ICanGarden Suggestions:

Perennials for evergreen woodland garden

Messages posted to thread:

Nancy21-Oct-03 02:41 PM EST 5a   
Susan22-Oct-03 04:05 AM EST 6a   
Nancy22-Oct-03 01:59 PM EST 5a   
Susan22-Oct-03 06:24 PM EST 6a   
Nancy23-Oct-03 03:09 PM EST 5a   
12-Nov-03 06:23 AM EST   
Wendy P22-Feb-04 01:07 PM EST 7   
Nancy23-Feb-04 01:24 PM EST 5   
Wendy P24-Feb-04 11:45 AM EST 7   
SUSAN C13-May-04 08:56 AM EST 3a   
froglady15-May-04 04:33 AM EST 5b   
Carmen15-May-04 09:12 PM EST 8b   
Brent21-Jul-04 08:36 AM EST 4   
Wendy P01-Oct-04 02:11 PM EST 7   
Miriam30-Jul-08 02:59 AM EST 8   

Subject: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Nancy
Zone: 5a
Date: 21-Oct-03 02:41 PM EST

I would like suggestions for perennials that will grow in a shady corner under evergreens.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Susan
Zone: 6a
Date: 22-Oct-03 04:05 AM EST

What kind of evergreens? Some are easier to garden under than others. I have an extensive shade garden under white pines but we ended up taking down a 40 year old white spruce as it was ugly, overgrown for its location and virtually (although not completely) impossible to garden under. If they are spruce or fir, how big are they and how far from the ground are the lowest branches? What is the soil like under them?

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Nancy
Zone: 5a
Date: 22-Oct-03 01:59 PM EST

One side of the area is an 8' cedar hedge that has been well maintained and that I want to keep. The rest of the corner is surrounded by overgrown cedars, spruce and fir (there aren't any pine trees, they have the longer needles, right?) that are between 15-20 feet high. The branches start at about 5' off the ground, some higher. There is also an old lilac tree in the corner that's about 15 feet high as well. I don't really know about the soil, it looks more sandy than clay, but there hasn't been anything growing on it. Looking forward to your reply.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Susan
Zone: 6a
Date: 22-Oct-03 06:24 PM EST

Yes, pines usually have long needles and the needles, if you look closely, are grouped in bundles on the branches. Pines, especially white pines, are very garden friendly in my experience. Spruce and fir are not so friendly, especially spruce. Cedars are so-so. The soil under all of them is likely to be very dry, especially if it is sandy and well drained.

It may not be a popular idea, but the first thing I'd do is decide if any of the trees should be taken down entirely. Spruce and fir are attractive when young and small but can be less so as they age and, frequently, outgrow their space. While it is a togh decision to take down a healthy, large tree, sometimes it is the best thing to do for the garden. That's what we decided with a 40+ year old white spruce on the front lawn and we have never regretted the decision to remove it as we now have a very nice sunny perennial garden in its place!

If you want to keep the trees, you will almost certainly need to provide water to be able to garden under them. Soaker hoses are great things to use to provide water effectively and efficiently. I have hundreds of feet of them in various areas of my garden. I put them down before I plant and then plant near the hoses so I'm sure water is getting to the roots of the things I plant.

You may need to improve the soil under the trees too by adding organic matter. I mulch with chopped leaves at this time of the year. All my ash leaves that fall get chopped and added to beds under the trees as mulch. It can be 4-6" thick in the fall but packs down by spring to an inch or less. Keep all mulch away from the base of the tree trunks or you might smother the trees. Adding soil is a risky thing to do as you may smother the tree roots but leaf litter is generally well tolerated I find.

If your trees have been limbed up high, planting low perennials under them will, by themselves, look funny. You need an intermediate shrub layer. Gray Dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is one of the few shrubs that is likely to survive under the shade and drought conditions of spruce and fir.

Under the shrubs and in the area closest to the trunk, drought and shade tolerant groundcovers are a good place to start. I like Beacon Silver lamium, wild ginger and Sweet Woodruff. All of those are tough plants that survive those conditions. Spring bulbs such as scilla, Anemone Blanda and Minnow mini-daffodils add nice touches in the spring under my trees so give them a shot.

As you get closer to, or beyond,the edge of the tree canopy, you have a greater choice of plants. Some of my favoites in dry shade under my pines incluse perennial geraniums, brunnera, Japanese anemones, Christmas ferns, Phlox stolonifera, Persecaria polymorpha, various low campanulas and violas. You'd probably have to check on hardiness of some of those but most are likely hardy for you I think. As long as you are providing adequate water, most shade or part shade plants will grow in the outer edges of the tree canopy.

Good luck...

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Nancy
Zone: 5a
Date: 23-Oct-03 03:09 PM EST

Thanks for all the info!

