En Español

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

Monday - April 04, 2011

From: Phenix City , AL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Planting, Soils, Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for sun in Phenix City, AL
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in Phenix City, AL and am new to planting. I have a 60 x 15 feet slope that is just dirt. I am going to till it next week and want to plant some various ground cover plants (that will grow to cover the entire area). I am looking for something that is easy to maintain (the area is in the full sun-little to no shade) and the summers are dry. Do you have some suggestions? Would like a variety of color (possible plants with flowers).

ANSWER:

Goody, we love new gardeners. First, we want you to know that we recommend only plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow naturally. We'll introduce you to our Native Plant Database and give you some help finding your way around it and learning how to use the information. The meaning of this is that Phenix City, Russell County, AL, on the southeast border with Georgia, USDA Hardiness Zones 7b to 8a, needs  plants that will grow there without extra use of resources such as fertilizer and water. We are going to help you find them.

For your first lesson, we have several articles we would like you to read, so we can all feel like we are on the same page, so to speak.

Using Native Plants

When is a Guest a Pest?

A Guide to Native Plant Gardening

Under Cover with Mulch

Before we go any further, we want to warn you that tilling up that "just dirt" is going to bring many, many weed seeds up to the surface, all ready for the Spring rains and a nice fresh place to grow. If you haven't tilled yet, but still intend to, may we suggest you till in a few bags of good organic compost as you go. No, this won't keep the weeds down, nothing but persistent pulling does that, but it will help with drainage in the soil and make it easier for tiny new rootlets to access nutrients.

So, we begin on your garden. Go to Recommended Species and click on Alabama on the map. This will give you a list of 118 different plants that are native to and recommended for Alabama. Obviously, you don't want to wade through all those plants to make your selections, so we'll show you how to narrow the choices and find just the right plant. On the sidebar on the right-hand side of that page, click on the type of plant you are searching for under General Appearance. We will start with "herb" (herbaceous blooming plants) and also indicate "sun" under Light Requirements, and Narrow Your Choice. We consider sun to be 6 or more hours of sun a day, part shade 2 to 6 hours of sun, and shade, less than 2 hours. So, if you are looking for plants for another spot later, you will know to search on something besides full sun, if that is the case. Okay, we picked "herbs", clicked on Narrow Your Search and got 13 choices. For our example, we chose Echinacea purpurea (Eastern purple coneflower), a perennial growing 2-5 ft. tall, blooms pink, purple April to September, requires sun or part shade. You can follow the plant link to our page on that plant and learn what kind of soils it likes, the benefits, propagation instructions, and so forth. You can do the same sort of thing with other forms of plants, so let's check a couple more for practice.

How about some shrubs on that slope? Using the same method, we found 9 shrubs that are recommended, and chose Morella cerifera (Wax myrtle), evergreen, to 12 ft. tall, fragrant foliage, sun or part shade, attracts birds. Last trial run, let's talk native grasses. If you have a slope, you are going to need something to retain that slope and control erosion. There is nothing better for that than native grasses. Their long fibrous roots will hold the soil, they are attractive as well as beneficial. Of the 4 grasses recommended for Alabama, we chose Andropogon gerardii (Big bluestem), a perennial, sun or part shade, acidic soil. You can go to our Native Plant Database and find lots more plants of each type; just be sure to read all the specifications for each.

From our Native Plant Image Gallery:


Echinacea purpurea


Morella cerifera


Andropogon gerardii

 

 

 

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Seed regrowth through mulch
September 06, 2007 - Hi Mr. Smarty Plants: I have planted a perennial and wildflower garden and would like to put mulch down to control the weeds and retain moisture. Will the plants that drop their seeds be able to re- ...
view the full question and answer

Problems with non-native Cleyera and Red-tip photinia
June 01, 2008 - I planted a row of Cleyera in a bed that receives sunlight for about 3 hours during the middle of the day. My problem is that a number of the plants are dying. It begins with the leaves on one small...
view the full question and answer

Desert willows not doing well in Navarro County, TX
May 16, 2009 - Planted 3 new desert willows , 3-4 ft.in February. Live in East Navarro County and soil is clay with slight slope to Richland Chambers lake area. Had a wet spring. These plantings appear not doing we...
view the full question and answer

Recovering neglected garden space from Grapevine TX
March 22, 2014 - I live in Grapevine TX (Dallas). I just moved into a house where almost the entire large backyard is covered by oak trees that shed tons of leaves throughout our mild falls/winters. The yard has not...
view the full question and answer

Turf grass for part-time home from Louisville KY
April 28, 2012 - We have a small yard at a remote location with cistern water, and need a turf grass for a yard, clay soil, which I am willing to amend. It will receive sporadic attention as my husband and I do not l...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center