Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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?

Share

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Monday - July 28, 2008

From: St Charles, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Poisonous Plants, Grasses or Grass-like, Shrubs
Title: Hardy plants for a narrow yard in Illinois
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have an area in my yard that is approx 35 feet by 5 feet that is shaded on the east by a 4 ft fence and on the west by the house and above by trees. It slopes off to the neighbors yard (so doesn't retain much water) and the soil is somewhat rocky and compacted. I am looking for ANYTHING that might grow in these conditions. The last problem of this spot: the dogs have the run of this area and so if the plant is short, I 'd like it to be able to withstand a bit of trampling, and if it's bushy, it has to take being chewed on now and then (after establishment of course!--but no yummy toxic varieties). (We can put a small fence around it to keep the dogs out for a few years, eventually I'd like to take it down and have the plants "stand" on their own. Any suggestion you could give me would be helpful. Thanks!

ANSWER:

You might consider sedges and/or grasses for groundcover. The sedges all grow to about one foot high. The grasses grow taller, 2 to 3 feet, but are very attractive when they are green and even when they turn brown in the fall:

Carex blanda (common woodland sedge)

Carex granularis granularis (meadow sedge)

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Here are some shrubs that are hardy and grow in rocky or varied soil conditions. They range in size from a few inches high to 10 or more feet.

Amorpha canescens (leadplant)

Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea)

Gaultheria procumbens (eastern teaberry)

Physocarpus opulifolius (common ninebark)

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac)

Rhus glabra (smooth sumac)

I checked several toxic plant databases (Poisonous Plants of North Carolina, Cornell University Poisonous Plants Informational Database, and University of Pennsylvania Poisonous Plants) and none of the plants recommended above appeared on any of them so your dogs should be safe. They should, however, be kept out of the area until your plants are well-established.

You can see more possibilities for plants to meet your requirements by doing a Combination Search in our Native Plant Database and choosing 'Illinois' from the Select State or Province option and 'Shrub' (or another form) from Habit (general appearance), then 'Part Shade' from Light Requirement and 'Dry' from Soil Moisture.

For nurseries that specialize in native plants in your area please see the suggestions in our National Suppliers Directory.


Carex blanda

Carex pensylvanica

Elymus canadensis

Schizachyrium scoparium

Amorpha canescens

Ceanothus americanus

Gaultheria procumbens

Physocarpus opulifolius

Rhus aromatica

Rhus glabra

 

 

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Replacements for yuccas from Georgetown TX
August 07, 2013 - I have lost some softleaf and variegated yucca to a beetle grub destroying the root system - like the Agave snout beetle does. I have put an insecticidal drench on my remaining plants, but suspect wi...
view the full question and answer

Unrecognized grass in Habiturf from Spicewood TX
February 07, 2013 - I purchased 2 bags of Habiturf from the Wildflower Center and planted it in late September. Now, early February, the predominant grass is not any of the 3 supposed components of the Habiturf, but look...
view the full question and answer

Annual ryegrass and Habiturf from Austin
October 31, 2013 - We've decided to put Habiturf in our freshly cleared back yard that was overgrown with sticky burs and crabgrass, but now that it is fall, would you recommend putting in a cover crop of annual ryegra...
view the full question and answer

Removal of weeds in buffalograss mix in Houston
June 15, 2009 - I recently attempted to seed a small lawn area with a buffalo/blue grama grass mix, unfortunately for me the area has been hit hard with weeds. Is there an environmentally friendly method to reduce...
view the full question and answer

Wildflower meadow for birds
September 19, 2008 - I put in a wildflower feed plot for the song birds 3 years ago. We prepared the bed by first using Round Up to kill all the grass then lightly tilled to scratch the surface and planted the wildflower ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.