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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 - February 21, 2012

From: Wichita, KS
Region: Midwest
Topic: Invasive Plants, Non-Natives, Compost and Mulch, Groundcovers, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs
Title: Shade ground cover under honeysuckle from Wichita KS
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

Hi! I know this is a bit odd, but I am trying to find a nontoxic, good ground covering plant that can live in the shade while competing with the roots of a whole bunch of honeysuckle. I have a few ideas of how to help with the root competition, but finding the right plant is getting very difficult. I know you want only North American plants, but if the plant is an Australian plant, that would be all the better!

ANSWER:

There really is no way we could help you with Australian plants. It's not so much that we WANT North American plants, that's just all we recommend at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants.

You didn't say which honeysuckle you have, but all of them can be pretty invasive, climbing up other plants and choking them out, etc. There are 19 members of the Lonicera (honeysuckle) genus native to North America, but only 2 native to Kansas. We chose Lonicera sempervirens (Coral honeysuckle) to use for an example; probably, if that is not what you have, it is closely enough related. You can follow the plant link to see what sunlight (or lack of same), soils, water and so forth that plant requires. Then, we will go from there searching for low-growing groundcovers that tolerate the same conditions. To do this, we will go first to our Native Plant Database, search on Kansas, "herbs" (herbaceous blooming plants) under Habit or General Appearance as well as "shade" under Light Requirements, and "0 to 1 ft" under Height. Then we will repeat the process, selecting "grasses or grass-like." This may give us zero answers or some you might not care for. Whether or not anything we find can compete with the honeysuckle, we don't know. We found 23 herbaceous plants that suited the qualifications  and have chosen 6 to list, but only 2 grasses, and neither seemed suitable. Follow each plant link to our webpage on that plant to learn more about it. You can also use the search technique we are demonstrating to look for other plants that you may prefer.

If all else fails, may we suggest some mulch? A good quality shredded hardwood mulch will protect the roots of the honeysuckle from heat and cold, be attractive, hold moisture in, and as it decomposes, add to the quality of the dirt. Please read our How-To Article on Under Cover with Mulch.

Low-growing herbaceous plants:

Cardamine concatenata (Cutleaf toothwort)

Camassia scilloides (Atlantic camas)

Dicentra cucullaria (Dutchman's breeches)

Erythronium albidum (White troutlily)

Phlox divaricata (Wild blue phlox)

Viola missouriensis (Missouri violet)

 

From the Image Gallery


Cutleaf toothwort
Cardamine concatenata

Atlantic camas
Camassia scilloides

Dutchman's breeches
Dicentra cucullaria

White troutlily
Erythronium albidum

Wild blue phlox
Phlox divaricata

Missouri violet
Viola missouriensis

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