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I love my black walnut tree. I almost love it as much as I hate it, but it's beautiful.

However, grass refuses to grow around it even though my wife and I are adament about cleaning up leaves and fruit that drops from it.

I live in zone 4b and am wondering what is the best species of grass to grow in the yard that has the tree.

I have tried bluegrass and it started to grow, but maybe I didn't do it right.

Is bluegrass the right species to grow around black walnut trees?

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5 Answers 5

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Black walnut gives off juglone, which is a chemical that makes it hard for other plants to grow.

Unfortunately, a quick search indicates that there aren't any native grasses that are juglone resistant, e.g. Mr. Smarty Pants at Zoysia might work, but it doesn't sound like that's a clear winner either, and it grows best in USDA zones 6-9, which is warmer than where you are.

That site lists some other ground covers that you may want to consider:

  • Chasmanthium latifolium (Inland sea oats)
  • Sedges like Carex blanda (eastern woodland sedge)
  • Ferns

You could probably plant an attractive mix of these species underneath your black walnut.

If you're willing to consider something other than grass, Toby Hemenway suggests a walnut "guild" in "Gaia's Garden" on pages 194-195. Species that are suggested are elderberry, hackberry, wolfberry, mulberry, Eleaegnus. Currants, if grown with hackberry, may work under walnut. He also suggests the possibility of tomatoes and peppers, as well as legumes.

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How could walnuts be removed from these plants? – J. Musser Mar 19 '12 at 2:47
@jmusser: I'm not sure what you mean. Are you thinking that the taller plants will hide the walnuts, making it difficult to pick up the nuts? If so, you make a good point. Though in a comment on your answer, Dez said he collected 800 pounds, so I doubt that they'll lose out on the harvest. And my understanding is that these plants are juglone tolerant, so their survival doesn't hinge on having the fruit removed. – bstpierre Mar 20 '12 at 12:53
They could get tangled and make nut removal difficult. – J. Musser Mar 20 '12 at 13:03
As an update to this a few years later: While there are no native grasses we have been successful with a Kentucky bluegrass/ryegrass blend. – Dez Sep 17 at 5:09

I had read that mints like peppermint and spearmint tolerate juglone. So I planted some and they lived but did not spread like they usually do. Normally these become unruly and almost invasive which was what I was hoping for. It would look so much better than just dirt, to me. I have planted hostas and daylilies, they lived but did not come back the next year. I am in zone 5a. I have several woody ornamental I keep far away from the drip line of the trees that have been touted as juglone tolerant, I was waiting for them to get larger and stronger before I moved them closer but now I will never move them close. White fringetree, double mock orange, purple smoke bush are the ones I have and am protecting.

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I grow tall fescue and 'merion' Kentucky Bluegrass under black walnut trees, and they do pretty well, if watered during dry weather. They also prefer black walnuts and their hulls to be removed soon after falling.

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We are adamant about removing the walnuts after they fall. There are so many id them. We collected about 800 pounds of fresh black walnuts last year. The tree it's about 90 years old. – Dez Mar 11 '12 at 14:13

I seem to recall that bugle is a groundcover that is happy under walnuts. It's a pretty groundcover and it doesn't need mowing. We have it on some slopes that are hard to mow and it has spread happily into the woods. No walnuts, though, but eHow feels they're happy together.

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Most grasses should not be affected by the Juglone. If you are having considerable trouble with growing grass, might be too much shade. Fine fescue works better in shade.

Juglone affects plants in the Ericaceae family the most.

Alternatively a number of native species are not affected by the juglone, which I have used.

Dogwoods, Spicebush, Maples (Sugar, Red), Serviceberry, Black Raspberry, Purple-Flowering Raspberry

False Solomon Seal, American Ginger, Joe-Pye weed, Mountain Mint, Black Cohosh, Foam Flower, Goldenrod (Giant, Wreathed), Asters (New England, New York, Smooth)

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