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

Low maintenance replacement garden in Ashburn , VA
April 30, 2009 - We live in Ashburn, VA (Northern VA). Our house is 10 years old and the contractor grade plants have died. We are planning on digging everything up and re-doing the landscaping in our front yard - r...
view the full question and answer

Berms to hold water around roots
December 05, 2008 - I planted new flower beds this November. There are currently dirt 'berms' around each plant - creating a well for water to seep into the immediate plant area. How can I keep these berms from erodi...
view the full question and answer

Problems with Carolina Laurel Cherry from Pflugerville, TX
September 02, 2011 - In 2007 we planted 7 Carolina Laurelcherry (Prunus caroliniana)across our back fence. Everything was fine until this year. Three of the trees seemed to get sick and a local arborist said the roots ne...
view the full question and answer

Living fence of native plants for Ojai, CA
September 20, 2008 - I would like to build a "green fence" about 10-15 feet tall. I live in Ojai, CA where we have VERY hot summers and it goes below freezing every winter. The soil does not seem to drain well..it is e...
view the full question and answer

Perennials non-toxic to horses in Thayer MO
September 21, 2010 - I live in South Central Missouri. I am looking for a plant/shrub to plant in pots (our soil is clay and very rocky)to landscape the front of our barn. This plant can't be harmful to horses and must b...
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 | STAFF
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center