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Saturday - March 27, 2010

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for shallow soil in hillside north of San Antonio
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I live in the Hill Country north of San Antonio. The yard around the house has very shallow soil and is sloped. Bermuda has a hard time maintaining. Are there any other low growing ground covers that can be used to improve the appearance of these areas?


Bermudagrass is a non-native, highly invasive grass, especially in the South, so don't mourn its loss. However, if it is not doing well, we need to look at the conditions on your property that might be causing that before we try to recommend plants for your hillside. In the first place, bermudagrass needs full sun; if your area is heavily shaded, either by other vegetation or by the slope of the hill, it will not do well, and neither will other sun-friendly plants. Certainly, this year with the return of the rains, dry soil should not be a problem, but in your part of the state, you are sitting on top of a whole lot of limestone. Obviously, plants can live in those conditions, and we will try to find some natives that have adapted to that. 

If you are talking about lawn grasses, please read Wildflower Center staff member Dr. Mark Simmons' article on native lawns. Then, take a look at our How-To Article Native Lawns: Buffalograss. If you would be interested in a more casual appearance, read our How-To Article on Meadow Gardening.

If the area is shady, we are not going to be able to help you with a lawn-type grass, suitable for mowing. Grasses would be the best choice for your situation, in that they have long fibrous roots that can get hold of the soil and hold it in place.  There is a native mix of grasses for sun available from Native American Seed, one of our Associates. They have a Native Sun Turf mix of 34% Bouteloua gracilis (blue grama) and 66% Bouteloua dactyloides (buffalograss). Now commercially available Hilaria belangeri (curly-mesquite) is considered a good addition to that mixture. It is not presently available in a mix, but Native American Seed has Curly Mesquite seeds available in D-paks. We want to emphasize these are all full sun grasses.

So, if you need ground cover for a shady area, we will have to look a little farther afield at native grasses and other plants. We are going to go to our Recommended Species section and click on Central Texas. We will begin by selecting "grasses and grass-like plants" under General Appearance and "part shade" (2 to 6 hours of sun a day) and "shade" (less than 2 hours of sun). We  will suggest low-growing grasses. You can use a similar technique, selecting on "herbs" or "shrubs" under General Appearance, selecting on the amount of sunlight the area has under Light Requirements.  Follow each plant link to the page on that individual plant in our Native Plant Database to learn more about it. 

Grasses and Grass-Like Plants for North of San Antonio:

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama)

Bouteloua hirsuta (hairy grama)

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:

Bouteloua gracilis

Bouteloua dactyloides

Hilaria belangeri

Bouteloua curtipendula

Bouteloua hirsuta

Nolina texana

Panicum virgatum

Schizachyrium scoparium





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