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

Thursday - June 27, 2013

From: Evanston, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Propagation, Shade Tolerant, Grasses or Grass-like
Title: Illinois native grasses for shade
Answered by: Guy Thompson

QUESTION:

Hello, my grass has died in a very shady area (standard buffalo grass), and I took this as an opportunity to plant some native grass varieties. I originally thought of buffalo grass, but learned that it needs at least 6-8 hours of sun, so it definitely won't work. Do you know of any Illinois-native/midwest-native grasses that are low-maintenance, and shade tolerant, and possibly where I could get the seeds? Thanks.

ANSWER:

 

There are several grass species that should grow well in your shady area.  I will list some in order of height, with the tallest first. Sorghastrum nutans (Indiangrass)Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)Schizachyrium scoparium (Little bluestem)Tridens flavus (Purpletop tridens)Elymus canadensis (Canada wild rye)Bouteloua curtipendula (Sideoats grama)Paspalum setaceum (Thin paspalum) and Brachyelytrum erectum (Bearded shorthusk).

I do not know whether you plan to allow foot traffic in this area. Inland sea oats has especially attractive leaves and seed heads 3-4 feet in height and will thrive in deep shade.  Canada wild rye is good in shade, but it matures early and turns straw-color in midsummer.  Thin paspalum forms a very low rosette but it does send up taller seed heads. The other species generally resemble each other and are probably best in partial shade.  You might be well advised to try more than one of these grasses to see which prospers best in your particular situation.  

These grasses are best grown from seed, which can be purchased online or from a plant nursery near you.  Good luck in finding the perfect match.  Here are photos of some of the suggested grasses.

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Indiangrass
Sorghastrum nutans

Sideoats grama
Bouteloua curtipendula

Canada wild rye
Elymus canadensis

Little bluestem
Schizachyrium scoparium

Purpletop tridens
Tridens flavus

Inland sea oats
Chasmanthium latifolium

More Shade Tolerant Questions

Small, drought and shade-tolerant perennials for Austin, Texas
March 22, 2010 - We need suggestions for small, drought- and shade-tolerant perennials to be planted in Austin, Texas, please.
view the full question and answer

Landscaping with wildflowers in shade in Maryland
January 11, 2008 - I'm an old White House Correspondent who covered LBJ as well as Mrs Johnson and knew and admired her. I visited the Wildflower Center with her on one occasion. I hope you will forward this to an appr...
view the full question and answer

Fast growing shade tree for Phoenix, Arizona
November 07, 2007 - Would you recommend a fast growing shade tree for Phoenix, AZ that will grow at least 30 ft. high and with a similar canopy in clay soil?
view the full question and answer

Deer resistant privacy fence for shade in Hill Country
April 28, 2009 - I am looking for a shrub to plant along a privacy fence that gets 8+ feet tall, fast growing, preferably native, deer resistant, and can tolerate mostly shade. I reside in the Hill Country area. Tha...
view the full question and answer

Shrubs, groundcovers, and grasses for shade in North Central Texas
March 19, 2010 - Updated (2009-10) information about shrubs / ground cover /grasses recommended for North Central Texas - Complete back yard re-landscaping under a lot of trees, shady areas, regular bermuda, St Augus...
view the full question and answer

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