The Q&A Archives: Grass won't grow

Question: Yard stays very moist, mostly shade and lots of pine needles. Moss too. Is there any way to grow grass? If not, what are my alternatives for ground cover kids can play on?

Answer: The soil beneath pines tends to be on the acidic end of the pH scale because of the needles they drop. Another problem associated with growing plants under pines is that the trees have fibrous roots near the soil surface which will compete with any other plant for moisture and nutrients. Additionally, the canopy of pines effectively divert rainwater so things are usually pretty dry directly under the trees. If the area remains moist, rather than dry, it indicates the soil is compacted. There's really no way to correct the problem without compromising the health of the pines. Now that you have a little background information on why it's so difficult to grow plants under pines, you're better equipped to make the right plant choices. Look for plants that grow well in acidic soils, have shallow roots, and grow in partially shady locations. Some of the plants that will adjust to these conditions include Artemisia, Erigeron karvinskianus (Santa Barbara Daisy), California Poppy, Heuchera (Coral Bells), Limonium, Evening Primrose (Oenothera), Penstemon, Romneya coulteri (Matilija Poppy), Salvia, Santolina (Lavender Cotton), Stonecrop, Campanula and Ferns of all kinds. Nothing that kids can play on, though. You may want to consider hardscape materials (concrete, wooden decking, etc.) to create a play space. Wish I had more ideas!

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