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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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Monday - August 11, 2014

From: Houston, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Pollinators, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Soil Loosener/Pollinator Plants for Houston
Answered by: Larry Larson

QUESTION:

I am trying to establish a mostly-native pollinator way-station in a recently purchased lot in a 100 year old neighborhood in Houston. Much of the property has a thick layer of oyster shell four to six inches under the soil. It is also highly compacted, particularly in a section that was used as a driveway. Some spots have water standing for days after heavy rains. Are there native grasses (or other plants) with deep roots that would help to break up this man-made root barrier? (I am working with a limited budget.)

ANSWER:

   That sounds a great idea for your lot.  The best treatment for your layer of oyster shell is to deeply turn in a good mixture of compost and other loosening agents such as decomposed granite.  Expecting that this is a more of a major project than you’re looking for at the moment, here’s how I go about discovering the information stored within the Wildflower Center for helpful plants.

First, I check what has been already published on Mr. Smarty Plants.  Here are a series of question/answer pairs regarding Groundcovers near Houston; they contain both plant suggestions and good advice. 
Sources for ruellia from Houston
Looking for a native turf grass for the Houston area
How Can I Replace my Lawn with Natives in Houston, Texas
Native grass mix suitable for Houston
Indeed, you might check the "Native Groundcovers" list on the Houston Chapter of NPSOT's Native Plant Guide for possibilites of a groundcover or groundcovers to use on your lawn.

Similarly, here are a set of question/answer pairs when  I looked for pollinators for South Texas:

Bee Plants for Victoria Texas
Adding Wildflowers to Corpus Christi

Will Salvia coccinea bloom in shade in Houston?  
Clover for possible lawn area in The Woodlands, TX

The thought here is that several of these pollinator friendly plants also have deep root systems and can easily serve in the attempt to loosen the oyster shell, while you will also have pollinator friendly plants.

  My second method to find suggestions is to just “do it myself”.  If you call up the Wildflower Centers list of “recommended species”, you can search this list for plants with selected attributes. I selected the list for “Gulf marshes and prairies”.  Then, looking at herbs that prefer full sun and can tolerate wet or moist soil, here is a selection of plants that should help the situation.  [You have to read the “benefits” section for any comments about pollinators.]

Ceanothus americanus (New jersey tea) - - -  Comments in the plant record: supports pollinators – lives in inhospitable conditions because of its massive deep roots [!!].
Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea) -  - - supports pollinators
Salvia lyrata (Lyreleaf sage) - - - supports pollinators  

And for grasses:
Poa arachnifera (Texas bluegrass) 
Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)
Carex texensis(Texas sedge)

 

From the Image Gallery


Violet ruellia
Ruellia nudiflora

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Pigeonberry
Rivina humilis

Lemon beebalm
Monarda citriodora

Cardinal flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Roundhead prairie clover
Dalea multiflora

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Partridge pea
Chamaecrista fasciculata

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata

Texas bluegrass
Poa arachnifera

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

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