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Thursday - March 12, 2015

From: Kernersville, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Meadow Gardens, Drought Tolerant, Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Groundcover for Road Frontage in NC
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I need a fast growing ground cover or perennial flower for 1,000 feet of road frontage about one acre that will choke out weeds. I do not want to do much ground prep or any ground prep. I do not want climbing vines as trees border the area. It is a very busy road and mowing is getting dangerous. It is mostly flat except one end of it has a steep ditch. I am located in Kernersville, NC.


Why not use native grasses and grass-like plants to create a meadow-like groundcover that doesn’t need mowing? These plants should ultimately fill in and choke out the weeds. Perhaps an idea is to recreating the original native landscape for your area.

Some possibilities from our Native Plant Database include:

Agrostis scabra (Fly-away grass)

Rough bent or ticklegrass is a perennial clump grass, 3 1/2 ft. tall, with long, delicate branches that branch again toward the top. The inflorescence is wide and occupies most of the height of the plant. At first, the inflorescence is purple-green and shining, then tan. It often breaks off and floats around like a tumbleweed.

Andropogon ternarius (splitbeard bluestem)

This is a 1 1/2 ft. bunchgrass which can reach 4 ft. in height. Ribbon-like leaves are often purplish and the silvery-white seed tufts are borne in yellow bracts along the stem. Mature plants are 6-12 in. in diameter. Split-beard bluestem is a perennial. Frequently found growing with Little Bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) in southeastern areas with well-drained sandy or gravelly soil, Splitbeard Bluestem is notable primarily for its silvery white seed tufts, which catch the light and look particularly attractive with the sun behind them.

Aristida purpurea var. longiseta (red three-awn)

The culms and leaf blades of this densely tufted, perennial bunchgrass rise 8-12 in. in height. The seedhead is narrow and erect with ascending branches. Three long, reddish bristles extend from each flower. Taller and more robust populations occurring eastward to Minnesota and west to Washington and California were once referred to as Aristida longiseta var. robusta.

Bromus inermis (smooth brome)

A rhizomatous, clump-forming, perennial grass bearing many light green (sometimes purple- or bronze-tinged), narrow, usually hairless spikelets in a loose, much-branched terminal cluster. This drought-resistant Eurasian species was deliberately introduced into the United States around 1880 as a hay and pasture grass and for reseeding western ranges. It has since gone wild throughout the United States and much of Canada (except the far north) and is now one of our most common weedy grasses; in some areas it is considered an undesirable plant because of its aggressiveness. However, its deep roots make it an excellent soil binder, protecting against erosion. Relished by all kinds of livestock, it is a fine forage. The species name means unarmed, alluding to the spikelets, which do not have the long bristles characteristic of some of Smooth Bromes relatives. A rare variant has hairy spikelets.

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Pennsylvania sedge is a low, clumped, grass-like perennial, 6-12 in. high, with a cluster of brown seed capsules clinging high on the stem. Foliage is pale-green in spring and summer, turning sandy-tan in fall. Rhizomatous turf-forming with pale-green arching leaves. Forms ground cover in forest or savannah (oak/pine or sugar maple) Prefers light-textured soils. Resistant to deer grazing.  

Carex texensis (Texas sedge)

Texas Sedge, one of the most common sedges in central Texas, is a good turf substitute for dry to moist shade, colonizing densely by rhizomes. It can be mowed at a high setting. Moist, well-drained sands mostly, but adaptable to many soils. A good shade groundcover for naturalizing and landscape restoration, particularly in sandy areas under Post Oaks (Quercus stellata).

Digitaria cognata (Carolina crabgrass)

Knotty at base, open panicles of spikelets on slender, spreading branches and pedicles. Culms: 30-80 cm. tall, much-branched at base. Inflorescence: Breaks off to form a tumbleweed.

Elymus hystrix (Eastern bottlebrush grass)

Greenish-brown, bristly spikelets in several to many clusters along a terminal spike atop an erect smooth stem. Together, the groups of spikelets resemble a bottlebrush, hence the common name. The species name, from the Greek hystrix (hedgehog), aptly describes the bristly spikelets. This grass is sometimes known as Hystrix patula.

Muhlenbergia emersleyi (bullgrass)

Panicum virgatum (switchgrass)

Clump-forming, warm-season grass with open, lacy sprays with small seeds, Aug-Oct. Purple stigmas at flowering time. Switchgrass is a 3-6 ft., rhizomatous, loose sod former with a large, open, finely textured, reddish-purple seedhead. Fall color is pale yellow. Bright green leaves occur up and down the stem, turning bright yellow in fall. Switchgrass is a perennial. Grows in large clumps, with many persistent, curly leaves. Switchgrass is one of the dominant species of the tallgrass prairie, but also grows along roadsides where moisture is present. The rich, yellow-colored clumps last throughout the winter.

Schizachyrium scoparium (little bluestem)

Little false bluestem is a very ornamental bunchgrass with fine-textured foliage that forms very dense mounds18-24 in. in height. Slender, blue-green stems, appearing in August, reach 3 ft. by September and become radiant mahogany-red with white, shining seed tufts in the fall. Color remains nearly all winter. Perennial clumps grow up to a foot in diameter. This mid-prairie species, also known as Bunchgrass, gets its name from the bluish color of the stem bases in the spring, but most striking is the plants reddish-tan color in fall, persisting through winter snows. In winter the seeds, fuzzy white at maturity, are of particular value to small birds. A related species, Big Bluestem or Turkeyfoot (Andropogon gerardii), has finger-like seed heads that somewhat resemble a turkeys foot. It reaches a height of 12 ft (3.6 m) in favorable bottomland sites and is also one of the most important native prairie grasses in the East.

For more information on North Carolina Native Plants, including some links to roadside plants, The NC Native Plant Society has a list of resources on their website.


From the Image Gallery

Splitbeard bluestem
Andropogon ternarius

Red three-awn
Aristida purpurea var. longiseta

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Carolina crabgrass
Digitaria cognata

Eastern bottlebrush grass
Elymus hystrix

Muhlenbergia emersleyi

Panicum virgatum

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

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