En EspaŅol

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
Can't find the answer in our existing FAQs, submit a question to Mr. Smarty Plants.
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

Ground cover for under a maple tree in DE
December 22, 2010 - In my front yard in Newark, Delaware, I have a HUGE maple tree that shades the whole yard and most of its roots are visible and make the yard very "bumpy." Consequently, grass does not grow well the...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a sunny, sandy site in Central Texas
January 22, 2015 - I live between La Grange and Schulenburg, Texas. My soil is sandy. Full sun, no trees. I am a senior citizen with limited funds who is allergic to Rye and Bermuda grass. I tried planting a lawn of...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for Bonsall, CA
October 17, 2012 - I live in Bonsall, CA. (San Diego) I have 3 acres, flat and sloped that are graded dirt. (DG and sheep poop from previous owner). It is getting close to mud season and I'd like to plant winter cover...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for wet area in Missouri
May 25, 2009 - Hello, I live in Missouri and our neighborhood is built over a natural spring. Half of my yard remains wet/moist for weeks to months and we can't mow it. I'm looking for a ground cover and plants...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for beachside planting in Florida
March 02, 2011 - What type of ground cover is best for beachside planting. Looking to replace lawn with salt tolerant, weed resistant, drought tolerant, little mowing, insect resistant ground cover. Any flowers are a ...
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 | SITEMAP | STAFF
© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center