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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.

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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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Friday - December 07, 2007

From: Accord, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Mowable sedge for Zone 5, New York
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

My wife (who is from Austin!) and I have a house in New York, warmish Zone 5. We are seeking a grass-like groundcover for lawn areas ranging from full to partial shade. We have a well-drained hill needing erosion control, almost-fully-shaded areas needing a low-growing cover that could be mowed or let alone, and flatter areas with decent drainage, but enough moisture in places to drown the ryegrass planted by the builder for temporary erosion control. Mowability and durability is a requirement, as I'd like some traditional lawn space for occasional sports. Attractive foliage and deer resistance are also desirable. Soil is both our native soil and a sandy mix put down by the builder around the house. Large numbers of hard and soft wood trees provide many leaves, which we mulch in the fall. Is there one sedge that can cover all our needs?

ANSWER:

This is a toughie. No one said Mr. Smarty Plants could come up with everything, but we tried hard. The most difficult requirement we encountered in our research was mowability. In order to find the five candidates we came up with, we went first to "Plant Database", and down the page to the "Combination Search". There, we filled in the criteria as: State-New York, Growing Habit-grass or grass-like, Light requirements-part to full shade and Moisture-wet.

Carex amphibola (eastern narrowleaf sedge) . This sedge is listed as endangered in New Jersey and New York, so I'm not sure about its availability, but it's good for erosion and wet conditions.

Carex frankii (Frank's sedge) . This apparently grows up to 2-1/2 feet tall, so, unless it took severe mowing well, it's probably not a good candidate.

Carex plantaginea (plantainleaf sedge) .This sedge grows to 1 to 2 feet tall, same problem as above.

Elymus canadensis (Canada wildrye) . This is a ryegrass, which you already said you didn't want, and besides, it grows 2 to 4 feet.

Carex pedunculata (longstalk sedge) . This looks like it might be a winner. On this North American Native Plant Society site, this writer was enthusiastic over this sedge. She also mentions several other native sedges which we don't happen to have on our Native Plant Database, but might be well worth your researching on Google. And she has information on the availability and propagation of the sedges. We found no references to its mowability, but this particular sedge was referred to as 5 inches tall. You might not need to mow.

Now, you get your homework assignment. First, we would suggest you follow the above links and read the information in our database about each plant. A few of them have pictures, as well. If you feel we chose the wrong criteria for our search (too much moisture, not enough sun?), you can do the "Combination Search" for yourself. It will give you a list that fits the requirements you have put in, and you can check the data pages on each of them. And, then go through the article on the North American Native Plant Society site, and see if our nominee for the award is a winner.

Finally, thank you for planning to use plants native to North America and to your geographical area in your landscaping. The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is all about using native plants as a benefit to the environment.

 

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