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

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

QUESTION:

I read your answer on grasses that will grow under pecans, but Im 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 Id like to keep the space as a usable area for my kids. Any suggestions?

ANSWER:

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

Deer resistant native plants for Eagle Scout project in Urbandale IA
April 27, 2013 - Mr. Smarty Plants, My son is planning his Eagle Scout Project doing some landscaping for the Iowa Primate Learning Sanctuary. The facility has asked him to use only plants native to Iowa. Can you su...
view the full question and answer

Native lawn solution for Southeast Texas from Missouri City TX
May 05, 2012 - I noticed the native lawn article regarding Habiturf states it is for "North, West and Central Texas". What is the recommended native lawn solution for Southeast Texas/Gulf Coast (Houston/Galveston...
view the full question and answer

Grasses for horses in Austin
October 27, 2012 - Hello Mr. Smarty Plants We just bought 4.5 acres in Travis County off HWY 290. We have 3 horses we keep on it but there is very little grass in the pastures. What is the best type of grass to seed ...
view the full question and answer

Non-native ligustrum in non-native fescue in Medina TX
May 22, 2013 - Is there an effective way to kill baby ligustrums coming up in my fescue yard without harming the grass?
view the full question and answer

Small plants for space between stones on a path
November 03, 2007 - We've just installed a stone path (unmortared) near our house and are looking for plants/seeds that would do well in the gaps between the flagstones. Naturally they need to be very low growing and h...
view the full question and answer

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