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?

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
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

Thursday - August 04, 2011

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Container Gardens, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native grasses for wood planter box in Houston
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hi, I'm making a long wood planter box/bench for my wood deck. The area gets direct sun only in the late afternoon/evening and the deck serves as a play space for our one-year old son. I'd like to plant some Texas native tall grasses, preferably of the very low maintenance/low water consumption variety, with the key being that they can't be dangerous in any way for our son. Also, since they'll be in a shallow planter, I'll have to find species that don't need a lot of soil to thrive. Do you have any suggestions? Thanks in advance!

ANSWER:

Your idea sounds great, but there may be a couple of problems.  First of all, how shallow is the planter box?  Tall grasses are going to need more than 6 to 8 inches of soil to grow in—something that allows around a foot of soil would be best.  Their fibrous roots can spread sideways but they also need enough soil to allow the root surfaces to be able to absorb moisture and nutrients.  The second problem is that very few grasses grow well in the shade.  There are a few that grow well in partial shade (2 to 6 hours of sun per day) and I will recommend a few of these that grow between 3 and 6 feet tall.  The good news is that you don't need to worry about toxicity with native grasses and we can avoid any with sharp leaves.  You should read one of our How to Aricles,  Container Gardening with Native Plants, that will give you good general tips about creating a container garden.

All of the grasses listed are perennials.   In the winter they will turn brown.  Some of them are attractive with their golden or brown foliage and they resprout from the roots in the spring.  You can cut the old brown foliage before or after the resprouting in the spring.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) grows to 4 feet high and prefers shade.  It may require slightly more water than the other grasses listed below, but will do fine is moderately dry soil.

Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass) can grow as tall as 8 feet.

Panicum virgatum (Switchgrass) grows to 6 feet.

Setaria scheelei (Southwestern bristlegrass) can grow to 4 feet tall.

Here are two other suggestions that aren't grasses but of the same general size.  One of their advantages is that they are both evergreen.  Neither is toxic.

Nolina texana (Texas sacahuista) is not a true grass but a member of the Lily Family. It grows to about 3 feet high.

Sabal minor (Dwarf palmetto) is a small palm that grows 3 to 6 feet high and is evergreen.

 

From the Image Gallery


Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Switchgrass
Panicum virgatum

Southwestern bristlegrass
Setaria scheelei

Texas sacahuista
Nolina texana

Dwarf palmetto
Sabal minor

More Container Gardens Questions

Vine for planter box in Berkeley CA
September 29, 2012 - I live in Berkeley, CA and want to plant a vine to crawl up a trellis on my deck. It gets sun most of the day. I need to use planter boxes because there is only patio below and would like something ...
view the full question and answer

Choosing large containers (pots) for plants in Dallas, Texas.
May 24, 2007 - Hi, I was wondering if you could help me pick a plant for a container garden. We live in Dallas, TX. Our soil is very clay, but I thought we could do something fun in containers with sand or something...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants on Blue Cohosh
April 21, 2005 - I acquired a potted plant of Blue Cohosh at a sale. My question is where can I plant it? I live in Seattle but also garden in Zone 5 at Lake Wenatchee Washington. Shade or sun? How hardy is it? ...
view the full question and answer

Flowering plant for container on lanai in South Florida
December 15, 2011 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I would like to purchase a flowering plant for my ailing mother for Christmas. It has to be able to grow in shade so I can place it on her table on her lanai for her to be a...
view the full question and answer

Non-native and invasive bamboos from Staten Island, NY
May 19, 2013 - Hi I put some black Bamboo and some bias Bamboo in a large container about 6ft by 2ft and ht 18 inches .How can I get this Bamboo to thrive ? Suggestions on types of plant food or fertilizer or ant t...
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center