En EspaÑol

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
1 rating

Wednesday - March 19, 2008

From: Pittsburgh, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Turf
Title: Low-growing lawn substitute for Pennsylvania
Answered by: Nan Hampton


Hello Mr. Smarty Plants Please help. We are moving to an old farm house in Western Pennsylvania with several acres of lawn. Our plan is to return much of the land to wildlife friendly meadows and woods, however we do intend to keep some part of the property "lawn-like". I don't enjoy mowing and certainly don't like/want to mow several acres. What do you recommend as a low growing, easy care lawn substitute that can fare well in both sun and shade? Ideally, we would like to plant a quick spreading native species that sustains wildlife. So far I'm leaning toward white clover. What do you think? Thanks very much!


First of all, white clover (Trifolium repens) is a native of Europe, North Africa, and West Asia and is not native to North America so we definitely wouldn't recommend it.

Sedges look a lot like grass, but have the advantage of not growing very tall so that they do not need to be mowed. You can read about having a sedge lawn in John Greenlee's Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape. Here are several sedges that grow in Pennsylvania:

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge) sun, part shade, shade

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) sun, part shade, shade

Carex texensis (Texas sedge) sun, part shade

The Brooklyn Botanic Garden has a good article by Claire Sawyers, Native Groundcovers—Low-Growing Herbaceous Plants for Sun and Shade Gardens, with suggestions of species that grow in Pennsylvania. Here are a few picks from her article:

Pachysandra procumbens (Allegheny-spurge) part shade

Phlox stolonifera (creeping phlox) sun, part shade, shade

Tiarella cordifolia (heartleaf foamflower) shade

Heuchera americana (American alumroot) sun, part shade, shade

Sibbaldiopsis tridentata (shrubby fivefingers) sun

Chrysogonum virginianum (green and gold) part shade

Low woody groundcover:

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry) part shade, shade


Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas fern) sun, part shade

Dryopteris cristata (crested woodfern) sun, part shade, shade

You might consider mixing the ground covers depending on their tolerance for shade or sun.

Carex blanda

Carex pensylvanica

Carex texensis

Pachysandra procumbens

Phlox stolonifera

Tiarella cordifolia

Heuchera americana

Chrysogonum virginianum

Gaultheria procumbens

Polystichum acrostichoides

Dryopteris cristata




More Turf Questions

Low maintenance grass for shade in Conroe, TX
September 15, 2012 - What is the best low maintenance grass to plant in front lawn shaded, no traffic area?
view the full question and answer

Grass for sunny Texas lawn
February 28, 2009 - We lost our front yard(bermuda) last summer/fall due to grubs(we think). When and what type of grass seed do we do this spring to plant a new yard? We can't afford to lay sod. It's mostly sunny. We ...
view the full question and answer

Garden problems from Centreville VA
July 23, 2011 - Plants die, trees won't grow. I've replaced the soil (6") twice. Replaced grass twice and planted new plants and tree. After two yrs, the tree is still the same size and the flowering bushes nea...
view the full question and answer

Can Habiturf™ be hydromulched?
July 28, 2014 - Our lawn was originally planted with "Weeping Love Grass" seed by hydromulching. After 7 years we still have some bare spots. Other types of grass have infiltrated the lawn and that does not matter...
view the full question and answer

Native Grasses for Houston, TX
April 06, 2015 - What native grasses can I use for my lawn in Houston, TX? It appears that Habiturf is not recommended for our climate. Is there another variety of seed available yet that I can use to start a small ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center