Rent Shop Volunteer Join

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 Shade Tolerant Questions

Native grasses for bare shady spot in Austin
July 01, 2008 - My back yard is shady from old Arizona Ash trees. What native grasses can I plant in bare areas caused by my dog?
view the full question and answer

Privacy shrub in part shade to shade in Austin
April 29, 2010 - Barbara Medford's July 1, 2008 reply regarding Little Emperor Japanese Blueberry Tree is exactly my experience with cherry laurel in partial sun/shaded area in Austin, Texas. For 6 - 8' height si...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen drought-tolerant screening plant for shade
May 13, 2010 - I am renting my place and looking for a screening, green all year, native plant or shrub. I plan to grow it in large planters along my street and to create privacy in my back yard. It has to be a non...
view the full question and answer

Evergreen flowering shrub for San Antonio, TX
May 20, 2013 - Need a suggestion for an evergreen flowering bush, 3 ft tall for shady area by front door. Have gardenia bushes there now - did well until we had a hard freeze and have struggled ever since. Ideas ple...
view the full question and answer

Erosion control for shady slope in Kentucky backyard
August 28, 2013 - I live in northern Kentucky (near Cincinnati). I have an area in my backyard that has slope. It is next to an ash tree and is very shady. Water erosion has washed away the top soil and pretty much no...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.