Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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

Native wildflowers for shade in Boone NC
July 05, 2011 - I have a totally shaded area with tall trees and want to plant some native shade wildflowers beneath the trees. It is fairly level. I'd like perennial flowers. I noticed Flaming Azalea was one opti...
view the full question and answer

Low maintenance grass for shade in Conroe, TX
September 15, 2012 - What is the best low maintenance grass to plant in front lawn shaded, no traffic area?
view the full question and answer

Illinois native grasses for shade
June 27, 2013 - Hello, my grass has died in a very shady area (standard buffalo grass), and I took this as an opportunity to plant some native grass varieties. I originally thought of buffalo grass, but learned that ...
view the full question and answer

Flowering Shrub for Houston, TX
April 24, 2014 - I live in Houston, Texas and would like to plant a flowering shrub 3-6 feet in height. It will get sun to part sun, 2-6 hours daily. I have had azaleas in this area and am now looking for something to...
view the full question and answer

Lawn for a Shady & Wet area in Austin, TX
July 22, 2015 - We have a drainage area that has appeared in our back yard since the neighbors’ homes were built. When we get heavy rains (like this year) all their drainage flows into our back yard and forms a river...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.