Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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
Not Yet Rated

Saturday - March 27, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native plants to provide nitrogen for compost in Houston
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I leave my clippings on the lawn so I don't have enough 'green' for my compost. I'd like to plant an unobtrusive area with some native that I can mow on a monthly basis. The area is in partial bright shade. So, I'm looking for a native, fast growing, high nitrogen legume or grass that will grow (but not necessarily thrive) in a somewhat shady spot in Houston. Any ideas?

ANSWER:

You sound like someone who is serious about compost; perhaps you would be interested in reading this previous answer to a question on compost. In this article, it was pointed out that grass clippings were not sufficient for the nitrogen or "green" material a compost pile full of post oak leaves needed. The solution there was 50-lb bags of cottonseed meal, sprinkled over and mixed into the pile, which worked very well. We have also heard that alfalfa meal fulfilled the same function.

However, since you specifically asked about legumes, members of the Fabaceae or pea family, we can certainly list some for you that will do well in Houston and can be mowed for green matter. We would point out that just about any green plant could be treated the same way; the legume is noted as a fixer of nitrogen in the soil, a process which comes from the roots, or nodules, of the plant. For a scholarly discussion of this process, read this New Mexico State University Cooperative Extemsion Service article Nitrogen Fixing by Legumes. We would also point out that many, if not all, of these plants would be considered "weeds," so finding seeds might not be easy, and you might not be that popular with your neighbors. In addition to the legumes, we have selected some grasses native to East Texas that could also be mowed. Follow each plant link to the page on that individual plant for more information.

Legumes for Compost Use in Houston:

Chamaecrista fasciculata (partridge pea)

Dalea obovata (pussyfoot)

Desmodium illinoense (Illinois ticktrefoil)

Tephrosia lindheimeri (Lindheimer's hoarypea)

Grasses or Grass-like Plants for Compost Use in Houston:

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)

Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Chamaecrista fasciculata

Dalea obovata

Desmodium illinoense

Tephrosia virginiana

Panicum virgatum

Carex blanda

Carex cherokeensis

Carex texensis

 

 

 


 

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Meadow garden for Colorado Springs CO
June 03, 2012 - We recently purchased a restored home on a mesa just above the downtown area of Colorado Springs on the front range. The previous owners seeded the front lawn with blue gramma and told me that all I ...
view the full question and answer

Erosion control for a North Carolina creek side
February 29, 2012 - Hello Mr. Smarty Plants! I noticed a question on your website recommending NC native grasses and plants to help prevent erosion on a sloping backyard, including the use of an erosion blanket. The pl...
view the full question and answer

Potential ecosystem benefits to Carex flaccosperma
December 06, 2014 - Hi, I am trying to find out if there are any ecosystem benefits associated with the plant Carex flaccosperma: Blue wood sedge?
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for shady area in north Texas
July 29, 2013 - I'm looking for a ground cover for a mostly shady area where St. Augustine won't grow. I don't want the ground cover to overtake my established St. Augustine in the rest of the yard. The area is un...
view the full question and answer

Replacement for Kentucky grass in Colorado
July 02, 2012 - What kind of grass to replace "Kentucky grass"? It uses too much water. Need drought tolerant grass for the Rifle, Colorado area ("zip code is 81650"). Water bill is way too high, pushing over $10...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.