Groundcover suggestions for shady backyard

leahgillumJuly 12, 2010

We're currently watching the second round of St. Augustine sod wither away in our shady Austin backyard. It's covered by some large oaks and gets dappled sunlight most of the day.

I'd just as soon not have grass, but we do have a small child and two dogs who need some room to run and not get muddy or dusty every time they step outside.

Other than mulching over the lawn, can y'all help me with ideas to cover our backyard with a grass or grass substitute? Thanks.!

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rick_mcdaniel(Lewisville, TX)

After researching all the options, in a similar situation, we opted for dwarf mondo, which, while not really that suitable for a lot of traffic on it, will do fine in the darker shade environment, while other options will not perform as well, in that much shade.

You can always put in a play spot, that is mostly mulch, with the rubber mulch, now favored for play areas, for kids.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 10:40AM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

Check out this recent thread on horseherb. It's not for everyone, but works best for us.

Here is a link that might be useful: Horseherb

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 12:10PM
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Bryan Scott

Another type of grass you could try is Turfalo grass.
This is engineered in partnership with Texas Tech University. I've never tried it, but it's something to try.

On a side note, the Horseherb post is my post. It does make for a nice alternative to grass if groundcover is an ok substitute. I just prefer grass for my yard. Even when it's pretty thick and lush with little yellow blooms, it's very soft to walk barefoot on and you can mow it like regular grass (in my experience). It seems to really really really really (you get my point) thrive in shady/very little sun areas. My areas that have this are shaded by huge Oak trees and the only water it has gotten this year is from the rain we've had.

As for why it's spreading across the rest of my yard, I believe it's becuase when I started mowing this season (just bought the house in November), I did not know I had this stuff and have been using the mulching part of my mower. Seems it's too late and mulching has spread the seed.

Anyways, if you are up in Northwest Austin (near 183 and Anderson Mill), you are more than welcome to stop by and take a look at the Horseherb. If it's something you like, you are more than welcome to take some home. Just let me know if interested.

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 12:37PM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Below is a link to another post about groundcovers for shady areas.

And to give you an idea of what it looks like a picture of horseherb growing in the easement in back of our house. We didn't plant it. It came up on its own.

Here is a link that might be useful: Dogs, shade and want a lawn ...

    Bookmark   July 13, 2010 at 2:21PM
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I suspect that, were there a practical, shade tolerant alternative to turf grass, suitable for walking and romping on, we wouldn't have nearly as many tree trimmers and deck builders.

Mondo grass can be frustrating, dying out where you want it, and "walking" to where you don't want it. I would study up carefully on horseherb before turning it loose on your grounds. Some claim that it is ferociously invasive, and impervious to Roundup.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 8:05AM
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We have some "snow on the mountain" that has really spread and looks great.

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 10:16AM
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Thanks for the replies. For those with horse herb, do you worry about snakes? What about during the winter. Does it die back?

    Bookmark   July 14, 2010 at 10:14PM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)

I have Dichondra that came up as a volunteer in a shady, wet area where grass would never grow. I love it because it stays very low and looks so pretty.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 9:36AM
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ltcollins1949(9a TX)

I also have some horseherb that came up as a volunteer. I let it go in some areas where grass won't grow, but since it does grow taller, I do worry about snakes. That is why I prefer the dichondra since it stays very low.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 9:46AM
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roselee z8b S.W. Texas

Horseherb is everygreen here in San Antonio. It might get a little scraggly looking in the winter since it is not actively growing, (so does grass) but it's still there.

I don't worry about snakes. If there were any in there they would be the kind that are looking for bugs and beetles to eat. All I've ever seen around here are the harmless, but helpful to gardeners kinds.

I don't have a problem with it getting in my flower beds probably because I keep the beds pretty heavily mulched so seeds don't have a chance to germinate. A sprig or two might come up in the lawn, but since I'm outside so often they are spotted when small and are easily pulled.

Dichondra, mentioned above, is very pretty too. It volunteered in my neighbor's yard. It seems to require a bit more water.

Nothing in perfect. Everything requires some attention and care. Wishing you luck with finding something that works for your needs and situation.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 10:13AM
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Bryan Scott

Some people I've read online about, have had the gardener snakes in their horseherb, but very rare see them. Those little guys are usually out of site, waiting for bugs to eat. However, I usually don't spend much time barefoot outside anyways to really worry about them.

I have some healthy dichondra in my yard too. It's really in the areas that I have poor drainage. It's very very low, and the individual "heads" are around a quarter up to an old half doller in size, which is pretty big. It has not spread a fraction of the speed as my horseherb has spread, so I can keep control of it with my weedwacker, as it's too low to mow, unlike the horseherb.

I have some pics to share that I took yesterday of my yard, so as soon as I get them off the digital camera, I'll post them.

    Bookmark   July 15, 2010 at 12:44PM
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I am trying to find someplace in Austin, Texas that I can see a yard or a large area planted with horseherb. My back lawn which was full of ST Augustine and is dying due to take-all root rot and I want to plant something that takes very little water. I have been told that horseherb is a good groundcover and I'm wanting to see it in real life instead of photos and maybe ask some questions. Anyone out there?

    Bookmark   September 14, 2011 at 1:06PM
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rock_oak_deer(8b TX)

The Natural Gardener in Austin would be a good place to ask. I know they sell horseherb so they might have a display or know of an area you can visit.

Right now the horseherb here in my San Antonio yard is dormant as it usually is this time of year since I do not water it at all and it doesn't like sun or heat. It's also dormant in the winter so it's not evergreen most years. When it goes dormant the tops die off and you will have bare dirt where it's supposed to be. It grows naturally here and nothing else grows on our thin rocky soil so it works for us. We don't know where or whether it will pop up from year to year. Unless you have a very natural, native Hill Country style yard it's probably not the best option for you.

There's a new Facebook page for "Lawn Alternatives" by Pam of the Austin blog "Digging." This would be a great place to ask questions about horseherb and any type of ground cover options for Austin.

Here is a link that might be useful: Lawn Alternatives FB

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 5:28PM
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daninthedirt(Cent TX; HZ10, Sunset z30, USDA z8a)

Meredith has a picture of an awesome field of horseherb at Hornsby Bend, and some good discussion about the plant. You could probably give the CER folks there a call and see if they know where that field is.

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 10:31PM
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