Need Help With a Large Garden Bed

Lady's Island, SC(Zone 8b)

We moved into our house 7 years ago. In the center of our front yard are 2 mature Oak trees. These Oak trees are planted at opposite ends of (but inside of) a 40-50 foot kidney shaped flower bed. Next to each tree is a 4-5 foot tall and wide evergreen shrub/bush. I don't know what type they are but they do have tiny flowers in spring.

The first summer, I planted some Variegated Algerian Ivy as a ground cover. 7 years later it had filled in the rest of the bed nicely. But I feel it needs some variety. The last few days I have been removing some of the ivy and creating spaces for other things to plant.

I do have a few problems, questions, and need suggestions, though.

I am not sure who did this landscaping many years ago, but I don't think they used any garden soil or compost when planting the Oak trees and other shrubs. The "soil" is pure sand. No dirt in sight! I guess this would be called "dry shade"? The plus about this area is that it gets good mulch from the oak leaves that fall in Autumn. The problem is that the landscapers put down 2 weed fabric barriers; 1 is buried about 6 inches deep and the other is about 1 inch below the surface. Therefore, the leaf mulch doesn't get into the "soil" and mostly compacts on top, but does degrade overtime.

I can cut away the weed barrier in order to plant something. My question has to do with the sand: Should I shovel out most of the sand in an area I want to plant in and then replace it with a mixture of planting soil, peat, and compost? How deep should I go in order to remove the sand? Would 12-15 inches deep be enough? There are no tree or shrub roots in these areas as I have already checked.

Of course, during late fall and winter, and a little into spring, there are no leaves on the Oak trees, and therefore this area receives full sun. During late spring, summer, and a little into fall the sun light varies in certain areas depending on the time of day. All areas will receive direct sun at some point. Mostly it is morning sun or late afternoon sun and during mid-day it receives dappled/filtered sunlight as the sun moves over the trees.Therefore, plants that don't like direct sunlight might have issues, unless they can handle an hour or two of direct sun whether it is in the morning or afternoon or a combination of both.

I would like some suggestions as to what to plant. I assume Hostas and Astilbes would be good, but I would like to add some color and not have everything green or variegated. Would Daffodils do ok as they would have lots of sun for awhile prior to the trees leafing out. However, I would like some color that will last throughout the summer. Perhaps a reblooming Hydrangea? I am open to both perennial and annual suggestions.


Geronimo, TX

One of the easiest ways to add color and variety to a 'groundcover' bed is by nestling large pots in it. This has several advantages -
1. you don't have to dig thru tree roots to put in your plants.
2. type and quality of soil is controllable in the pot Ditto water.
3. You can see what plants thrive in the particular shade environment you have and move as necessary. -- some sunny things can do quite well in light shade, and some shade is 'too hot' for some shade plants.
4. you can change out what is in the pot through out the year, so you always have color/interest. This can really add to the curb appeal of your front lawn.
5. Competition with ground cover and tree roots makes these kinds of beds a difficult environment for many plants.
6. If something looks really great and seems to like your shade, you can always try planting it in the ground at a later date.

The larger the pot you use, the easier it is to keep watered and keep a healthy root environment. The larger the pot, the move options you have for what to put in it. The larger the pot, the more difficult to move, and the more soil needed. The larger the pot, the more it costs (in general). Finding the right median point between cost, mobility, size and looks is a very personal decision.

I like to put a paver or bricks under my pots to keep them draining better. When they are put directly on the ground the drain hole often 'clogs' and your plants drown and the mosquitoes multiply. A paver makes it easier to get your pots to sit straight. Higgley-piggley angled pots usually look very bad. (Of course some have 'the eye' and can make them angle in a very artistic fashion.)

I personally prefer low short pots. The pot itself is less noticeable and just looks more natural to me. I have a very rural, casual look to my beds. Since I do live on a farm, and this is a very rural area it fits.

My sister prefers big, dramatic pots. They look great in her more formal, suburban setting. She has painted them all a nice bronze color that coordinates with her house. Makes it impossible to tell from the street which are expensive concrete planters and which are relatively cheap plastic ones.

Good luck.

Contra Costa County, CA(Zone 9b)

To work with the sandy soil:
Do not excavate then refill the holes with something else.
That would be like creating a container.
Often plant roots have a hard time moving into a 'different' soil.

Best is to create a small transition area by blending some compost with the existing soil that you will use to backfill around the plant. Most commercially raised plants are in a soil blend that is mostly compost. So a transition that is a mix of compost and native soil seems to work well.

Yes, remove as much weed mat as you can. Wherever it shows up it is almost impossible to put back down under the soil.

Fallen Oak leaves are very good soil conditioner.

Staten Island, NY(Zone 6a)

Hi bluetexas bonnie , I love your suggestions about using the pots I will try it.

Alexandria, VA

Astilbes like moist soil so they may not do well in that bed.

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