En EspaÑol

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?


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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Tuesday - September 07, 2010

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Mowable grass to grow under pecan trees in Houston, Texas.
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


I read your answer on grasses that will grow under pecans, but I’m looking for a grass that will blend in a bit with the rest of our St. Augustine grass yard. Something I can mow. Our pecan trees are huge and the drip line covers about 1/4 of our yard so I’d like to keep the space as a usable area for my kids. Any suggestions?


That’s a pretty big order. You seem to want a play space for your children and use a grass that will look like St. Augustine and survive mowing.  And the pecan trees are sucking up the water and nitrogen and leaving a pretty shady, dry, barren space for other plants and are also producing juglone, a substance toxic to many plants.



You will probably have to make some compromises or just put in a beautiful mulch that will give your children a safe play space and cut back on your yard work. You might also consider building wide paths and play destinations and use mulch as the surface. Then plant the rest of the area.



Now the plant choices: You could use one of these or all of them combined in various ways.



For a low grass-substitute that will seldom/never need mowing, a Carex species will probably work best for you.  Some take light foot traffic and can be mowed at a high setting.  (Or you can forget mowing because they stay short and might make a nice texture change against the St. Augustine grass). 

Some of your choices include:

  • Eastern woodland sedge
  • Texas Sedge   - Most Carex species are propagated by plugs but I see in this reference that seeds are available for this species which will make is cheaper and easier to start.  On the down side, sedges are often difficult to find in nurseries.


You also might want to research other sedges mentioned in the next citations.


Here is a interesting article on Carex lawns.


And the book, Easy Lawns, by John Greenlee, has a good discussion on sedges and will give you more choices. And it discusses them in terms of grass substitutes in the lawn.


Another really beautiful grass is Inland Sea Oats.  An ornamental plant, Inland Sea Oats is not a lawn grass but you might want to lay some pavers and make a little sitting area and then plant this where you can enjoy it against the western sun as you sit and sip your mimosa or Bud. Or against the eastern sun as you drink your coffee.   It doesn’t need mowing except in February when you can cut it back with a string trimmer or a very high mower. I’ve also seen it used all along a shaded path. This is very easy to grow from seed.  


For a non-grass but tough little plant that takes foot traffic and mowing and will probably survive under your pecan tree, you might want to try horseherb. This has been considered a weed but is gaining in popularity in native gardens as it is tough, attractive, takes foot traffic and mowing and attracts some butterflies.  And the good news is that you may already have it and just need to transplant it.  One Houston nursery, Joshua’s Native Plants, carries it.  They also have Inland Sea Oats.



More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Illinois native grasses for shade
June 27, 2013 - Hello, my grass has died in a very shady area (standard buffalo grass), and I took this as an opportunity to plant some native grass varieties. I originally thought of buffalo grass, but learned that ...
view the full question and answer

When to harvest native grass seeds?
May 29, 2015 - We are trying to restore native grasses to a small pasture between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs. Last spring (2014), we seeded a mix of sideoats grama, little bluestem, dahl bluestem, and sprangleto...
view the full question and answer

Native grass mix suitable for Houston
December 10, 2009 - Do you have a native grass mix that is appropriate to the Houston area- or will the one you have developed to this point work as well here as it does in Central Texas? If not, when will you begin to ...
view the full question and answer

Is nimblewil (Muhlenbergia schreberi) a turf grass or a weed
July 26, 2008 - Mr. SP, I have seen nimblewill (Muhlenbergia schreberi) both promoted as a turf grass and disparaged as an invasive pest. Do you have an opinion on this grass and whether/where/how it should be us...
view the full question and answer

Plants for 100 gal. pot by pool from Ft. Worth TX
June 23, 2012 - What North Texas evergreen — or combination of evergreen plants, bushes or trees — could thrive in a huge, 100-gallon clay pot (immovable!) that is situated in full sun year round in an exposed area n...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center