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Thursday - June 25, 2009

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shade groundcover under Magnolia in Austin, Texas
Answered by: Jackie OKeefe


I have a 50' Magnolia grandiflora casting full shade underneath with very shallow and some exposed roots. I have Horseherb (calyptocarpus vialis)in the area and have been encouraging it to spread under the Magnolia but so far it has not made much progress. In addition to the Horseherb are there any other native grasses or ground covers that will survive/thrive under this tree?


Your choice of Calyptocarpus vialis (straggler daisy) for groundcover in understory shade is a good one. It spreads both by root and seed and should gradually fill the area in. It is winter-dormant, so using it in combination with some other species helps fill the gaps, so to speak. We have several suggestions.

Achillea millefolium (common yarrow) – I've seen this plant do surprisingly well in fairly shady sites. It doesn't bloom, or doesn't bloom much, as shade deepens, but it provides winter greenery and an attractive texture. It spreads by root and seed. In hot, dry settings, extra summer water is appreciated, but in the shade it will likely pull through on its own, although it may become semi-dormant at this time.

Salvia lyrata (lyreleaf sage) – This is one tough and adaptable little plant. It thrives in shade and survives pretty large doses of sun. It WILL spread, mainly by seed, but also by root division. The rosette remains green all winter. The distinctive marking on the leaf – shaped like a lyre! – is distinguishing. The plant also tolerates both wet and dry conditions. Flower color seems to vary with seasonal climatic variations, one year quite periwinkle blue, another year paler and less conspicuous. Deadheading the spent spikes may be desireable for appearance.

Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata (heartleaf skullcap) – Another evergreen herbaceous perennial, this plant spreads by seed, but even more by root. It can be somewhat summer-dormant. This plant does become 1 to 3 feet tall.

Salvia coccinea (blood sage) – Scarlet or Tropical Sage does okay in shade and would be a pretty accent to other plants. Regular and fairly drastic pruning will keep it dense and promote repeat flowering.

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)  – You are correct in speculating that there are sedges that can serve well as understory groundcover. This one is better adapted to shade than some other Texas natives, according to our Native Plants Database, but other possibilities are: Carex planostachys (cedar sedge),which is found under our local  Juniperus ashei (Ashe's juniper), and Carex texensis (Texas sedge).



Calyptocarpus vialis

Achillea millefolium

Salvia lyrata

Salvia coccinea

Carex blanda

Carex planostachys

Carex texensis

Scutellaria ovata ssp. bracteata



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