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Wednesday - December 22, 2010

From: Newark, DE
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for under a maple tree in DE
Answered by: Anne Bossart


In my front yard in Newark, Delaware, I have a HUGE maple tree that shades the whole yard and most of its roots are visible and make the yard very "bumpy." Consequently, grass does not grow well there but I'm not that turf-happy so no big deal. Recently, because the same maple tree invaded the plumbing system, I had to have the whole front yard back-hoed to replace the sewer pipe. In the springtime, I have a great opportunity to replace the skimpy grass with another ground cover. I'd like to know some candidates that you might suggest to curtail erosion and dirt from washing away and at the same time be more attractive than the old grass. Thanks in advance for your help!


I don't have to tell you that your situation is a tough one.  You must really love that tree that it is still standing after having to dig up your front yard.

As you know, turf grasses will barely survive, let alone thrive in such a dry and shady envirnoment.  But there are some plants native to your area that will.  The first one that comes to mind is sedge.  Check out this article by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape; you may find it is just what you need.

Two sedges native to Delaware are:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge)

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Other plants which you might try if foot traffic is not a concern are:

Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry)

Geranium maculatum (Spotted geranium)

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa (Roundlobe hepatica)

Mitchella repens (Partridgeberry)

Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum (Bracken fern)

Viola pedata (Birdfoot violet)

You can find more recommendations by doing a Combination Search on our Native Plant Database, selecting Delaware/the plant type you are looking for/and the light and soil conditions of your site.

If you want to prevent erosion, you will want to select a plant that spreads readily instead of forming clumps (that would be the only downside of the sedges ... you would have to plant them fairly close together to prevent erosion).  There are many agressive ground covers available in nurseries in your area that would do the job, but we cannot recommend them as they are mostly non-native and have the potential to do serious ecological damage if they become invasive.

You can improve the soil between the lumpy surface roots by cultivating it gently and adding organic material, but you should not significantly cover and suffocate them.  Removing the surface roots is sometimes a possibility, but that will always impact the tree's vitality to some degree.


Carex blanda

Carex pensylvanica

Gaultheria procumbens

Geranium maculatum

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa

Mitchella repens

Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum

Viola pedata




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