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?


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
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


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).


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

Chlorosis in tropical milkweed and asclepias tuberosa
May 18, 2008 - I planted both tropical milkweed and asclepias tuberosa. Both are chlorotic and the native milkweed has brown upturned leaves. Could it possibly be too much water? Or what?
view the full question and answer

Planting a Texas Persimmon in rocky soil in Krum TX
March 27, 2009 - I have recently purchased a 10 gallon Texas Persimmon plant that I want to put as a highlight plant in my yard. According to the nursery, it has been in the pot for 2 years. I have been "blessed(or...
view the full question and answer

Flowers for sunny and shady gardens in Cedar Hill TX
March 30, 2010 - Last year I spent way too much on flowers for my sunny and shady flower beds. They all died from the heat, even after constant watering. What flowers could I plant in sunny and shady flower beds that ...
view the full question and answer

Planting a tulip poplar in Virginia Beach VA
November 10, 2009 - Hi. I would like to plant a Yellow Poplar, 'Tulip Tree' in my front yard. I will not be able to plant this tree until after November 15th. The tree will receive direct sun and will be exposed to hea...
view the full question and answer

Appropriate mulch for strawberries in Maine
July 31, 2007 - Can mulch (like cedar mulch- kinds used in flower gardens) be used between rows of strawberries? Can you also suggest how far apart lupine species need to be so that they wont interbreed? Thank ...
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.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center