Shade gardening takes planning

Richard C. Bogren, Gill, Daniel J.

For Release On Or After 03/29/13

By Dan Gill
LSU AgCenter Horticulturist

I love to garden in shady areas, although I know gardeners who complain about gardening successfully in the shade. Trouble mostly occurs when sun-loving plants are planted in shady locations. When the proper plants are selected for shady areas, the results can be beautiful and enduring. And I’d much rather work in a shady garden than a sunny one during summer.

Shady areas are often created by trees as they grow larger over the years. At some point, an original landscape will have to be modified to deal with the reduced light conditions. For inspiration, take a drive around older neighborhoods with mature trees. You’ll see how beautifully areas under and around large trees can be landscaped using a variety of ground covers, annuals, perennials, shrubs and even smaller trees.

The most important thing to remember when creating landscaped areas under a tree is to respect the root system of the tree itself. Avoid severing any roots two fingers in diameter or larger. Use a gardening fork to loosen the soil under the tree rather than a shovel or spade because a fork will damage fewer roots. Then, work in a few inches of organic matter such as compost or finely ground pine bark.

If you need to bring in extra soil to create the bed, select a high-quality topsoil or garden soil, and don’t apply it any deeper than 2 to 4 inches. And don’t pile several inches of soil up around the base of the trunk because this can lead to decay; pull it back slightly. If you intend to fill an area that will cover a large part of the tree’s root system, which extends out well beyond the reach of the branches, do not apply more than 2 inches of soil.

Once the area is prepared, you could simply plant it with a ground cover, such as monkey grass (Ophiopogon japonicus) or Asian jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum). Both of these ground covers are reliable, easy to grow and relatively fast spreading. Monkey grass, although not a true grass, looks a lot like a grass. Asian jasmine requires more maintenance because it is a running vine that must be edged and cut back periodically to keep it looking neat. It grows equally well in sun or shade making it ideal for planting areas that include sun as well as shade. Ground covers will cover exposed tree roots, which often make mowing difficult under some trees.

Other ground covers suitable for larger areas include ferns, Japanese ardisia (Ardisia japonica) and creeping liriope (Liriope spicata). Ground covers provide variation in plant height, texture and color in the landscape.

You don’t just have to stick with ground covers, however. Indeed, gardening in a shady area provides chance to grow a wide variety of beautiful plants. Gardens in shady areas are often easier to maintain because of generally fewer weed problems. And the beds may not dry out as fast as sunny ones.

For colorful bedding plants in beds that receive a few hours of morning sun, try impatiens, coleus, wax begonia, browallia, pentas, salvias, caladium and torenia in summer.

Shade-loving perennials include ferns, hostas, ground orchid (Bletilla striata), strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera), indigo (Indigofera kirilowii), ligularia, aspidistra (prefers no sun), ajuga, acorus, acanthus, wild ginger (Asarum), cardinal flower (Lobelia), toad lily (Tricyrtis), Indian pink (Spigelia), violets and the many tropical gingers.

For deepest, darkest shade, you won’t find a better plant than cast iron plant, Aspidistra. This plant has broad, sword-shaped, dark green leaves and does very well in beds in dry shade under large trees. Is it tough? It’s not called cast iron plant for nothing.

Shrubs to consider include holly, azalea, nandina, cleyera, ligustrum, aucuba, fatsia, mahonia, pittosporum, hydrangea, red buckeye, sasanqua, camellia and many others. Most of these prefer a partly shaded area that receives a few hours of morning sun.

Even some small trees like partial shade, such as parsley hawthorn, silver bell, dogwood, Japanese maple, red bud, fringe tree, Japanese yew, cherry laurel and yaupon.

You can include many hardy ferns in the shady areas of your landscape. The different species range in size from under a foot to as much as 3 feet tall. Fern leaves are called fronds and provide the primary ornamental feature of the plants. The fronds are generally finely divided and delicate in appearance, and they contrast beautifully with coarser-textured shade plants such as hostas, aspidistra, fatsia, gingers and aucuba.

Some excellent ferns for use in the landscape include maidenhair fern (Adiantum capillus-vernus), holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), leatherleaf fern (Rumohra adiantiformis), Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides), wood fern (Thelypteris kunthii), royal fern (Osmunda regalis), autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrosora), lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) and Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum Pictum).

If you have a shady area, consider turning it into a beautiful garden with shade-loving plants. The ground covers, perennials, shrubs, trees and ferns mentioned here can all be planted this month.

Rick Bogren

2/27/2013 1:53:24 AM
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