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

Groundcover Planting in Shiro TX
July 09, 2015 - I have been collecting seeds from White Avens and Texas Sedge to use as ground covers. What is the optimal time to plant these seeds? We have been experiencing heavy rains in our area lately, so I am ...
view the full question and answer

Replacing St. Augustine with Horse herb in Austin, TX.
December 12, 2012 - I'm considering replacing my St. Augustine grass with a Horseherb/Straggler Daisy ground cover, but I've heard that it provides a mosquito breeding habitat, especially if you allow dead leaves to de...
view the full question and answer

Low growing groundcovers for pond banks in Brookville PA
July 30, 2010 - What are some good low growing ground cover plants for pond banks? Zone 5, mostly sun, preferably something I could start from seed? Hopefully low maintenance & non-evergreen. Perennial & hardy pre...
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

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

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