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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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Thursday - April 09, 2015

From: Saginaw , MI
Region: Midwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Turf, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Lawn Options for Saginaw, MI
Answered by: Larry Larson

QUESTION:

I'm looking for a low maintenance, high traffic lawn alternative. Will Texas Frogfruit handle the winter? My yard is small so covering it is an option.

ANSWER:

Phyla nodiflora (Texas frogfruit) is one of Mr Smarty Plants favorite alternate groundcovers, but you have two strikes going against you.  Its pretty healthy here in Texas, but even then paths that get regular usage find it worn down. I'm pretty sure “high traffic” would be of issue.  Also – I checked the USDA Plant Profile and it is only native north to about Missouri, so it’s clear that Michigan is too far north.

  So, what else is out there that might do?   Michigan has 18 native grasses that should survive the winter.  This link is to the Special Collection for Michigan. If you then sort that for "Grasses", there are only that 18.

   Selecting from these for those that can stand high traffic is a bit harder.  None of the official measures listed at the Wildflower Center or at the USDA specifically address capacity to stand traffic!  Still, we can read the plant records for indications.  Most of the grasses are tall prairie grasses, but a few are low and turf forming.  That’s where my vote goes.   Consider trying:

 Pascopyrum smithii (Western wheatgrass), Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)Koeleria macrantha (Prairie junegrass), or perhaps Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama).

 

From the Image Gallery


Western wheatgrass
Pascopyrum smithii

Pennsylvania sedge
Carex pensylvanica

Prairie junegrass
Koeleria macrantha

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

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