shady problem

Mantua, NJ

Help. I am in desperate need of ideas for planting under the trees along the back of our yard. They are mostly puny oaks with a few black tupelo(birds love the berries-I love the pretty shiny leaves!) and sassafras tossed in the mix. Plus one gorgeous dogwood.Our yard is about 130' wide and the area in question is about 12-15 feet deep. Dear hubby insists on raking out the leaves in that area. It does look neater, but then weeds and crummy grass grow. There are many layers of decomposing leaves, underneath is sandy soil.

I have tries caladium, astilbe, bleeding heart, columbine, lily of the valley, sedum,hostas, impatients. I enrich the soil where I planted with compost and garden soil, well mixed in and did feed the plants with time release food. The impatients did well, but I was looking for some perrenials perhaps. I put in azaleas-over a dozen. None survived. Some arborvite too. I suspect the sandy soil was too dry for them, even with watering them. Ugh. need some green or color in there besides the brown-grey tree trunks. Suggestions?

Cedar Rapids, IA(Zone 5a)

Hi - two of my favorites - and in fact, you wouldn't amend the soil because they actually like less rich soil are lamium - this pic shows "Silver Beacon" between the hosta. However, they are MUCH tougher than the hosta -

This message was edited Feb 6, 2012 11:11 AM

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Cedar Rapids, IA(Zone 5a)

And Pachysandra -- you can see it here in the rear of the bed -- that blanket of green in front of the screen --
it makes a grand carpet in large areas and is evergreen, so you have some green year round, even after being covered with snow. This pic is in early spring, and you can see that the other plants haven't even fully emerged, but the pachysandra is full and green. It grows with trailers, so it's quite easy to pull up any trailers that go where you don't want them to -- Dax

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Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

Hellebores do well in dry shade; many varieties will self-seed.
Epimedium sulphureum also spreads nicely in dryish shade.
Liriope can look nice in tough situations also.
You just need to keep experimenting.

Here's a picture of a hellebore which has reseeded around my wooded lot.
You can see it's right next to a big tree trunk. Doing fine.
And it has the bonus of blooming late winter - gives you a jump on spring!

And the 2nd picture (this is very exciting - being able to add 2 images to a single response!) is epimedium suphureum foliage growing in similar shady conditions.

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(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Great Hellebore, Weerobin. Mine is a few years old and can't compare. The epimediums are sweet.

Hobart, IN

I agree with Epimediums for dry shade but I've read that they do need regular watering the first year to get them established.
Fantastic Hellebore! Very floriferous.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Yes! Very floriferous...not like mine. If I get 3 flowers on each one it's a bonus year!

Cedar Rapids, IA(Zone 5a)

I know exactly what you mean, pirl, I have the same problem -- can't figure out what I'm doing wrong -- they get a great foliage, but few flowers. OR they have lots of flowers, but almost no foliage. Here's a pic from last year - lots of flowers, but the foliage looked stunted and skimpy -- not a good looking plant - dang! I envy yours, weerobin - Dax

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(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

I can make you feel much better with this shot!

The second photo is better but unless I lay down in that garden I'll never get to see their faces.

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Cedar Rapids, IA(Zone 5a)

Ha!! And to get my shot, that's practically what I did, laid on my back -- Thanks! Now I don't feel like a failure -- others do so well with them and absolutely love them!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

See that! I am not alone.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Quote from pirl :
See that! I am not alone.

And I thought you were one of a kind pirl!!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)


Northern, NJ(Zone 6b)

Hi fellow NewJerseyian, Is Mantua in the Pine Barrens? If so a great place to start is with information from the local native plant society because Pine Barren plants are unique.
At first I thought Comptonia peregrina(sweet fern) might be a good choice since it likes sandy gravely places and mine is from a Pine Barrens Nursery that had it growing wild but I think it might want a little more sun and less root competition.
Maybe Xmas fern Polystichum acrostichoides?
By the way I am not in the Pine Barrens but the sweet fern grows well along the bluestone path since it was set in sand.

