Host an Event Volunteer Join Tickets

Support the plant database you love!

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?

Share

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

Wednesday - December 22, 2010

From: Newark, DE
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Groundcovers
Title: Ground cover for under a maple tree in DE
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

In my front yard in Newark, Delaware, I have a HUGE maple tree that shades the whole yard and most of its roots are visible and make the yard very "bumpy." Consequently, grass does not grow well there but I'm not that turf-happy so no big deal. Recently, because the same maple tree invaded the plumbing system, I had to have the whole front yard back-hoed to replace the sewer pipe. In the springtime, I have a great opportunity to replace the skimpy grass with another ground cover. I'd like to know some candidates that you might suggest to curtail erosion and dirt from washing away and at the same time be more attractive than the old grass. Thanks in advance for your help!

ANSWER:

I don't have to tell you that your situation is a tough one.  You must really love that tree that it is still standing after having to dig up your front yard.

As you know, turf grasses will barely survive, let alone thrive in such a dry and shady envirnoment.  But there are some plants native to your area that will.  The first one that comes to mind is sedge.  Check out this article by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden: Sedge Lawns for Every Landscape; you may find it is just what you need.

Two sedges native to Delaware are:

Carex blanda (Eastern woodland sedge)

Carex pensylvanica (Pennsylvania sedge)

Other plants which you might try if foot traffic is not a concern are:

Gaultheria procumbens (Checkerberry)

Geranium maculatum (Spotted geranium)

Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa (Roundlobe hepatica)

Mitchella repens (Partridgeberry)

Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum (Bracken fern)

Viola pedata (Birdfoot violet)

You can find more recommendations by doing a Combination Search on our Native Plant Database, selecting Delaware/the plant type you are looking for/and the light and soil conditions of your site.

If you want to prevent erosion, you will want to select a plant that spreads readily instead of forming clumps (that would be the only downside of the sedges ... you would have to plant them fairly close together to prevent erosion).  There are many agressive ground covers available in nurseries in your area that would do the job, but we cannot recommend them as they are mostly non-native and have the potential to do serious ecological damage if they become invasive.

You can improve the soil between the lumpy surface roots by cultivating it gently and adding organic material, but you should not significantly cover and suffocate them.  Removing the surface roots is sometimes a possibility, but that will always impact the tree's vitality to some degree.

 


Carex blanda


Carex pensylvanica


Gaultheria procumbens


Geranium maculatum


Hepatica nobilis var. obtusa


Mitchella repens


Pteridium aquilinum var. pseudocaudatum


Viola pedata

 

 

 

More Groundcovers Questions

Groundcover for clay soil in Southern California
August 08, 2012 - I live in Southern California and have hard packed clay soil in my yard. Could you recommend ground cover that would be green, low to the ground, require little water and survive in clay? I can't a...
view the full question and answer

Replacing Weeds with Native Plants in Dallas Area
May 29, 2011 - I have a large oak tree in my front yard and lots and lots of miscellaneous weeds (clover, chickweed, stickers, etc.). I am wanting to grow grass in my front yard, that is shaded pretty much most of t...
view the full question and answer

Alternative for HABITURF® in Contra Costa County, CA
September 17, 2014 - We live in Kensington, just north of Berkeley, in the San Francisco area. We intend to get rid of our water consuming lawn and we are wondering what kind of alternative you would suggest. You don't s...
view the full question and answer

Shrub or Vine for NH Slope
May 11, 2013 - I'm looking for a native plant/shrub/vine that can be used to control erosion on a relatively steep slope in New Hampshire. Do you know of any?
view the full question and answer

Coexistence of rubus trivialis and American beautyberry
May 28, 2007 - I'm growing some rubus trivialis in a 1-gal. pot and plan to plant it this fall. Will this dewberry coexist with American beautyberry, or must it have its own space entirely? If it needs its own sp...
view the full question and answer

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