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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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Friday - April 19, 2013

From: Ottawa, ON
Region: Canada
Topic: Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like, Vines
Title: Groundcover Under Maple Tree in Ottawa That Takes Foot Traffic
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

Hi, I am looking for a groundcover to put under a large maple tree that will be alright for kids to run about on and will be happy in the Ottawa climate. Your other answers to similar questions have been helpful, but I would like to have something that kids can run about on. Thank you so very much.

ANSWER:

You have presented a tough challenge in your quest a native groundcover that is hardy in your zone and tolerates shade as well as foot traffic. The first place to start to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plant Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories to start: Ontario, Habit – grass, grass-like, Duration – perennial, Light requirement – shade, Soil moisture – moist, Size characteristics – 0-1 ft.

The result of this search turned up six Carex species. These are sedges that are grass-like plants that grow in clumps and are quite underused as groundcovers. Some grow better in moist sites and others are better for dryer locations. Look over the following Carex to see if one is a good match for under your maple tree site. By the way, there are a few Carex (Carex pensa, Carex divulsa, Carex texensis, Carex flacca) that aren’t hardy in your area, that spread by rhizomes to form a carpet and can tolerate moderate foot traffic, but most of them can only tolerate light foot traffic (or no foot traffic).

So, some possible groundcovers from the Wildflower Center's database are:

Carex chordorrhiza (creeping sedge)

Carex eburnea (bristleleaf sedge)

Carex echinata (star sedge)

Carex interior (inland sedge)

Carex pedunculata (longstalk sedge) Take a look at the Ontrio Grasses website for more information on longstalk sedge.

Another option is to plant a vine as a groundcover (such as Parthenocissus vitacea (hiedra creeper or woodbine) and put a stepping stone path through the vine. You children might like to jump from stone to stone like hopping from island to island in a sea of plants. This could also work with the Carex too.

 

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