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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 - November 24, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Tough grasses for shade
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

What kind of grass/groundcover can I put in our backyard that is shady/dry and has 50 lb. high energy dog traffic? Was considering Horse Herb but not sure, as it sounds like you can't get rid of it, if you don't like it. Also, how will I see the poop to scoop? Texas Sedge, in the City of Austin Landscape Plants Guide is listed as growing 6-8" high. This site has it at a foot, and the picture of it looked taller than 6-8". I am interested in it because it will withstand foot traffic. Also, I have a couple of boggy areas that have appeared (one with a couple of puddles that stay there). This started after the bull creek flood - sopping wet black mud/muck. The garden guy on the radio suggested Wood Fern or Inland Sea Oats. I have procured some seeds of the Inland Sea Oats and possibly some small plants. The fern didn't sound like it would withstand foot traffic. We backup to a natural area-NW Austin. The St. Augustine sod we planted in the Spring is all but done for. This area has some fill dirt on top; the boggy areas don't. Also, if you could please tell me where I might find your suggested plants/seeds,including the Texas Sedge (if that is a viable option), I would greatly appreciate it. Thanks,

ANSWER:

Have you considered Astroturf? But wait, that hasn't been designated a native species (yet).

Finding a pleasing ground cover under your conditions is challenging. I like your idea of sedges. Carex planostachys (Cedar sedge) is a common sedge growing wild under cedars in the Austin area, but it may be hard to find seeds or inexpensive plants. An apparently similar sedge is Lawn Sedge, Carex leavenwothii, available from Pat McNeal, a local grower. Sedges might have to be put in as plugs of the intact plant rather than seed.

A lot of people like the looks of Horse Herb, also known as Calyptocarpus vialis (Straggler daisy). It would nicely complement your sedges and is not so invasive that you couldn't get rid of it by acting promptly if it doesn't satisfy you. It is low-growing and therefore scoop-friendly.

If you do not want to fill in the boggy spots in your yard, consider Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge) or Carex texensis (Texas sedge), both of which prefer moist soil. These latter two grow somewhat taller then Lawn Sedge. Carex texensis is available from a California grower, Greenlee Nursery. Thelypteris kunthii (Wood fern) would look good if planted out of the direct path of your pooch. Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats) is also a good bet. During the summer it sends up flowering heads to about two feet, so it too should be placed out of the beaten path. But it is tough, and the seed heads are very attractive.

Click on the underlined plant names above for more information on each. I attach representative images below.

 

From the Image Gallery


Cedar sedge
Carex planostachys



Wood fern
Thelypteris kunthii

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

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