En EspaŅol

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
Not Yet Rated

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





More Shade Tolerant Questions

Plants to grow under pine trees in Riverside, CA
October 15, 2014 - Please tell me what plants would do well under pine trees in somewhat moist soil in Riverside, Ca. Also, I would prefer perennials that are easy to weed. (I currently have violets which are overrun wi...
view the full question and answer

Plants for shaded area under pecan trees
May 11, 2011 - The east side of our Houston home has a 15 foot strip overhung with pecan trees. The shade by the start of summer is so dense that grass dies pretty quickly. I'd like to keep enough grass for the k...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for shady small spaces in Houston, TX
June 18, 2006 - What are the best plants and flowers to plant in small spaces in an urban area in Houston, Texas? I have several flower beds that are 3 foot wide and 10-12 foot long that get half day sun. The area...
view the full question and answer

Colorful native plants for oak tree shade in Houston
August 26, 2009 - I live in Houston Tx - our subdivision entrance has many oak trees. We cannot find anything that will "stay alive" around these trees. It is mostly shady, but gets a slight bit of sunlight. we wo...
view the full question and answer

Plants for xeriscape and shade
August 20, 2008 - I live in Jones county, Texas. I would like to xeriscape portions of my lawn. The soil is sandy, I have a lot of shaded lawn area. What plants do you recommend that would be low maintenace, low water ...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center