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I'm not sure why my hellebore blooms so well - I certainly do nothing to encourage it.
The blooms do hang down, which can be aggravating.
But I've got this great feature on my camera which is a swivel view screen.
So I can practically lay the camera on the ground and still see what I'm taking a picture of.
I don't have a clue what 90% of the gizmo's on my camera do, but that's one feature I enjoy.
Here's another example of a picture of an anemonopsis flower which always hangs straight down.
You can see the tree canopy in the background to see that the camera is pretty much laying on the ground!
Better the camera on the ground, than me...

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(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Lovely blossom. Since I'm without the swivel screen, and would hate explaining to a neighbor exactly why I'm on my back in the garden with a camera in my hand, I guess I won't have photos of them.

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I suspect my neighbor has seen worse!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Now we all want photos!

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

It's nice to see I'm not the only one who's been caught doing odd things with her camera out in her garden!

I've been enjoying this topic for the last few days, in hopes of finding a solution or three for the very same problem, namely: a back yard that is mostly shade and half-edged in wild woodland, and I am pleased and thankful to say that you all are helping me a lot!!
I now have a new "Garden Shopping List" going, to include, but not limited to, hellebores and Christmas Ferns, and Lamium (OH MY!), not to mention bleeding hearts and Astilbes, Wheeee!! I live on a corner lot, so one side of my back yard is not only on a hill, but on that hill grows a lot of trees and 'underbrush', and the back property line is fenced. The entire area gets 2-4 hours of mid-to-late morning sun, and mostly dappled at that. I have lived here for 17 years, but have only been gardening, officially, for about 2 1/2 years. (I started Winter-Sowing 3 years ago this past December, but since those babies didn't get outside until Spring, I figure my real experience is only 2 1/2 years). I have only ever grown stuff out front, where it gets full sun, I've never touched the back at all, (other than to attempt to grow a lawn in the open area), so needless to say, there could be bodies burried under all those leaves for all I know! HA!! My back "lawn" is grows nothing but moss and little purple wild-flowers, even through aerations and tillings, so I figure it's gotta have something to do with moisture and shade. I have no idea what sorts of trees are growing back there, other than pines and the ocassional Loblolly. (that name is just too hard to forget, and I hope I spelled it right!). Anyway, this year I figured it was time I worked up the guts to get out there and clean it up a bit and make the place a bit more appetizing, and you all have helped tremendously, so a BIG THANK YOU, to y'all who have posted here! =)

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

speedie - If I had my choice I'd opt for dappled shade for all gardens since I have too much sun and it makes it too hot for summer work unless I'm up and out by 6 AM.

Let's hope you don't find any bodies as you work on your project this year. Moisture and shade, along with acid soil, does lead to moss and I've learned to love it and use it around other shade plants to keep the weeds away - it works.

So many plants thrive in dappled shade that might burn in sun. Hosta, astilbe, ferns, heuchera, asarum, coleus, hellebore, epimedium, euphorbia and creeping Jenny are just a few I grow in this spot that only gets early morning sun. I don't spend five minutes a year weeding this garden since the plants are crowded in there.

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Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

My goodness, what a gorgeous shady garden area you have there Pirl, WOW!! And thank you for reminding me, how EVER did I forget heuchera and hosta!? I think coleus are annuals in my zone, and I try to steer clear of those, but I think 2 or 3 of everything else should cover it! =) Oh yeah, and I'll need to add some Plumbago to the list, too! A couple of the others you mentioned are not familiar to me so I'll have to look them up.

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Look in your nurseries when they have the spring plants offered. Coleus can bring such fantastic color to a shady garden. I overwinter cuttings indoors during the winter and then have many to go out in spring.

Euphorbias are delightful and I've never had a rash from touching or cutting them. The Euphorbia is on the left and has a spot of chartreuse in the center, which matches the heuchera.

