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Tuesday - February 23, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for cleared property in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in a small apartment building near 183 & 620. The land beyond the lawn has trees and has been cleared of brush. They are planning to seed the ground. I thought invasive native ground covers would be a better solution, and cheaper and easier in the long run. What do you suggest?


Frankly, we wouldn't recommend ANY invasive anything, even native. The thing about invasives, you know, is they have the capability to take over an area where the conditions are favorable, but they don't have a STOP setting. They will soon ramble on into adjacent territory, and not-so-adjacent territory via air or bird borne seeds, and we will be getting questions about "What can we do about the invasive whatever near 183 and 620 in Austin?" The only way to prevent some plants from becoming invasive is to never plant them. So, allow us to come up with some alternatives.

Since the plan apparently is to sow seeds, we feel that a seed mix of grasses that will grow in part shade, which we consider as 2 to 6 hours of sun a day, would be the best plan. Native American Seed has a seed mix of grasses native to this area called Shade Friendly Grass Mix. Something like that would be a good ground cover, help to hold moisture in the soil, and provide cover and food for birds. Here is a list of the seeds in that Mix; you can easily select the grasses you feel would work best in the space and order them separately, instead of in a mix. One, Texas wintergrass, is shown as requiring sun, so it might not work as well. Follow each link to the page on that grass to learn more about its growth habits, etc. 

Grasses for a Central Texas part shade area:

Tridens flavus (purpletop tridens) - 3 to 6 ft. tall, low water use, part shade

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye) - 2 to 4 ft., medium water use, sun or part shade

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama) - 2 to 3 ft., medium water use, sun or part shade

Elymus virginicus (Virginia wildrye) - 1 to 3 ft., medium water use, part shade

Setaria vulpiseta (plains bristlegrass) - 3 to 6 ft., medium water use, part shade- pictures

Nassella leucotricha (Texas wintergrass) - 1 to 3 ft., sun

Now, can we make yet another suggestion? You might consider something like a meadow planting. The grasses we have already mentioned would do well in a meadow planting, and you could add some flowers. The only problem is that many of our annual, self-seeding wildflowers do require sun, but we think we can find some that could work with part shade. Read our How-To Article on Meadow Gardening for some ideas. Again, Native American Seeds has a Caddo Mix for this part of the state that has plants for sun and part shade. Going to our Recommended Species for Central Texas and searching on "Herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants) and part shade, we got a list of 39 possibilities, and have selected some of our favorites. This is probably more information than you ever wanted nor need, but we do like for people to know there are native, non-invasive plants available for every area and every purpose.

Flowering herbaceous plants for part shade in Central Texas:

Amblyolepis setigera (huisache daisy) - annual, 1 ft. tall, blooms yellow March to June, low water use

Asclepias tuberosa (butterfly milkweed) - perennial, 2-3 ft., blooms orange, yellow May to September, low water use

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - perennial, 2-3 ft., evergreen, blooms yellow April to June, medium water use

Echinacea purpurea (eastern purple coneflower) - perennial, 2-5 ft., blooms pink, purple April to September, medium water use

Eryngium leavenworthii (Leavenworth's eryngo) - annual, 1-3 ft., blooms blue, purple July to September, low water use

Gaillardia pulchella (firewheel) - annual, 1-2 ft., blooms red, yellow, brown May to August, medium water use

Ipomopsis rubra (standing-cypress) - biennial, 2 to 4 ft., blooms red, orange, yellow May to July, medium water use

Melampodium leucanthum (plains blackfoot) - perennial, 1 to 2 ft., blooms white, yellow March to November, low water use

Phlox drummondii (annual phlox) - annual, to 1 ft., blooms white, red, pink, purple March to June, low water use

Salvia engelmannii (Engelmann's sage) - perennial, to 2 ft., blooms blue, purple April to May, low water use

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Tridens flavus

Chasmanthium latifolium

Elymus canadensis

Bouteloua curtipendula

Elymus virginicus

Nassella leucotricha

Amblyolepis setigera

Asclepias tuberosa

Coreopsis lanceolata

Echinacea purpurea

Eryngium leavenworthii

Gaillardia pulchella

Ipomopsis rubra

Melampodium leucanthum

Phlox drummondii

Salvia engelmannii






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