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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Saturday - April 28, 2012

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Groundcovers, Cacti and Succulents, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: Sunny and shady lawns from Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My front yard has a large bed surrounded by a mix of St. Augustine and Bermuda grass. Last summers heat killed off about 90% of the St. Augustine, which we would like to replace anyway to conserve resources. We have a great deal of shade with a few sunny spots close to the sidewalk. We would like to overseed or replace the existing turf. I was looking at Thunder Turf, but it requires full sun. I'm wondering what might be a good alternative for shade/sun. Seeding would be easier and more economical for us. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with sunny and shady lawns?

ANSWER:

We feel like a broken record (for those of you who remember records) because we get so many questions wanting a low-maintenance, low water native turf grass for shade. Thunderturf is a Native American Seeds branded grass mix; you are correct, it requires full sun, which we consider 6 hours or more of sun a day. A team led by the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center has developed a grass called Habiturf, which has all the specifications you are asking for EXCEPT it needs about 5 hours a day of full sun. Read the entire linked article; the last question under "Frequently Asked Questions" on that site deals with overseeding an existing lawn.

When we are asked for native grasses for turf in a shady situation, we feel our best alternative is to offer them some other kind of groundcover. From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants question:

"So, here's our suggested plan. An area that is not going to get regular watering, or lots of sun, or consistent weeding and maintenance is not a very good candidate for turf. We would suggest, first, you select the areas where foot traffic will occur, and/or you don't think much of anything will grow. Consider getting decomposed granite to use not only for pathways but for beds  in which some plants, like succulents, can grow. From the website The Human Footprint, here is a very comprehensive article on the use of decomposed granite. Another article from Landscape Design Advice Decomposed Granite as Paving Material adds more information.

Too much hauling and expense? Next possibility is mulch. First, read our How-To Article Under Cover With Mulch. This article details the various materials that are used as mulch, including decomposed granite. If you want to use that for pathways or gardens, you might consider an edging of native stone to keep the mulch from creeping, which the shredded hardwood bark mulchs will tend to do. Some areas may need renewal every six months or so, but as the mulch decomposes it will go into the soil to improve drainage and the texture of the soil."

If you have a few sunny spots close to the sidewalk, that sounds like a great place for a flowering border of bright-flowered plants that like the sun. Mulch the bed, as suggested above, after you have put those plants in the ground at the appropriate time of the year. We are going to list both shade tolerant flowers and shrubs, maybe even some succulents, as well as some that would do well in that sun around your sidewalk and dress up your entrance. We will check to make sure all our suggestions are native to the area of Travis County. Follow each plant link to our page on that plant to find out what its growing conditions are, projected size, water needs, etc.

Succulents for part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun daily):

Manfreda maculosa (False aloe)

Manfreda sileri (Siler's tuberose)

Yucca pallida (Pale-leaf yucca)

Yucca rupicola (Twistleaf yucca)

Yucca treculeana (Don quixote's lace)

Flowering Plants for Sun (6 hours or more of sun) or part shade:

Amblyolepis setigera (Huisache daisy)

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Groundcovers for Shade:

Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy)

Dalea greggii (Gregg dalea)

Dichondra argentea (Silver ponyfoot)

Phyla nodiflora (Texas frogfruit)

 

From the Image Gallery


False aloe
Manfreda maculosa

Siler's tuberose
Manfreda sileri

Pale-leaf yucca
Yucca pallida

Twistleaf yucca
Yucca rupicola

Spanish dagger
Yucca treculeana

Huisache daisy
Amblyolepis setigera

Eastern red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Butterflyweed
Asclepias tuberosa

Horseherb
Calyptocarpus vialis

Gregg dalea
Dalea greggii

Silver ponyfoot
Dichondra argentea

Texas frogfruit
Phyla nodiflora

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