Explore Plants

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
    
 

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

Sunday - May 12, 2013

From: Prineville , OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant
Title: Groundcover for foot traffic in dry shade from Prineville OR
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in central Oregon. I have an area under a large elm tree that slopes on all sides and has lots of foot traffic and no sun. (my kids have a swing in the tree and play around it a lot.) It's a very light dusty dirt that's hard to soak with water. What kind of ground cover will actually grow and or hold up to little feet and no sun, and not end up in a pile at the bottom of the slope?

ANSWER:

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only North America but to the area in which those plants evolved; in your case, Crook County OR, in central Oregon. We are pretty sure there is no such plant, native or non-native, that can withstand the conditions you describe. You not only have the heavy shade that not many plants tolerate as well as the competition of underground roots from the tree.

If no weeds, probably native grasses, have managed to pop up and survive there, that is a strong indication that nothing else is going to, either. There are a few taller grasses that can tolerate some shade, but they are not low groundcovers and would not survive to maturity with all that foot traffic.

Often, in cases like this, we suggest mulch for groundcover but, as you have already pointed out, that would go right down the hillside. Same with pea gravel and it would not be kind to small knees and feet.

We have a couple of suggestions that are pretty feeble and don't involve plants. The first is that an early morning light sprinkling of water on the area would hopefully suppress the dust without causing muddy footprints in your house.

Another totally off-the-wall possibility is artificial turf. From Wikipedia:

"Artificial turf is a surface of synthetic fibers made to look like natural grass. It is most often used in arenas for sports that were originally or are normally played on grass. However, it is now being used on residential lawns and commercial applications as well. The main reason is maintenance—artificial turf stands up to heavy use, such as in sports, and requires no irrigation or trimming. Domed, covered, and partially covered stadiums may require artificial turf because of the difficulty of getting grass enough sunlight to stay healthy. But artificial turf does have its downside: limited life, periodic cleaning requirements, petroleum use, toxic chemicals from infill, and some heightened health and safety concerns."

There are definite disadvantages, obviously, for a children's play area, and only you can make a decision on that. When we searched online on "artificial turf," all we got were advertisements, including for online ordering and delivery. Frankly, we think we would go with the dirt.

 

More Groundcovers Questions

Plants for narrow strip between sidewalk and fence
May 01, 2008 - I have a strip of land about 5 inches wide and 30 feet long -- between the fence and the sidewalk -- that I would like to plant something that would look nice and wouldn't require the weedeater every...
view the full question and answer

Grass installation with plugs from Austin
February 05, 2013 - As much as I would love to use the seed mixture you suggest for Austin, I am not physically able to do the needed prep and was unable last year to get a professional. No one would even call me back wh...
view the full question and answer

Silver ponyfoot becoming invasive in College Station TX
May 08, 2013 - How can I control or get rid of an established Dichondra groundcover? I bought a few plants of D. argentea from your sale a few years ago, and in that time they've done really well in the area I plan...
view the full question and answer

Starting over on a lawn in Heath TX
April 02, 2013 - Unless one counts dichondra as grass I have more weeds than grass in my yard.I have hand pulled the weeds and used an organic program without success. The soil is a hard clay typical of North Texas. I...
view the full question and answer

Destruction of Straggler Daisy in Austin
December 18, 2011 - I hate Straggler Daisy. Not to be offensive, but it appears from other posts on this site that you, Mr. Smarty Plants, and many others would like to treat it as a protected species. It is taking over ...
view the full question and answer

Smarty Plants's Facebook profile Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.

Mr. Smarty Plants wants you to be his Facebook friend. Click the Facebook icon to add yourself to Mr. Smarty Plants list of friends.