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Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Oh yes, we carry coleus in Spring at work, but I typically have steered clear of annuals for the most part (except for bachellor buttons, which I LOVE and self-sow beautifully) because I am a lazy gardener, HA! Do you need to have a sunny spot for over-wintering your cuttings? And, do you care for them like any 'regular' potted plant? (ie; in a soil-filled pot with watering, feeding et al)? That just might require some 'rigging' work that I'm not sure we have the means to do. =/ I've got some variegated Aegopodium that I could transplant back there though! :)

Man, your Euphorbia is gorgeous, but you hit the nail on the head when you mentioned never getting a rash, that's the #1 thing I have worried about, and reason why I've never planted it. I tend not to wear gloves when working, so I feared getting sap from them on me.
We sell Creeping Jenny as "stepables" at work, so I'll be able to get those no problem... and chocolate chip Ajuga too!

(Zone 4b)

Quote from speediebean :
My goodness, what a gorgeous shady garden area you have there Pirl, WOW!!

Wonderful Pirl. You have inspired me to not be afraid of the shade!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

You can just take cuttings from all your favorite coleuses (before frost) and hold them over in a somewhat sunny spot (all in one container) for the winter with very little watering and no feeding at all until February or March. Coleus are ideal for the lazy gardener - I know from experience! They are SO good at filling in the vacant spots while you wait for perennials to fill out and grow. Aegopodium will grow anywhere! I deleted all of mine but you obviously know it well and know where you want it.

There is a sedum with very nasty sap and I can't seem to get rid of that pest. Euphorbias have never bothered me and I try to be careful but even when I'm not so careful and do break a stem I've never run into trouble with it.

Thank you, rouge! That's a nice day starter for me.

I love when just a few coleuses can brighten a spot or lend some color.

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Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Rouge is totally right, you're certainly an inspiration! =)
Ok, you've talked me into the coleuses, heeheeheee. We sell a few varieties at work so I'll snag a couple of each when I get back there. (Winter hiatus from work is nice to get stuff done, including Winter Sowing, but I'm ready to get back to work again!)
Oooh, and yes, I do know Aeggie can be very thuggy, but I've been told that, in my area they are less thug-like when planted in direct full sun, so that's where I have her.... in a container! Haahaahaaa! I'm far too much of a chicken to risk messin' around in my beloved beds with thugs.

Hmmmm, now I can't remember if we even have any Euphorbias at work, darned my memory! Well, if we do, then I've taken care of them and have had no problems... now why didn't I think of that before?!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Aw, thanks!

Just take cuttings, you don't need entire plants for now. They'll turn into full sized plants before you know it. Take cuttings in the name of making a fuller plant for the customers to buy (and it is true).

Aeggie in a container is ideal. In the garden it can play havoc all too easily. I'll attach a before and after to show the difference it made when I eliminated it.

Much of our gardening is based upon the "now why didn't I think of that" philosophy!

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Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

GREAT GOOGLEY MOOGLEY Pirl, that's just nuts!!!! How long did it take for that Aeggie to take over that area? Good gravy, now I'm thinking I'm gonna put a door on that pot, then lock it so she can't get out!

Say, anyone out there have any luck with Otto Lyukens? I've got some in the sun (out front), but not all of 'em are doing well, so was thinking about moving them to the back. They're only about a year old, so the move should be ok, but I'm just curious who's got them and where they're sited and how ya like 'em?

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Maybe five years. That's just one area. There were two others and some roots went under the blacktop by the driveway - what a PITA. In another spot it went under major pieces of slate - another PITA. I just sprayed Round Up like a mad woman (every other day) until it was gone. Of course, I had removed all good plants before I sprayed. Attached is the before and after of the slate area.

Sorry, I don't have Otto! I don't even know him!

