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

Tuesday - August 09, 2011

From: Washington, DC
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Xeriscapes, Compost and Mulch, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Plants for small shady area with clay soil
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Many people have space between the sidewalk and the street in front of their homes. In that space in front of our house is a growing maple that provides a lot of shade. The space is very dry, with compacted clay soil and dust from the street. It is also very shady due to the maple. Attempts to grow regular lawn grass there are futile. It looks pretty bad, but I don't want to pour a ton of work (or new soil or water) into this small space. What would you recommend to plant in such a difficult space?

ANSWER:

This sounds like a good place to use the grass-like sedges.  John Greenlee in his article, "Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape", describes the advantages of using sedges instead of grasses for lawns.  The two recommended below will grow in the shade, require little mowing or water, and are native to the Washington DC area.

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) and here are more photos and information.

Carex texensis (Texas sedge) and here are more photos and information.

Sedges are planted as plugs instead of seeded.   In order to plant them, you are going to have to loosen the soil and you will have to provide water until they are established.  After they are established, regular rainfall will probably be enough to keep them going.  Both of the sedges above are tolerant of a wide variety of soil types, but they would benefit from having the soil loosened a bit.   So, when you prepare to insert the plugs into the soil, if you could work a couple of inches of organic matter—e.g., compost—into the top layer of the soil it would help the plants get started.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

More Compost and Mulch Questions

Recovering neglected garden space from Grapevine TX
March 22, 2014 - I live in Grapevine TX (Dallas). I just moved into a house where almost the entire large backyard is covered by oak trees that shed tons of leaves throughout our mild falls/winters. The yard has not...
view the full question and answer

Failure to bloom of non-native Althea in Oklahoma
August 17, 2008 - I have 2 Althea bushes that will not bloom. For the past 2 years, they become covered in buds, which eventually yellow, but never open. The buds are fully developed. This year the branches have starte...
view the full question and answer

Perennial blooming plants for Ashland MO
April 02, 2010 - I am beginning to create a flower bed in front of my house, I do not have a green thumb so I want to know what plants would come back yearly and I can plant now in Mid Missouri?
view the full question and answer

Use of cedar/juniper mulch in wildflower meadows
August 31, 2013 - What to do with freshly shredded cedar/juniper mulch? We have a pile of freshly ground cedar mulch that we can either keep in a large pile until it has composted(but the neighbors are complaining), or...
view the full question and answer

Wax myrtle problems from Driftwood TX
September 04, 2010 - We planted 27 wax myrtles on the perimeter of our property last year and were diligent about watering them throughout the drought. They are in very rocky soil (we had to use a jackhammer to dig the ho...
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 | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center