En Español

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

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

Planting creeping phlox for a groundcover
June 13, 2014 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I live in Southwestern PA (zip code 15065). I have a small slope on my property that is hard for me to mow. I would like to cover it with creeping phlox, which I saw on t...
view the full question and answer

Sunny and shady lawns from Austin
April 28, 2012 - My front yard has a large bed surrounded by a mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Last summers heat killed off about 90% of the St. Augustine, which we would like to replace anyway to conserve re...
view the full question and answer

Plants for under Oak Trees in LA.
March 05, 2013 - What type of plants and grass can be planted under and around oak trees
view the full question and answer

Need suggestions for groundcover in between flagstones in patio in Sugarland, TX.
July 05, 2011 - We are looking for a ground cover to plant in between our flagstone on our courtyard patio. The courtyard is full sun and we currently have a crushed rock-like substance in between the pieces. I thou...
view the full question and answer

Prairie wattle for woodland area in Austin
November 29, 2009 - Can prairie wattle be grown in a woodland area? It would get part shade, with full sun for at least half a day. The soil is a bit rocky; location is Austin.
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center