En EspaŅol

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
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
2 ratings

Saturday - March 12, 2011

From: Greenbrier, TN
Region: Southeast
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Recommendations for plants under sugar maple (Acer saccharum) tree
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

We have an area under sugar maple trees and near white pines. We cannot get any grass to grow. There is little moisture and no sun in the summer. We live 25 miles north of Nashville, TN. Can you recommend a plant we could use in this area.

ANSWER:

Allelopathy (negative effects on growth of other plant species from chemicals produced by another) is listed as strong to moderate for the roots of  Acer saccharum (Sugar maple) in an article, Potential Allelopath in Different Tree Species, by Kim Coder from the Warnell School of Forest Resources.  Pinus strobus (Eastern white pine) is on the same list with a slight allelopathic effect from its roots.  This may be one of the reasons you aren't able to grow grass under your sugar maples.  However, the fact that it is dry and very shady underneath the tree is probably the more serious barrier to growing many plants.

We can do a search in our Native Plant Database for plants that will tolerate dry soils and shade (less than 2 hours of sun per day) by doing a COMBINATION SEARCH and choosing Tennessee from the Select State or Province list, then 'Shade - less than 2 hours of sun per day' from Light requirement and 'Dry - soil does not exhibit visible signs of moisture' from Soil moisture.

Here are some possibilities for plants from that list that should work for you.  I wasn't able to find information, however, about native plants that withstand possible allelopathic effects of sugar maple roots so I can't be absolutely positive that this won't be a problem.  Also, you need to realize that you will have to provide some water at first to get these plants established.

Many sedges such as Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) and Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge), that are very grass-like, will do well in dry shade.

One grass that grows very well in the shade and is very attractive is Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats).  It does like a moderate amount of moisture, however, but perhaps your area would have enough.

Here are some other low-growing plants from the list that do well in dry shade.

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

 Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry)

Hypericum prolificum (Shrubby St. Johnswort)

Pteridium aquilinum (Western bracken fern)

Salvia urticifolia (Nettleleaf sage)

Here are photos from our Image Gallery: 


Carex blanda


Carex pensylvanica


Chasmanthium latifolium


Aquilegia canadensis


Gaultheria procumbens


Hypericum prolificum


Pteridium aquilinum


Salvia urticifolia

 


 

 

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Possible to grow Inland Sea Oats in Oklahoma?
March 17, 2011 - Would it be possible to grow inland sea oats in Southeast Oklahoma? Is this within the range of this plant? I am asking on behalf of my cousin in OK.
view the full question and answer

Plants to stabilize a steep slope in east Texas
November 09, 2009 - We have a very steep dirt dam in Winnsboro TX, full sun, and burmuda and rye grasses have not been enough to keep from having some mud sliding. We keep adding clay and reworking but want to preserve t...
view the full question and answer

Native Grass is Falling Over
November 09, 2011 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants, I've tried to find this answer but am stumped as to the cause. We live in Fredericksburg, TX and have several different tall grasses, Yellow Indian grass, Little Bluestem, wire...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for Austin yard
March 08, 2012 - My main goal is to cover my yard with a "grass" or groundcover that can handle the Texas heat, predicted long drought and some dog paw traffic (without going dormant/brown in the winter). I don't n...
view the full question and answer

Stream Bank Erosion Control for Bryan/College Station
August 16, 2012 - I live in the Bryan/College Station area and need a ground cover to abate erosion on the bank of an intermittent stream. The bank is shaded. Do you have any suggestions?
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center