Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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?


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
1 rating

Tuesday - February 23, 2016

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Ground covers for a shady spot in central Texas
Answered by: Guy Thompson


I reside in Austin, Texas and need advice on my xeriscaping project. Portions of my front yard have always been a challenge to get grass to grow, so I have xeriscaped that area with Fairland Pink granite and salvias. I have also established a small pocket prairie of Texas cupgrass based on a catalog provided by the Native American Seed Company. The remainder of the yard is largely shaded during the summer midday by a Chinese pistache tree and almost completely shaded in the late afternoon by the pistache tree and a large cedar elm. This shaded section is mostly St. Augustine grass with some other thirsty and (I think) unattractive grasses. I would like to convert this shaded area to something attractive and drought resistant. Iíve considered the granite, but it requires quite a bit of weeding and I donít especially like rock yards. They look fine in Phoenix, Tucson, and Las Vegas where much of the natural landscape is barren, but just donít look right in Austin. I would be willing to physically remove the thirsty grasses and replace them with something more drought resistant, but am at a loss for what to plant. I need an attractive, drought-resistant grass that will grow well in the shade of my front yard. It also should be attractive enough to keep the homeownerís association happy. Any suggestions?


Unfortunately, there are no low-growing (for the Neighborhood Assoc.) native grasses that grow well in central Texas in areas as shady as yours. So you will have to choose a non-grass species.  There are some grass-like sedges that are fine in shady areas, but most need at least occasional watering.  And there are several good broad-leaf candidates for your spot.

Lots of people have the same problem that you do, and many of them have asked Mr. Smarty Plants for advice.  Here are a few answers that might be helpful.  They come as the result of searching the MSP archives for Austin groundcovers for shady application:

Compatibility of mixed ground covers with St. Augustine 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.

In reading those recommendations- These look like good possibilities:

Groundcovers:  Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy)Phyla nodiflora (Texas frogfruit)Geum canadense (White avens) 

Sedges: Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge)Carex planostachys (Cedar sedge)Carex texensis (Texas sedge) 

Grasses:   Paspalum setaceum (Thin paspalum)Bouteloua hirsuta (Hairy grama) 

Herbs:  Salvia lyrata (Lyreleaf sage)Salvia roemeriana (Cedar sage)Callirhoe involucrata (Winecup)Chamaecrista fasciculata (Partridge pea)




Texas frogfruit
Phyla nodiflora

White avens
Geum canadense

Eastern woodland sedge
Carex blanda

Texas sedge
Carex texensis

Lyreleaf sage
Salvia lyrata



More Grasses or Grass-like Questions

Is Milium effusum 'aureum' native to North America from Iowa City, IA
July 23, 2013 - I have seen the cultivar grass milium effusm aureum described as a native of both Europe and the N. America. Both continents HAVE a subspecies of m. effusum. Which is more accurate; is MEA a cultivar ...
view the full question and answer

Groundcover for Laredo Texas
July 04, 2011 - I am in Laredo, TX and no longer want to waste water on grass. I would like to pull it all out and plant native, drought resistant ground cover - low growing, between 6-12 inches, sun and partial sha...
view the full question and answer

Plants for a bare clay slope in North Carolina
December 22, 2011 - Hi - I live near Raleigh North Carolina (border of the coastal plain and Piedmont). I have about 1/2 acre that was excavated for a geothermal heating/cooling system and now I need to stabilize it a...
view the full question and answer

Shade tolerant plants for erosion from Austin
May 03, 2014 - I live in Austin and my house backs up to Shoal Creek. I am looking for a native creeping vine or something that will grow on the shaded bank to help prevent erosion. It should be able to tolerate the...
view the full question and answer

Native plants for a garden in Panama City, FL
May 10, 2013 - I live in zone 9 in Florida. We are looking for plants which will be attractive all year long for the front of our house's landscaping which faces north. I need a specimen bush which doesn't get ov...
view the full question and answer

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