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
4 ratings

Wednesday - May 10, 2006

From: Bloomfield Hills, MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Michigan native plants for shady, low traffic area
Answered by: Dean Garrett

QUESTION:

Hello, I am looking for a recommendation for a Michigan native groundcover. I live adjacent to the Rouge River watershed and want to buy the right thing. The location is shady, infrequently walked upon and under cedar trees. I am desperately trying to control the erosion in this location. Any ideas on plant materials?

ANSWER:

When discussing groundcovers, it's important to note that few plants provide the fast-growing, evergreen, total coverage that commercially marketed landscaping groundcovers do. Though some native plants approximate that kind of trailing performance, many do not. Often, when native plant experts refer to “groundcovers,” they mean any low-growing or colonizing plants that will, over time, spread out over an area, whether by seed, runners, or rhizomes. Sometimes they mean any combination of plants that contributes to covering the ground, like the various woodland herbs, sedges, wildflowers, and grasses that cover the forest floor in a sort of loose patchwork of species. Since I'm not familiar with the full characteristics of your site nor with how native plants of your region will perform there, I'm going to follow the multi-species approach with my suggestions.

Culled from our Regional Factpack list of recommended plants for your region, these shade-tolerant natives should contribute to covering the ground and controlling erosion. Combine them to encourage complete coverage and provide a more diverse environment for wildlife. See the Factpack list to determine which plants are most suited for the moisture level of your site.

Ground-Covering Vine

Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia)

Ferns

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina)
Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

Grasses

Canada Wildrye (Elymus canadensis)
Virginia Wildrye (Elymus virginicus)

Wildflowers

Wild Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis)
Painted Trillium (Trillium undulatum)
Ohio Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)
Canadian White Violet (Viola canadensis)
Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaricata)

Low, Colonizing Shrubs

Late Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium)

Since you have what I presume are Eastern Red Cedars (Juniperus virginianus), you might consider adding some native ornamental trees to increase the root hold on the soil and add color against the evergreen foliage of the existing trees:

Eastern Redbud (Cercis Canadensis)
Michigan Holly (Ilex verticillata)
American Bladdernut (Staphylea trifolia)
Red Osier Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

Besides reviewing our Regional Factpack for the Midwest for more ideas, you might also contact a regional native plant organization like the Michigan Botanical Club or the Wildflower Association of Michigan. Your local Michigan Conservation District might also be helpful. Though I haven't seen a copy, I found several references to a book called Landscaping With Native Plants of Michigan, by Lynn M. Steiner, that sounds like a potentially good reference.

For purchasing commercially available native plants, I found this native plant nursery in Ann Arbor, and our National Suppliers Directory can also be of assistance.
 

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Vines for a shady porch in Oregon
February 22, 2010 - My husband and I just bought our first home this fall in St. Johns, Portland. We would like to grow a vine on our front porch, but it is in full shade. It faces north east. We planted some jasmine vin...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for rock garden under large oak
October 02, 2012 - I am planning a small rock garden under a large oak tree. I would like a spreading evergreen ground cover that will grow in the shade. Drought-tolerant would be preferred as I live in the high plains...
view the full question and answer

Disagreement with HOA on raised beds placed beneath mature oak from Tequesta FL
April 05, 2014 - I have mature 30 year old oak trees on my property and I put a raised bed under each with very good soil and I used pavers for retaining the soil about about 1.5 ft high. I planted a perennial begonia...
view the full question and answer

Shady Container Plant for Austin
August 20, 2014 - I am looking for a tall plant/small shrub/ornamental grass for a very large pot that is placed against the north wall of our Austin home. That spot gets some morning sun in the summer, but virtually ...
view the full question and answer

Japanese maple in New York
August 15, 2008 - I have a few questions: Do you know what zone Brooklyn, NY. is in? If I plant a Japanese Maple in my backyard, do you think it can tolerate almost full shade (1-2 hours of sun per day)? Also, is it...
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 | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center