Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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

Please forgive us, but Mr. Smarty Plants has been overwhelmed by a flood of mail and must take a break for awhile to catch up. We hope to be accepting new questions again soon. Thank you!

Need help with plant identification, visit the plant identification page.

 
rate this answer
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - November 16, 2014

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Planting, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Shade grasses for central Texas
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

We are new to the area and bought a home this summer that has lots of shade in the very small backyard. The problem is that there was new sod laid in the backyard which now is 50% dead. We do not know if there was not enough water or died because of shade. We have a larger dog so having grass for the dog to use is very important. We did hire an arborist about 6 weeks ago to trim trees. The backyard is to the west and there are numerous large slanting live oaks. What is the best shade grass to plant? The sunlight is only filtered through the trees. Is having any grass grow possible? How do we evaluate sunlight? What type of grass would you recommend? There is still some thin grass remaining on one section that they planted but we can not figure out what kind it is? Thank you for your advice.

ANSWER:

Unfortunataely, there are no good native turf grasses that do well in shade.  You may have had St. Augustine sod (that is a non-native which does fairly well in light shade, but we don't recommend it because of the high amount of water it requires).

One grass that I grow in shade as a ground cover is Paspalum setaceum (Thin paspalum).  It grows only a few inches high and the rather unattractive foot-tall seed heads can be controlled by mowing.  If you and your dog can accept taller species, consider the following suggestions, taken from a previous Mr. Smarty Plants answer:

Bouteloua curtipendula (sideoats grama), the State Grass of Texas, 2-3 feet

Bouteloua hirsuta (hairy grama), 10-18 inches

Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats), 2-4 feet, a particularly attractive plant

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye), 2-4 feet

Poa arachnifera (Texas bluegrass), 2-3 feet

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem), 2-4 feet

You might also consider using sedges.  They make very good groundcovers and they tend to be rather short.  You can read about their use for lawns in Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape by John Greenlee.

Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge), 1-3 feet

Carex cherokeensis (Cherokee sedge), 12-18 inches

Carex planostachys (cedar sedge), less than 12 inches

Carex texensis (Texas sedge), 10-12 inches

Finally, here are groundcovers that aren't grasses or grass-like, are less than 18 inches high and will grow in the shade or part shade.

Seeds for many of these plants may be obtained at your local plant nurseries.  Native American Seed is a particularly good source.

Calyptocarpus vialis (straggler daisy)

Phyla nodiflora (turkey tangle fogfruit)

Geum canadense (white avens)


Bouteloua curtipendula     Bouteloua hirsuta         Chasmanthium latifolium
    
Elymus canadensis        Poa arachnifera               Carex blanda
 


Carex cherokeensis                       Carex planostachys                     Carex texens
is

 

 

 

 


Calyptocarpus vialis                    Phyla nodiflora                         Geum canadense

 

 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Mexican feathergrass from Pflugerville, TX
January 23, 2013 - How deep are the roots of Nassella tenuissima? I'm looking for something that could possibly discourage my neighbors' bermuda grass from encroaching into my native plantings.
view the full question and answer

Native grasses for central Georgia
August 06, 2011 - We've just bought a 1990 circa house in Dallas, Georgia. It sits on a .62 acre lot. One half of the lot is woods, the rest is lawn. The lawn is covered mostly with weeds and wild strawberries. ...
view the full question and answer

How can I control Rescue Grass in my newly seeded prairie restoration?
March 25, 2009 - Hello, This past fall I solarized the existing turfgrass in my front yard and seeded with the native tallgrass prairie grasses and wildflowers. My goal is to restore a small patch of tall grass pr...
view the full question and answer

Holding soil on a bank in Goldsboro, NC
July 25, 2010 - I live in Goldsboro, NC on a small ridge with a very steep bank on one side of our property. What native plants can we plant on the bank to help hold the soil. Also, what would be best to plant on t...
view the full question and answer

Tall native grasses for privacy in Central Texas
June 29, 2013 - Hi- I am looking for a grass that will grow tall and be thick for privacy. I live here in Austin east of 35. Obviously something draught tolerant would be great! Thank you!
view the full question and answer

Support the Wildflower Center by Donating Online or Becoming a Member today.