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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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Tuesday - June 07, 2005

From: Portland, ME
Region: Northeast
Topic: Turf
Title: Low maintenance native plants for sloping lawn in Maine
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Hello, we live in Maine and have clay-ey soil with a lot of sun. I suspect the soil is acidic as well. We would like to replace at least part of our small front lawn with native ground cover or grasses. The lawn is steeply sloped in some places and mowing is a big problem. Also, we have a lot of weeds now and are concerned that getting a lawn going would require the use of lots of pesticides and herbicides which we would like to avoid. Do you have any suggestions for native plants that would not be too time consuming?

ANSWER:

Grasses generally do well in sunny areas. Fescue grasses (Genus Festuca) are low growing, have very fine texture, tolerate drought, grow both in the sun and shade, and prefer acid soil. There is an excellent article, Low & Slow Fescues by Stevie Daniels, that describes their use and the characteristics of several different species of Festuca. The Prairie Nursery in Westfield, Wisconsin has the "no-mow" fescue seed mix. Steve Daniels also has an article, Planting a Native Grass Lawn Step by Step to guide you through the process. You can also download an article in PDF format, Native Lawns, from the Native Plant Library on our web page. Although the article is geared towards Buffalo grass and Central Texas, it has tips for preparing the site and maintaining the lawn.

Suggestions for partial sun or shade includes two ferns: 1) Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides). Connecticut Botanical Society has pictures. And, 2) Sweet-fern (Comptonia peregrina).

Three ground cover plants that would do well in Maine in the shade are: 1) Canadian bunchberry (Cornus canadensis), 2) Trailing-arbutus (Epigaea repens), and 3) Red Bearberry or Kinnikinnik (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi). This last one will also grow in partial shade.
 

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