Grass/landscaping for shaded, wet areas - Knowledgebase Question

Charlotte, No
Question by elainedicks
February 25, 2010
Our new (to us) backyard has a lot of trees. We plan to take out a few that are too close to the house, but it will still have low light, plus when it rains, we have a few puddles for a day or so... Can you suggest a grass that will do well, or other options of ground covers or natural areas?

Answer from NGA
February 25, 2010


Turfgrasses really won't grow well in shady areas so groundcovers are probably your best options. Not many plants will tolerate soggy soils and shade, but here are a few reliables for your to consider: acorus, astilbe, asarum, ajuga, antennaria, lysimachia, microbiota, ophiopogon, phlox, saxifraga, and a host of others.

The group of grass like acorus (Acorus gramineus) are 6" tall or less and slowly spreading ground covers that prefer moist sites, even standing water. The evergreen foliage in green, gold, or variegated are the main feature. In the astilbe group, there is only one species that is well adapted to our heat, and that is A. chinensis. A dwarf spreading form Astilbe chinensis pumila is a fabulous ground cover plant for dry shade with its pinkish purple bottle brush like plumes in July.

One of our most popular natives that deserves wider use is our native wild gingers. The hexastylis (recently renamed asarums) have mostly evergreen heart shaped leaves that form attractive clumps often with silver mottled leaves. There is one notable spreader that makes a great groundcover, Asarum shuttleworthii Calloway. The quarter size silver and dark green marbled leaves soon make a year round attractive mat in even dense shade.

Ajugas are certainly popular, as they have been for many years. Folks now are opting for many of the more colorful leaf forms, including A. Burgundy Glow and A. Pink Silver (Pink, White, and Purple foliage), A. Silver Beauty (white and grey green foliage), A. Grey Lady (Grey green foliage), and a host of purple foliaged cultivars. Ajuga will thrive in all except the densest shade, but during periods of extended rain like we have experience this summer, may die out in poorly drained soils.

One of my favorite ground covers is the hairy silver grey leaf pussy toes, especially our native Antennaria plantaginea. You will often see this durable ground cover on sunny road cuts, where nothing else will grow. You can also find pussy toes hiding in dense shade underneath giant oaks in the driest of shade. Other available pussy toes include the challenging to grow A. dioica, and the cute A. neglecta from the western US.

Hope these suggestions are helpful.

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