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

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Friday - August 22, 2008

From: Yukon, OK
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native groundcovers for bare, shady space in Oklahoma
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I have recently acquired a new residence that has very little lawn to speak of. The backyard is in an unfortunate position to catch significant amounts of rainwater from nearby yards, and is sloped. Much of it is also shaded by a large maple tree and even larger storage shed, leaving a large portion of the yard bare. Can you recommend a nice groundcover, grass or otherwise, that can withstand the extended shady period and moist nature of the ground, and also withstand some foot traffic? Thanks!

ANSWER:

You're getting significant rainfalls in Oklahoma? No fair! With the exception of some hit and miss showers the last few days, the only significant thing Austin has gotten is hot. However, we'll be good sports and try to help you with your problem yard.

We are going to choose plants native to North America and to Oklahoma to recommend. They will be more adapted to the environment, and therefore need less water, fertilizer and maintenance. The multiple conditions of slope, moist ground, foot traffic and shade are going to limit the choices, but surely we can come up with something. The biggest problem is going to be the stipulation for foot traffic. Are we talking football practice or walking back to the storage shed to get a ladder? Only two of our suggestions are low enough to really consider walking on them, and they won't take much traffic. The others are taller grasses and other plants that will do well in the moist, shady, sloped conditions but aren't walkable. Read the webpages that the links will take you to, find out what seasons these plants might be dormant, when they will bloom, how high they are, etc. Then you can plan a mix and match that works for your space and tastes. If your slope is not too extreme, would you consider a "path" through these plants of a shredded hardwood mulch? Not only would this absorb some of the rainwater drainage and give you something soft to walk on, but as it decomposes it will add to the texture and drainage capabilities of the soil. Obviously, it's going to "drift" from time to time, but it won't hurt anything, just be a mulch to your plants, and you can spread another bag of mulch on the traffic-way.

LOW PLANTS FOR WALKING

Hydrocotyle umbellata (manyflower marshpennywort)

Calyptocarpus vialis (straggler daisy)

TALLER PLANTS

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye)

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)

Packera obovata (roundleaf ragwort)

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox)

Salvia lyrata (lyreleaf sage)

 

From the Image Gallery


Horseherb
Calyptocarpus vialis

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Golden groundsel
Packera aurea

Wild blue phlox
Phlox divaricata

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Bottlebrush sedge
Carex hystericina

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