En EspaŅol

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?


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
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
1 rating

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


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?


   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

Purple prairie verbena
Glandularia bipinnatifida

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Smooth rose
Rosa blanda

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Burning back Gulf Muhly instead of trimming from San Antonio
December 19, 2011 - A few years ago I noticed that the Center burned back its Gulf Muhly rather than cutting it back. Did that study result in any conclusions or recommendations?
view the full question and answer

Tree without extensive root system in Ozark, AL
April 10, 2009 - I would like to plant a tree (in full sun next to a brick house wall) that doesn't have an extensive root system. I have concerns about the roots and the water/septic lines, as well as the concrete h...
view the full question and answer

Eliminating crabgrass in Middletown MO
September 28, 2009 - Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I am having trouble with my lawn, specifically with the crabgrass in it. It now covers over 1/3 of it. I started using corn gluten meal this year, with limited tangible succ...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a slope in WV
June 01, 2011 - I live in the northern panhandle of WV. We have a hill side in front of our home and are getting too old to cut it. What would be the best ground cover for it. We want something that looks good and wi...
view the full question and answer

When to harvest native grass seeds?
May 29, 2015 - We are trying to restore native grasses to a small pasture between Oak Hill and Dripping Springs. Last spring (2014), we seeded a mix of sideoats grama, little bluestem, dahl bluestem, and sprangleto...
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.
© 2015 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center