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Friday - October 01, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Native Groundcover for High Activity Location in Austin, TX
Answered by: Joan Singh


Howdy! We live in South Austin and have a smallish backyard that we're perennially working on. We have two young, very active dogs that spend a lot of time RUNNING and we never can keep ground cover alive. We've mainly tried grass -- bermuda & rye. It always dies off, especially in July & August. We were wondering, is there a native plant we could use for ground cover that would be better off for a varied shade, high activity location that would work well in clay soil? Thanks,


Mr. Smarty Plants ponders the combination of shade, high activity from the pitter patter of eight paws, and clay soils, and think we have the answer for you:  MULCH.

It is unlikely that your small yard will accommodate native grasses or groundcovers that can thrive under the conditions you described.  However, we have a plan to recommend: LANDSCAPING!

Let's look at this in detail.  Mulch such as decomposed granite or shredded wood fiber is a good way to establish a play area for frolicking canines.  It has the additional benefits of holding moisture in the ground, and protecting soil where the dogs "go".  For a large area, mulch can be purchased in bulk and delivered to your address, or bagged mulch is an option.  It will need to be replenished as it decomposes, but your yard will be less muddy when it rains.

Alternating different types of mulch in a pattern, such as wood fiber mulch under trees, and installing a path of decomposed granite mulch which can add texture and variety to your yard.

Shade-tolerant native plants can be found on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website by conducting a search.  Try this:  go to our home page, look in the upper right corner, and select PLANT DATABASE, and after that page opens, you can refine your search by selecting TEXAS, GENERAL APPEARANCE, then select HERB, then LIFE SPAN (All Durations); choose LIGHT REQUIREMENT (Does your yard have 2 hours of shade?  More?).  Then select SOIL MOISTURE. There will  be choices for BLOOM TIME (leaving this unselected will give a wide range); and finally, select HEIGHT. 

A variety of choices will allow you to choose what might be best  for your yard, among them is Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy) otherwise known as horseherb. It can fulfill your light and moisture requirements, but read on:  it is difficult to control!  This could be a fast remedy because it is easily established and can be mowed. On the other hand, straggler daisy can take over your yard and some folks consider it a weed.

Some more options:  Would you like to establish a small plant bed in a corner of your yard, or next to your house?  A native plant bed will uplift your dreary yard, and you will be ever so pleased with yourself when your landscape displays native plants.  Plants close to your house or in an area that receives the most sun can be protected with a short fence.  Container-grown plants carefully arranged will create interest and varienty for your landscaping. Your pups can be encouraged to run on established mulched paths between raised plant beds or other types of containers.

Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that not only addresses the same dog issue, but suggests some usable plants and has pictures. Another previous answer concerns keeping dogs and cats out of your garden. And one last word, on the health of your pets, read this previous answer on Plants that are Toxic to Dogs.

Our How-To Articles Undercover with Mulch and Container Gardening with Native Plants have some good suggestions.




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