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Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

Hi, speedie.
My gardening is almost entirely in woodland.
I think the keys are to clear out the invasive volunteers which choke out all the native plants.
And to plant some shade-tolerant shrubs to give the woodland some structure.
(Viburnums, rhodies, etc)
Clearing out the choking clog (for me, eurasian honeysuckle) can be a chore.
But once it's gone, my woodland sprang to life without planting anything.
Here are some pictures of a woodland full of phlox that I never planted.
It wasn't there the previous summer when it was filled with honeysuckle scrub.
There were also wild trilliums, mayapples, celandine poppies... miraculous.
I say, let mother nature do some of the work!

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Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I meant to add images of some of the other volunteer wildflowers, but I haven't mastered the new 'multiple images' feature of DG yet!
Here are trillium, bloodroot, mayapples, geraneums and celandine poppies.
All volunteers!

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Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

And I forgot about the virginia bluebells!

I hope you enjoy converting your wooded space into a nice woodland garden!

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Austell, GA(Zone 7a)

pirl, your gardens are so lovely and I really love the brickwork!!

Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Weerobin, oh they're all so lovely, and I really really love the Virginia bluebell, how delicate she is!! =)

You're right of course, I'll first have to get out there and clear away all the leaves to even see what's underneath it all, then clear away the choking clog. (good description, by the way). I don't know what the heck is out there choking and cloging... green pesky stuff! ;)

That reminds me, I think I'll get out there now and start on the 'before' pictures! =)

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

Thanks, Plantnutz! I'm not a fan of straight edges and abide by the old carpenter's wisdom:
The square for duty, the curve for beauty.

Love the "choking clog" concept! Do take before photos. It makes the work worth it and the before/after photos are so great in winter. They give such inspiration to us all, speedie.

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Somewhere in, MD(Zone 7b)

Alrighty Ladies, the camera is currently charging. Went to grab it earlier and the battery was dead. =( Got a date with Hubby when he gets home from work (any minute now), so I'm not dressed for tromping around outside; I'll take photos tomorrow. LOTS of them, 'cause I've got plans for straight out the back (along the fence that separates us and the people behind us), and both sides of the back, Wheeee!!!

Pirl, ... my goodness, I had to grab a towel from all the drooling looking at your yard!!! The hardscaping is sooooooooo gorgeous, and the arrangements of the plants... outta this world!! =)
I'm not into straight lines either, but I'd never heard that bit of wisdom before, I love it!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

A date with hubby certainly supersedes any gardening work, speedie! We'll look forward to the photos when you can get them.

As you lift the choking clog I'll bet you'll see bright green sprouts of something coming up all over. You're a zone warmer than I and today I removed two pots (of ???) from a storage bin outside and they all have huge long sprouts. The ajuga is all showing brand new growth and the clematises have the tiniest of leaf buds. Roses have reddened buds and the sun is shining. It's such a glorious time of watch as it snows.

Thanks for the compliment. I designed it and our guy did the job, not us. It's now 19 years old and as lovely as it was on the first day.

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

It really is beautiful, Pirl...
But it doesn't sound like you ever have time to sit at your patio table sipping something delicious!

(Arlene) Southold, NY(Zone 7a)

You're right - very seldom. Mostly it's a rest stop of five or ten minutes to sip cold coffee that should be hot. It still beats hot coffee at the computer on the nasty days of winter.

Stamford, CT(Zone 6b)

The aegopodium is beyond my control. It grows under slate tiles, around and into the tree roots, and it must be handled with gloves.

I take almost no credit for the shade garden. It was pretty much the gift of the former owner and some volunteers, many yet to be identified. Most of the flowers are yellow, and they bloom early in the spring before the leaves in the trees are full, when they are getting more sunlight. My favorites are the epimedium (red and white) and the trout lilies.

The best part about this garden is that most of these plants are easily ignored in summer's high heat and require less water.

I think our earliest plants in the not much light/dappled shade category are the trilliums and toadshades, great harbingers of spring flowers, probably gifts of flying friends. The one easeist-to-grow and I'm-always-pulling-it-out plant is polygonatum (Solomon's Seal). It spreads by strong runners and is also happy is soil that is rocky or laden with tree roots.

This message was edited Feb 18, 2012 9:17 PM

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