En Español

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

Saturday - February 23, 2013

From: Norfolk, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Groundcover for strip on street from Norfolk VA
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My house is on the east side of a north/south street. Between the curb and sidewalk is a strip about 3' wide, with two crepe myrtles spaced about 20' apart and a mix of sparse weeds and grass leaving a lot of bare dirt exposed between the trees. The city owns it but I'm responsible for maintaining it. It's where I put my garbage can and recycling bin on trash day, and when someone parks on the street they walk across it. I want to put a native groundcover in that will cover up the bare soil and prevent erosion onto the street. I was thinking of Pennyslvania sedge (Carex pennsylvanica), but the thing is, up to a dozen times a year the street floods during a heavy storm and the water goes up past the sidewalk for a few hours. Since Carex pennyslvanica prefers dry soil, I'm worried that will kill it. Is this a suitable place for the Pennsylvania sedge? If not, what's a good alternative?

ANSWER:

Frankly, that would be a hostile environment for just about any groundcover we can think of. Foot traffic, trash cans and flooding are a lot to ask a plant to tolerate. If the dirt is level with the curb, our suggestion might not work, but if the level of the dirt is lower than the sidewalk and curb, we would suggest some nice round river rock. Not gravel, as this would be just as likely to wash away in the flooding as dirt or plants. You don't want to pave it over because that would deny oxygen and nutrients from the soil around the roots of your trees. We often suggest mulch as groundcover for difficult situations like that, but mulch would be down the street and into the ocean in the first hard rain.

Often the best plant for holding soil and preventing erosion is a grass of some sort. Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge) is not a true grass but is grasslike. Grasses are good because they have long fibrous roots that can anchor the plant and help hold the dirt in place. Unfortunately, those long fibrous roots are going to take a while to develop and if you have that many floods every year, it seems unlikely that any plant would be able to get itself properly established in time to do you some good. The rounded rock would have spaces around it to permit water and air to get to the tree roots; of course, that would also permit a certain amount of weeds to creep up, but vigilance and a little pulling out should take care of that.

Here are links to some articles with suggestions for a rock groundcover:

Decorative Ground Cover Rocks

How to Use Rocks as a Ground Cover to Control Your Weeds

Using River Rock for Ground Cover

We also feel that carex or most other plants would be overwhelmed by flooding. You would likely find yourself doing the planting over and over again. In the meantime, is there any chance that your municipality or area might find a way to prevent that periodic flooding?

 

 

More Groundcovers Questions

Restoring the woods in Central Austin.
May 08, 2012 - I live in Austin, south central between Red Bud trail close to the low water bridge and Bee Caves road. My question: I want to make the wooded sections of my yard attractive. They have filtered sun...
view the full question and answer

Prairie wattle for woodland area in Austin
November 29, 2009 - Can prairie wattle be grown in a woodland area? It would get part shade, with full sun for at least half a day. The soil is a bit rocky; location is Austin.
view the full question and answer

Replacing St. Augustine with Horse herb in Austin, TX.
December 12, 2012 - I'm considering replacing my St. Augustine grass with a Horseherb/Straggler Daisy ground cover, but I've heard that it provides a mosquito breeding habitat, especially if you allow dead leaves to de...
view the full question and answer

Ground covers for sandy hill in New York
April 12, 2006 - We have just built a new home and a sandy fill was needed around the house. It sits on a hill and the fill is very sandy. We would like to plant something to stabilize the bank that is native to the a...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for trails in Northeast Texas
January 09, 2008 - I have several acres of wooded land in Northeast Texas, Southern Lamar County. Both sandy and black land. I have created trails through the woods and would like to plant a native ground cover or gras...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | JOBS | SITEMAP | STAFF INTRANET
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center