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

Erosion control in Spicewood TX
March 20, 2013 - I am from a small community along the Colorado River a few miles East of Marble Falls. We are looking for a ground cover/grass to prevent erosion on on our beach front. We had planned to use Bermuda G...
view the full question and answer

Groundcovers for Miami, FL
November 10, 2011 - I live in Miami, Florida. I have a medium size Bismarck Palm in my front yard. What would be a good ground cover other than grass around this palm?
view the full question and answer

Finding Connecticut grasses on website from NY City
January 28, 2012 - Your site w/ all its varied aids are great, and your answers are so helpful, so I don't want to seem critical with this question. I trained as a landscape architect in the Northeast 20 years ago a...
view the full question and answer

Advice on grasses under walnut trees
May 28, 2010 - Little advice on grasses: I am prepared to plant zoysia under two walnut trees. Forgot about juglone-is this a good idea?
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for a wet hillside in the San Juan Islands
July 30, 2014 - I live on Orcas Island in WA state. We have a place on the water and want to plant something that is no taller than 2-3 feet, lower if possible, on a hillside. The hillside gets lots of sun, yet als...
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
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center