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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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Wednesday - August 01, 2012

From: Pittsburgh, PA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Ground cover for high traffic area in Pennsylvania
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

I am wondering if there is a Pennsylvania native turf like grass/plant that can withstand a lot of foot traffic (public area with lots of children). This will be used in a formal setting so will need to either be low growing or able to be cut. I haven't had much luck finding native...

ANSWER:

I know of a few native grasses that may satisfy your needs.  There are so-called cool season grasses and warm season grasses.  Your best bets are the former types, which grow best in spring and fall but sometimes become stressed during a hot summer.  Two native grasses are among those described in a useful Penn State web sitePoa pratensis (Kentucky bluegrass) is probably the best for heavy traffic.  Festuca rubra (Red fescue) is another possibility, but is does not bear foot traffic as well as Kentucky bluegrass. 

The other grasses described in the Penn State web site have been introduced, mainly from Europe.

I can think of  no other native ground covers that would bear the kind of heavy traffic that you envision.  However, if there are nooks and crannies that might be out of the mainstream you should consider certain broadleaf ground covers, such as those described in this web site.

Some of these broadleaf species are pictured below.

 

From the Image Gallery


Allegheny spurge
Pachysandra procumbens

Creeping phlox
Phlox stolonifera

Heartleaf foamflower
Tiarella cordifolia

Creeping phlox
Phlox subulata

Shrubby five-fingers
Sibbaldiopsis tridentata

Green and gold
Chrysogonum virginianum

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