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
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

Want to Amend Soil Without Harming Earthworms in Dallas Area
March 16, 2011 - I have a totally odd question. I live in the Dallas area in the blackland soil. I am removing sod from part of my back yard and will replant with nectar and host plants for butterflies. The soil is...
view the full question and answer

Instructions for composting in southeast Texas
February 18, 2008 - Do you ever offer composting classes? I live in Houston and would like to start composting in my backyard... are there any particular books you would recommend for composting in SE TX? Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Proper watering of cedar elm trees in Sachse, TX
August 15, 2008 - I've just planted two Cedar elm trees in clay soil, each about four inches in diameter, and I want to water them correctly. I'm aware that too much water can be bad as well as too little water. I ...
view the full question and answer

Varieties of Ceanothus suitable for Illinois
September 07, 2012 - Ceanothus Velutinus is the smell of western Montana, my home, to me, and I have relocated to Illinois. I miss it so much that whenever I go home I bring back a jar of ceanothis leaves and keep th...
view the full question and answer

Trees for cutout in driveway in Houston
November 12, 2010 - I live in central Houston. I have a new driveway with a cutout of 4' x 8'. I would like to plant a shade tree that will not break up the concrete. What do you recommend?
view the full question and answer

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