Contact Us Host an Event Volunteer Join

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
Not Yet Rated

Sunday - May 12, 2013

From: Prineville , OR
Region: Northwest
Topic: Erosion Control, Groundcovers, Shade Tolerant
Title: Groundcover for foot traffic in dry shade from Prineville OR
Answered by: Barbara Medford

QUESTION:

I live in central Oregon. I have an area under a large elm tree that slopes on all sides and has lots of foot traffic and no sun. (my kids have a swing in the tree and play around it a lot.) It's a very light dusty dirt that's hard to soak with water. What kind of ground cover will actually grow and or hold up to little feet and no sun, and not end up in a pile at the bottom of the slope?

ANSWER:

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, home of Mr. Smarty Plants, is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only North America but to the area in which those plants evolved; in your case, Crook County OR, in central Oregon. We are pretty sure there is no such plant, native or non-native, that can withstand the conditions you describe. You not only have the heavy shade that not many plants tolerate as well as the competition of underground roots from the tree.

If no weeds, probably native grasses, have managed to pop up and survive there, that is a strong indication that nothing else is going to, either. There are a few taller grasses that can tolerate some shade, but they are not low groundcovers and would not survive to maturity with all that foot traffic.

Often, in cases like this, we suggest mulch for groundcover but, as you have already pointed out, that would go right down the hillside. Same with pea gravel and it would not be kind to small knees and feet.

We have a couple of suggestions that are pretty feeble and don't involve plants. The first is that an early morning light sprinkling of water on the area would hopefully suppress the dust without causing muddy footprints in your house.

Another totally off-the-wall possibility is artificial turf. From Wikipedia:

"Artificial turf is a surface of synthetic fibers made to look like natural grass. It is most often used in arenas for sports that were originally or are normally played on grass. However, it is now being used on residential lawns and commercial applications as well. The main reason is maintenance—artificial turf stands up to heavy use, such as in sports, and requires no irrigation or trimming. Domed, covered, and partially covered stadiums may require artificial turf because of the difficulty of getting grass enough sunlight to stay healthy. But artificial turf does have its downside: limited life, periodic cleaning requirements, petroleum use, toxic chemicals from infill, and some heightened health and safety concerns."

There are definite disadvantages, obviously, for a children's play area, and only you can make a decision on that. When we searched online on "artificial turf," all we got were advertisements, including for online ordering and delivery. Frankly, we think we would go with the dirt.

 

More Groundcovers Questions

Narrow strip of groundcover from Sonora TX
April 29, 2013 - I have an area that is right under my patio about 12 feet by 1 ft. I'm looking for something to plant in there. It has afternoon sun, morning shade. I live in SW Texas so it is hot. but would like so...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for a slope in NY
April 04, 2010 - I live in New York State about 60 miles north of NYC. I have a very wide hill in the front of my house that I am just unable to keep up with. I can mow the bottom portion but using a weed trimmer fo...
view the full question and answer

Splash-proof plants from Oakton VA
October 01, 2012 - Hi Mr Smarty Plants, Re: low, evergreen ground cover, Northern Virginia The bare soil around my freshly painted screen porch splashes up onto the white framing when it rains so I am looking for ...
view the full question and answer

Ground cover for Brooklyn, NY
January 25, 2013 - Hi Mr Smarty Plants, I'm looking for a fast growing ground cover for my Brooklyn, NY back yard. The area is nestled between 3 buildings and a fairly large tree, so most of the day its shady, but ...
view the full question and answer

Need to plant something in the cracks in my patio in Skipperville, AL.
February 06, 2012 - Mr. Smarty Pants, I have a cement patio full of cracks. I would like to grow some sort of plant or plants in the cracks. I live in lower Alabama, and my patio is in full sunlight. Do you have an...
view the full question and answer

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