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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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Wednesday - July 22, 2015

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Lawn for a Shady & Wet area in Austin, TX
Answered by: Larry Larson

QUESTION:

We have a drainage area that has appeared in our back yard since the neighbors’ homes were built. When we get heavy rains (like this year) all their drainage flows into our back yard and forms a river of sorts. We planted a full pallet of sod to match what had been there and it has "drowned" leaving us out $150 and a day's work. :( The area is both pretty shady and when it rains it gets super wet. If we wait until fall should we plant shady grass seed? Put some tent over it due to many deer and birds? Use the green rollout seed/carpet? Get a variety of sod that the supplier recommends for shade? Just confused and can't have all this mud dirt so near to our patio (we have 1 1/2 acres and leave most wild but this is next to the house). Thanks!!

ANSWER:

Breath deep – never fear, the Austin weather has interposed and I assume the last dry month has made your situation better.  Nevertheless, you want to plant the area with plants that will deal well with the shade and occaisionally getting soaked.  You are right about waiting towards fall; Planting in the heat of summer is self-defeating.  Not too late though, as you want your groundcover established before winter!

I always try to review what has come down on Mr Smarty Plants before, I found the following when searching the MSP archives for Austin groundcovers for shady application:
Compatibility of mixed ground covers with St. Agustine grass
Strip Groundcover for Austin, TX
  
Shade grasses for central Texas  
Native lawn replacement for shady areas in Austin  
Sunny and shady lawns from Austin  
Grass for shady area  

There’s plenty more, but that’s probably enough.

You didn’t specify how much shade you had, notice that there is a difference in recommendations between full shade [< 2 hrs sun], partial shade [2-6 hours of sun] and "sun" is more exposure.  Some grasses can deal with partial shade, but for full shade, most of the time sedges and groundcovers are recommended.

In reading those recommendations, I looked for plants that deal well with shade and partial shade and might have wet feet for a while – These look like good possibilities:

Sedges:  Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge), Carex texensis (Texas sedge),

Groundcovers:   Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy), Phyla nodiflora (Texas frogfruit), Salvia lyrata (Lyreleaf sage), Geum canadense (White avens)

If you read the different discussions and also the plant records, you may be able to try some other plants that accept dry soil and/or more sun.  

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Horseherb
Calyptocarpus vialis

Texas frogfruit
Phyla nodiflora

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata

White avens
Geum canadense

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