D handled garden folk will eliminate the compaction temporarily. Pruning might allow more sunlight to reach the ground. But my recommendation for small, struggling areas of lawn is to eliminate them. First rototill the area to get rid of the grass—but not deeply enough to damage the tree roots—and put in stepping stones to take care of the traffic. Then plant shade-loving groundcover such as epimedium or vinca.