En EspaŅol

Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

Help us grow by giving to the Plant Database Fund or by becoming a member

Did you know you can access the Native Plant Information Network with your web-enabled smartphone?


Ask Mr. Smarty Plants

Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

Search Smarty Plants
See a list of all Smarty Plants questions
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
2 ratings

Friday - January 11, 2008

From: Western, MD
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Landscaping with wildflowers in shade in Maryland
Answered by: Nan Hampton and Joe Marcus


I'm an old White House Correspondent who covered LBJ as well as Mrs Johnson and knew and admired her. I visited the Wildflower Center with her on one occasion. I hope you will forward this to an appropriate expert. I want to plant wildflowers in a wooded section of my back yard that has very little sun. I can't grow grass there but there is some English Ivy and vinca. However it's pretty scraggily in appearance. I'd like to have some delicate wildflowers to add color and life to that section, about 40 by 90 feet. The soil is somewhat rocky and slopes. I would like low maintenance flowers, ones that will not overrun my entire yard, just that one area. The rest of the back yard is done in single-shredded red oak mulch and looks very nice. Can you advise or put me in touch with a specialist?


In our experience, trying to plan a landscape without knowing about the soils, climate, moisture, etc. is difficult and usually not too productive. So, first, we want to urge you to stick to native plants, not just native to North America, but to your area of the country. They will need less care, less water, and less fertilizer, plus they are not likely to become invasive and overrun other parts of the garden. Then, we want to give you some information that hopefully will assist you in selection of the plants that will fit your criteria and finding sources for them and, if you feel you need them, landscape planners who specialize in native plants.

To begin, follow this link to our "How To Articles" and read the ones of interest to you. Next, go to our Combination Search page, and make the appropriate selections to get information and pictures on plants native to your area. We would urge you to consider not just wildflowers, but other plants, such as shrubs and grasses, to fill this very large space. A field of waving wildflowers in May is gorgeous; in November, it's a bunch of dead weeds. You will want something else to give shape, texture and color to your garden when there are no wildflowers blooming.

Finally, go to our Native Plant Suppliers site, and ask for a list of Maryland businesses that supply native plants and/or have on-staff experts that can better advise you on what you need to do than we can.

Just to give you an example of some of the plants you can learn about on our Native Plants Database, we used the Combination Search for Maryland and picked out three plants that happen to be our favorites, too.

Herb (annual or perennial flowers) Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed)

Shrub Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Grass or grasslike Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)


Asclepias tuberosa

Callicarpa americana

Bouteloua curtipendula



More Shade Tolerant Questions

Starting shade-tolerant ground covers in New York
September 10, 2013 - Hi, I have seen some of the posts for shade-tolerant ground cover on the east end of Long Island and my question is process related. Now that I've identified the grasses/plants I need to keep my fro...
view the full question and answer

What shade trees and shrubs are safe to plant around horses in Iowa?
February 09, 2009 - I need to know what shade trees, flowering trees, shrubs and flowering shrubs are safe to plant around horses in Iowa. thanks
view the full question and answer

Balancing bloom in beds in Kents Store VA
May 26, 2010 - Our beds along a walkway in rural Central VA have replanted themselves - oenethera speciosa and dwarf yarrow have abandoned the north bed and are flourishing in the south bed. Sedums, lavender and can...
view the full question and answer

Flowering vine for shade in Southern California
May 11, 2012 - Flowering climbing plant for shade in Palm Desert, CA.
view the full question and answer

Texas native shade plants for metal troughs in Austin
December 22, 2012 - Interested in finding Texas natives that would do well in metal troughs in the shade.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center