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?

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
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

Wednesday - September 11, 2013

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Native lawn replacement for shady areas in Austin
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Our front lawn was totally destroyed this summer during some remodeling construction. I am interested in replacing it with native grasses, but we have several oak trees that keep the area fairly shady. I do not think the Habiturf mix will establish well, from what I've read about it. Is there another mix or type that might be better for shadier areas?

ANSWER:

In our queue of questions for Mr. Smarty Plants today we have two questions from two entirely different parts of the country, both asking for lawn selection help. To help you know what page we are on in terms of lawn grasses, please read this recent article from the New York Times "Lose the Lawn".

You are correct, the Wildflower Center-developed Habiturf needs from 4 to 5 hours of sun a day, which makes it almost impossible to grow in shade. Another problem is that besides shedding shade on the ground beneath them, most oaks emit substances that discourage plant competition in their territory. This is called "allelopathy," and is also common with members of the Juglandaceae family - walnuts, pecans and hickories - causing havoc with attempts to plant grass or other groundcovers under those trees.

Having dealt with your plantings, we must attempt to help you find alternates, not an easy task. From a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer on Austin lawns:

"More and more, we are encouraging gardeners to move away from grass or formal lawn, especially in drought-stricken Texas, and more especially, shady lawns. Here is a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer that might point you in some good directions. From another Mr. Smarty Plants answer:

We would suggest you consider putting something else beneath those trees and perhaps embark on a process of xeriscaping. From eartheasy, here is an excellent article on Xeriscape. Obviously, you do not have to do every single thing suggested for xeriscaping, but you can start small and work your way up. Without knowing exactly what else is going on in your garden, we would suggest covering the oak roots and bare ground with a nice layer of mulch. Please read our How-To Article Under Cover with Mulch.

A good quality shredded bark mulch will make a nice cool surface for the ground, sheltering the tree roots from heat and the sun, discouraging weeds from sprouting and preserving moisture in the soil. It will tend to scatter or decompose, sinking into the soil and making it healthier, over time, but it's an easy fix to spread some more on the area. And it doesn't have to be mowed. We had one letter from a homeowner this week that said they were so over grass, and we feel, in this hot, dry climate, that may be a very good idea."

If you live in an HOA that mandates a certain percentage of grass and/or St. Augustine you may have to see if you can get an exception.

We can offer you a few suggestion for native grasses and other herbs (herbaceous blooming plants) but these are not necessarily what you would call traditional lawn grasses. Most of them cannot tolerate continuous foot traffic; for those areas in which foot traffic occurs you could consider the mulch, small gravel or degenerated granite for walkways.

To offer you a list of native groundcovers, we will go to our Native Plant Database, scroll down to the Combination Search, selecting first on Texas, "grass or grass-like" under Habit, "dry" for soil moisture, "shade" (less than 2 hours of sun a day) and "part shade" (2 to 6 hours of sun a day), and 0' to 1' in height. You can follow each plant link on our list to our webpage on that plant to learn its growing conditions, propagation methods and see some pictures. If you scroll down to the bottom of that page you can click on the USDA Plant Profiles for that plant to learn if it is native to the area in which you are gardening. We usually check on this with every plant we recommend, in order to assure that plant can live in the rainfall, climate and soils in which you garden. We will run the exact same search for "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants).

Low grasses for for part shade to shade in Austin:

Carex planostachys (Cedar sedge)

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

Low herbaceous blooming plants for shade in Austin:

Amblyolepis setigera (Huisache daisy)

Callirhoe involucrata (Winecup)

Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy)

Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea)

Dichondra argentea (Silver ponyfoot)

Glandularia bipinnatifida (Purple prairie verbena)

Hedeoma drummondii (Drummond's false pennyroyal)

If you have difficulty finding these plants native to Texas in your area nurseries (and you probably will) go to our National Suppliers Directory, put you town and state or just your zipcode in the Enter Search Location box, press GO and you will get a list of native plant nurseries, seed companies and consultants in your general area. They have contact information so you can get in touch to find out what they have before you start shopping.

 

From the Image Gallery


Cedar sedge
Carex planostachys

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Huisache daisy
Amblyolepis setigera

Winecup
Callirhoe involucrata

Straggler daisy
Calyptocarpus vialis

Partridge pea
Chamaecrista fasciculata

Silver ponyfoot
Dichondra argentea

Purple prairie verbena
Glandularia bipinnatifida

Drummond's false pennyroyal
Hedeoma drummondii

More Groundcovers Questions

Ground cover for Thornton CO
June 04, 2012 - I want to order ground cover because I don't want to mess with grass any more. I live in Colorado, north of Denver. The soil has a lot of clay. I tried clover and that did not do well. My yard is par...
view the full question and answer

Low maintenance, shade tolerant groundcover for Pacific Northwest
August 09, 2012 - What's a good low maintenance, shade tolerant ground cover for the Pacific Northwest? It needs to have good erosion control, too.
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for Connecticut sandy gravel bank
January 11, 2012 - What ground cover plant can I use on a sandy gravel bank behind my house?
view the full question and answer

Non-toxic Groundcover for North-Central Texas
April 07, 2011 - I need a creeping ground cover for shade that is non-toxic to dogs. I had planned on Swedish ivy until I read it was toxic. Is Asian jasmine toxic? Or, do you have any suggestions?
view the full question and answer

Specifications for a property in Corning CA
March 29, 2012 - Drought resistant, deer resistant, low growing (ground cover), and shade tolerant request: I am looking for a variety of species that not only fit the above preferences, but also a few other things. ...
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.
E-NEWSLETTER | BECOME A MEMBER | DONATE NOW | MEDIA | SITEMAP
© 2014 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center