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Mr. Smarty Plants - Native ground cover for part shade in Dowagiac MI

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Wednesday - June 24, 2009

From: Dowagiac, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native ground cover for part shade in Dowagiac MI
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Maybe I'm just too picky. I'm trying to make an area that is some what triangular shaped between my house and garage with a tall lattice/privacy fence on one side and walks in the back yard area on the other 2 sides. I have a black lamp in the center here and plan to put hostas on the 2 edges along the walks and ivy up the garage wall/lattice and privacy fence. I was planning to cover the inside and around the lamp with moss and have been considering possibly adding some stepping stones and possibly a small cement bench. I have recently realized that the area gets a bit more sun that I thought. It gets fairly full sun from about 11 am to 2 or 3 pm during the summer (lower Michigan, zone 4-5). I am looking for a plant that can get about that much sun (3-4 hours direct then decently shaded) with somewhat moist soil that can take light foot traffic, is not dangerous (toxic or other) for kids - 10 months and 3 years old, and would still fit the feel for the rest of what is there. Any chance you know of a ground cover plant that would fit?

ANSWER:

We need to remind you that at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center we are dedicated to the care, protection and propagation of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which they are being grown. Plants native to an area will need less fertilizer, water and maintenance because they are already accustomed to the climate, rainfall and soil of the area. Some of the choices you have already made are non-native and could cause problems. See this Plant Conservation Alliance Alien Plant Working Group website on Hedera helix (English ivy) to give you an idea why we wish you would not plant that. Hosta ventricosa is one of many hybrids of the plant native to China and Korea. While it is not invasive, it is a slug magnet. There are about 12,000 species of non-vascular plants referred to as "moss;" since we deal only with vascular plants, we can't help you with that, either.

So, back to your original question, for a part shade (between 2 and 6 hours of sun daily), non-toxic, light foot traffic ground cover for Zones 4 to 5 in Michigan. Since you are considering putting in stepping stones, we felt it was safe to offer some low, blooming plants. These are all native to Michigan and none are known to have any toxic parts. They could survive a little foot traffic, but with the stepping stones, would be protected from too much stepping on. If you wish to look at other possibilities, you can go to our Recommended Species section, click on Michigan on the map, and select the kind of plant (herb, shrub, vine, etc.)  you are interested in, and amount of light available in the space. Follow the plant links to the page on the individual plant and learn more about its characteristics, soil needs, etc.

Low flowering plants for Michigan

Callirhoe involucrata (purple poppymallow) - to 1 ft. tall, evergreen to semi-evergreen, medium water use, sun or part shade, blooms white, pink, purple May and June

Fragaria vesca (woodland strawberry) - blooms white May to August, part shade or shade, edible strawberries, may have prickly stems

Fragaria virginiana (Virginia strawberry) - blooms white April to June, sun or part shade, edible berries, may have prickly stems

Geranium carolinianum (Carolina geranium) - to 1 ft. tall, blooms white, pink March to July, part shade

Phlox divaricata (wild blue phlox) - 8 to 18" tall, evergreen, blooms white, red, pink, purple March to May, part shade or shade

Phlox pilosa (downy phlox) - 1 to 2 ft., blooms white, pink, purple March to May, part shade or shade

Viola pedata (birdfoot violet) - 4 to 10" tall, blooms blue, purple March to June, part shade or shade


Callirhoe involucrata

Fragaria vesca

Fragaria virginiana

Geranium carolinianum

Phlox divaricata

Phlox pilosa

Viola pedata

 





 

 

 

 

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