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Mr. Smarty Plants - Plants for small shady area with clay soil

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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

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