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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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Wednesday - October 29, 2008

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Growing grasses under juniper trees (Juniperus ashei)
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Mr. Smarty Plants, Yesterday, I attended the plant sale at the Wildflower Center. I purchased cupgrass and switchgrass seeds only to discover the grasses may need more water than I am willing to use in the place I originally wanted to plant both. My yard is heavy caliche. I do water my volunteer trees: cedar, escarpment live oak, redbud and some hardwood I have yet to identify. I also intend to plant the Heritage cedar elm I purchased near those trees. Will the grasses grow near or under the trees, especially those blasted cedar trees? (I think a cedar tree killed both one of my and my neighbor's wax myrtles which were planted about 8' from the trunk but not in the shade of the canopy.)

ANSWER:

Juniperus ashei (Ashe's juniper) does have allelopathic effects on some plants (e.g., Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem) according to Gwen Young and Janis Bush, but competition for water, light and nutrients also play a significant role in reducing the growth of plants beneath juniper trees.

Both Eriochloa sericea (Texas cupgrass) and Panicum virgatum (switchgrass) prefer growing in the sun so neither is going to grow well under your juniper or, for that matter, under any tree.  According to our information, both grasses require a medium amount of water. You no doubt bought your seeds from Native American Seed at our fall plant sale, so you might like to visit their website to read their planting tips, etc.

 

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