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Sunday - January 25, 2009

From: Arlington, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native ground covers for rocky, shady slope in Arlington, TX
Answered by: Janice Kvale


I need a good native ground cover for a completely shaded and rocky 30 degree slope with red sandy soil and southern exposure. Will anything grow in these conditions?


The beauty of native plants, besides their beauty, is that they are usually well suited to their native habitat. You are wise to be planning on natives; if anything will grow in those conditions, it is a native. You do not specify the moisture conditions, but being familiar with your location and from the description, I suspect the best plants will be those that like a dry environment. Add to that the 30 degree slope and sandy soil and that sounds like a recipe for erosion. So, I am going to suggest you first consider sedges for ground cover. These are low growing, evergreen plants that have the qualities you require (shade tolerant) and some you haven't asked about (erosion control and deer resistant.) All of the ones suggested tolerate dry soil, shade, and form a clumping root system to prevent erosion.

As the name suggests, the best choice may be Carex texensis (Texas sedge), which is happy in dry shade. It is 1 foot or less in height and adapts to many varieties of soil.

Carex planostachys (cedar sedge) is another low growing sedge appropriate for sandy loam soil or caliche.

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge) is taller (1-3 feet high) than some others.

While limestone meadow sedge, Carex granularis (limestone meadow sedge), is adaptable to difficult soils, it prefers clay. Images.

Read more about sedges as an alternative to grass in the article: "Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape" by John Greenlee.

You can have your slope planted entirely to sedges or include variety in your planning. Sedges work well with other ground cover plants such as Phyla nodiflora (turkey tangle frogfruit), short and sweet with a trailing characteristic; Viola pedata (birdfoot violet), low growing and perfect for a dry , shady hill; or Geum canadense (white avens), a taller, versatile ground cover.

Ground cover questions are frequent requests, and there are many versions in the answers, depending on the location and conditions. You may want to explore on your own by typing "ground covers" into your browser. You will find multiple specific responses from Mr. Smarty Plants there and perhaps a few other sources. You may also want to go directly to www.wildflower.org, to the Section entitled Explore Plants, then Plant Database. Enter the name of the above plants and see for yourself their characteristics or do a Combination Search and see what other plants would substitute for the above suggestions. To find a supplier for plugs or seeds, again in the Explore Plants section, click on Suppliers and enter your location. 

Happy planting!

Carex texensis

Carex planostachys

Carex blanda

Phyla nodiflora

Viola pedata

Geum canadense





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