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?

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
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
3 ratings

Saturday - January 24, 2009

From: Albany, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Groundcover beneath a maple
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I am looking for something to spread out in the shade of a maple tree. I have tried lily of the valley, ferns, pachysandra, ivy, hosta, euonymus.. nothing spreads out.

ANSWER:

You have two problems with establishing ground covers under the native maple tree. We have no idea which maple you have, so we chose one native to New York, Acer saccharum (sugar maple), as an example.  The first problem is shade from that tree. With its huge leaves, the maple is a very good shade tree, and even understory plants need some amount of sun. Then, when the leaves fall, they cover the ground, shading the groundcovers out even more, and then you have freezing weather. The second problem is the tree itself, defending its turf, if you will. The maple tree is somewhat allelopathic, which means it exudes chemicals to inhibit the growth of other plants competing with the maple for nutrition, light and water. The maple is also known for roots close to the surface and even above the surface of the ground. All tree roots tend to be in the upper 6 to 12 inches of the soil anyway, and they can crack concrete, mess with foundations and certainly compete successfully with wimpy groundcover. What we would recommend is that, instead of trying to promote plants that will probably not survive, no matter what they are, why not mulch to the dripline (outer edge of the foliage) of that maple? It will protect the roots, keeping them cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and, as it decomposes, add to the nutrition in the soil, as well as holding moisture in, requiring less watering. A good shredded-bark mulch is our favorite. Granted, it will have to be replaced from time to time, but so far, that's what you've been having to do with your groundcovers, right? We find mulch attractive, and looks much better than straggly, weedy groundcovers.

We usually give a lecture on not using non-native plants, because at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center we are dedicated to the care and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Most of the ones you have tried are non-native, but in this case it really doesn't matter, natives probably wouldn't do any better under that tree.

 

More Groundcovers Questions

Is dichondra repens native from Hillsboro, TX
November 28, 2012 - What about diachondra repens? Is it native? Thank you,
view the full question and answer

Replacing St. Augustine grass from Dallas TX
April 10, 2014 - Dear Mr. Pants, we are replacing dying St. Augustine grass in a small, sunny back yard with ground cover. What are your recommendations for a drought-tolerant evergreen ground cover? We will till a...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a sandy slope at a weekend cabin in central WI.
June 30, 2009 - I have a cabin in central Wisconsin where the soil is equivalent to a sandy beach. There are some areas that are nearly impossible to mow because of how steep the incline is. Could you recommend som...
view the full question and answer

Shade ground cover under honeysuckle from Wichita KS
February 21, 2012 - Hi! I know this is a bit odd, but I am trying to find a nontoxic, good ground covering plant that can live in the shade while competing with the roots of a whole bunch of honeysuckle. I have a few ide...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for under a maple tree in DE
December 22, 2010 - In my front yard in Newark, Delaware, I have a HUGE maple tree that shades the whole yard and most of its roots are visible and make the yard very "bumpy." Consequently, grass does not grow well the...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center