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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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Tuesday - June 18, 2013

From: Roeland Park, KS
Region: Midwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like, Shrubs
Title: Groundcovers over roots in Roeland Park KS
Answered by: Larry Larson

QUESTION:

Large Hackberry tree (aprox 50+years) roots are popping up above ground making mowing under/around it impossible. Is there a plant, ground cover, something I can plant, or cover the roots with that will not harm this wonderful tree?

ANSWER:

   I don’t think you have to be too worried about your Celtis laevigata (Sugar hackberry) as it is native to most of the Mid- and Southern US and is a very well adapted species.  Still, Mr Smarty Plants knows your issue as we have a Hackberry just beyond the back fence and the roots make mowing there very difficult.

  I’m thinking where your question is headed is that you want a groundcover or ornamental shrub so that you can plant them over the rooted area and thus forgo mowing. 

As to possible groundcovers, Here are two previous Mr Smarty Plants question/answer pairs towards the use of groundcovers.
Shade ground cover under honeysuckle from Wichita KS
Groundcover for part shade/shade in Oklahoma.

From these, I can suggest Viola missouriensis (Missouri violet) and Phyla nodiflora (Texas frogfruit) as good choices, they grow to about 6” high and have a pleasing enough appearance that you may not need to mow over those roots [while they will be hidden!]

Similarly, here are two question/answer pairs towards the use of grasses.
Native Grasses for Kansas City 
Turf grass for part-time home from Louisville KY  
The Wildflower Center recommends a turfgrass mix called "Habiturf".  This is the "How-to" article with information.   Obviously, a properly chosen native grass can be very attractive and naturally keep to a length that means you don't need to mow under the Hackberry.  

 In either case, one of the issues you will need to deal with is that for the planting to be totally successfull, you will need to remove the grass and patrol the area until the natives are well established to keep whatever is there down until the area is converted.

Adding some shrubs for visual interest may be something you desire.  My recommendation is to use the "Recommended Species" page for Kansas, then select "Shrub" as habit.  This leaves you with a list of 15 posssible native shrubs. From my examination of this list, low shrubs that have some ornamental nature include Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea), Rosa blanda (Smooth rose), and Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)

 

From the Image Gallery


Missouri violet
Viola missouriensis

Texas frogfruit
Phyla nodiflora

Missouri violet
Viola missouriensis

Blue grama
Bouteloua gracilis

Prairie verbena
Glandularia bipinnatifida

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Smooth rose
Rosa blanda

Coralberry
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

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