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 - May 04, 2013

From: San Antonio, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant
Title: Groundcover for shade under oaks in San Antonio
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have been modifying my landscape to reduce grass and the need for frequent watering. Have turned half the backyard into native plants garden with hardscape and sitting areas. Have 2 mature Monterey oaks in middle of backyard providing lots of shade, with a large saga palm between them. Can you recommend a ground cover or low-growing plant which will grow in all that shade?

ANSWER:

The biggest problem growing something in the shade of your oaks is, well, all that shade.   Most plants prefer to grow in sun or partial shade.  There are some, however, that will grow quite happily in the shade or partial shade.  Also, there may be a problem growing plants under your oak tree, not just because it will be shady but because the oak tree has an allelopathic effect on some other plants.  Allelopathy is a situation where a plant releases a chemical that has an effect on another plant.  The effect may be beneficial or harmful, but the ones we hear about the most are those that are harmful to another plant.  One of best known of the allelopathic plants is the walnut tree (Juglans spp.).  It has a very strong effect on most plants attempting to grow beneath it.  Trees with a lesser allelopathic effect include oaks, hackberries and eucalyptus trees.  Red oaks, which in your area would be Quercus buckleyi (Texas red oak), are mentioned more often than other oak trees.  You can read more about allelopathy in this article, Allelopathic plants: nature's weedkillers.  That said, not all plants are susceptible to the oak's chemicals.  Some plants can grow under oaks.  I couldn't find a list of plants native to Texas that reportedly grow under oaks, but I have seen the following growing happily under oaks:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) is evergreen.

Carex planostachys (Cedar sedge) is evergreen.

Carex texensis (Texas sedge) is evergreen.

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) is perennial and turns golden brown in the winter.  You can cut them back down to the new green rosettes forming in the early spring to show their vibrant new growth.  They are happy growing in the shade of oaks.  This grass grows 2 to 4 feet and is very attractive.

Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy) will probably remain evergreen in San Antonio and do just fine under oaks.

Geum canadense (White avens) is evergreen and can be mowed.

Packera obovata (Golden groundsel) will form an evergreen ground cover.

Salvia lyrata (Lyreleaf sage) makes an evergreen ground cover.

Paxistima myrsinites (Mountain lover)  Here are photos and more information from Southwest Colorado Wildflowers.

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Cedar sedge
Carex planostachys

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Horseherb
Calyptocarpus vialis

Horseherb
Calyptocarpus vialis

White avens
Geum canadense

White avens
Geum canadense

Golden groundsel
Packera obovata

Golden groundsel
Packera obovata

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata

Oregon boxleaf
Paxistima myrsinites

More Groundcovers Questions

Native Plants for Shaded North Slope in Ohio
January 03, 2013 - I have a shaded north hillside which needs erosion control plants. Mostly moss and very thin grass grows there now. Please help!
view the full question and answer

Non-invasive sun ground cover for Atlanta GA
June 29, 2011 - I would like to find a non-invasive ground cover for zone 7 (Atlanta, GA) in full sun. I had a bed of ivy with daylilies on a slight slope. I have pulled up the ivy but want something that is not as i...
view the full question and answer

What will grow in red clay in Conroe TX?
April 10, 2011 - We just built a new home and the foundation was poured on red clay which is what my flowerbed area is in. Could you please tell me what can be planted that will grow. I am looking for ground cover, fl...
view the full question and answer

Would Habiturf or buffalograss work in Charlottesville VA
July 18, 2012 - Hello, I am looking for an alternative to traditional turf grasses. I stumbled upon some information on your site about buffalo grass and LBJWC's 'Habiturf' mix and would like to know if this w...
view the full question and answer

Ground covers for a shady spot in central Texas
February 23, 2016 - I reside in Austin, Texas and need advice on my xeriscaping project. Portions of my front yard have always been a challenge to get grass to grow, so I have xeriscaped that area with Fairland Pink gran...
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