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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.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - June 01, 2011

From: Downingtown, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Turf
Title: Shade plants to replace a lawn in PA
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Our neighborhood is built into a hill and our backyard is along the slope. We cannot keep grass in the area (except for a few clumps). The area is mostly shaded and moist-dry however when rain comes the hill turns into a river washing away soil. The roots of some of our trees are now exposed and the problem is getting worse. Are there any native ground covers that we can use for a lawn (area where the kids can play without destroying the plants)?

ANSWER:

This is a tough situation.  Conventional turf grasses will not survive in very shady conditions and the types of ground covers that can take foot traffic also require full sun.

You could consider sedges.  They are pretty tough, will grow in the shade and there are quite a few which are native to Pennsylvania such as:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge)

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Carex plantaginea (Plantainleaf sedge)

They are clump-forming, so you would have to plant many of them to create the sense of a lawn.

Because you are dealing with kids playing, you may have to resort to gravel in the high traffic areas interspersed with plantings of carex and other shade loving plants such as ferns.

To see a complete list of plants native to your area, visit our Native Plant Database and perform a Combination Search for Pennsylvania.  Choose the plant type (grass, herbaceous plant, shrub) and shade.  The lists of plants generated have links to detailed information pages.


Carex blanda


Carex pensylvanica


Carex plantaginea

 

 

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