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
Date: 12-Nov-03 06:23 AM EST

Rhododendrons! They love the acid soil under pine trees. You will have to water a lot and feed regularly under any tree.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Wendy P
Zone: 7
Date: 22-Feb-04 01:07 PM EST

Shade gardening has got to be my fav!! Susan gave you some most excellent tips. If you choose rhodies, be careful that you don't plant too deeply. They are very shallow rooted and can suffocate. A light mulch [NO lavarock] aids moisture retention. Check your varieties for Time of bloom [Dec-June] and color. Check the plant itself to see how much growth you can expect every year.Rhododendron Augustinia [blue] is gorgeous. Don't plant too closely to your existing evergreens if possible. I use river rock and driftwood in hard to grow areas. Old farm machinery looks cool too. Shade plant picks: Hellebores, hostas, epimedium, leucothoe, hollies, euphorbias, heuchera, tellimas, tiarellas, pulmonaria, pachysandra and bergenia. Hydrangeas, astilbe and hemoracallis may have trouble if no extra moisture.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Nancy
Zone: 5
Date: 23-Feb-04 01:24 PM EST

Thanks for the ideas, Wendy.

I'd had several PJM rhodos near the drip line of the spruces that had been doing well for several years............ that is until this winter's population explosion of rabbits. They've mowed down most of the rhodos so that there're now just sticks poking out of the snow. As I may have to replant, your advice is very timely. I may opt for some of the Northern Lights Azaleas, as we're on the borderline for hardiness, and the exposure is to the north-west winds.

Between the trees themselves I've chosen a sorbaria, a grey dogwood and a Madonna elder, all to give some brightness with either blooms or variegation. I wouldn't have thought an elder would be a good choice, but I have a native one doing quite nicely between two of the tallest spruces already. We shall see. I hadn't given perennials all that much thought, but once the shrubs are established I will likely see what will take the dryness (likely lots of macrorhizium geraniums).

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Wendy P
Zone: 7
Date: 24-Feb-04 11:45 AM EST

I'm always glad to be of assistance, Nancy... That's too bad about your ravenous pests. I'm sure I could probably dig up a rabbit stew recipe for you. I know this sounds gross - let your husband "do his business" outside where critters are a problem. The scent usually drives them away. Must be "re-applied" after rain. Don't let the kids in on the secret or they'll think it's OK to "water" your plants for you. Whatever would the neighbors think? [besides wondering how your garden beat the bunnies].

The only problem about my love of shade gardening is that there's always someone that I've forgotten. Please forgive me, Geranium family. Macrorrhizum is an excellent choice. I love it's pungent scent and those magenta flowers are hard to beat so early in the season. A few years ago, garden writers were suggesting that magenta was no longer "in". At one time, it was the number one color choice for petunia baskets. I still like to utilize the color - though sparingly. It has such power to draw the eye.

Some other geranium varieties that I've had good success with are:

'Johnson's Blue' - My very first one about 10 years ago. I've divided and shared it many times. The blue flowers are still dazzling. I use it to repeat the color of the Rhodo Augustinia after it's done blooming.

G. endressii 'Wargrave Pink'- This one is a medium pink and a "rambler". From it's clump base it sends out long arms covered in flowers. Good for "uniting" a planting bed.

G. cantabrigiense 'Biokovo' - Groundcover, slower grower than most. Blush colored bloom. Much shorter than G. macro.

G. phaem - Early spring bloom. Cluster of blotch-covered leaves [the more shade - the bigger and darker the blotch] with burgundy-brown flowers on tall stems. Self-sows alot so watch out. Some people consider it a thug - I just adore brown flowers [I have a huge Akebia too]

G. sanguineum - another lowish spreader [not as wild as 'Wargrave Pink']. Leaves are more rounded and turn darker in fall. Flowers are purple-crimson.

Last year's additions were a varigated form [a version of G. himalayense I think] and a dainty 'Pink Spice' with roundish almost brown leaves and tiny pink flowers. 'Pink Spice' has come thru the winter marvelously - the varigated one not so much so [I haven't given up hope though]

For most varieties [not macro.], trim down to the ground after blooming. You'll get another round of fresh foliage and usually more bloom too.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
Zone: 3a
Date: 13-May-04 08:56 AM EST


Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: froglady
Zone: 5b
Date: 15-May-04 04:33 AM EST

Another that has thrived and multiplied profusely under my cedars (watered irregularly) is dicentra (bleeding heart). I've even had an unknown variety of phlox bloom there, though not as tall as in the sun.

Subject: Geum
From: Carmen
Zone: 8b
Date: 15-May-04 09:12 PM EST

I would like to know what the names of some Geum's are. I know of Mrs. Bradshaw and Lady Strathdon. Any ideas out there.

Thanks. Carmen

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Brent
Zone: 4
Date: 21-Jul-04 08:36 AM EST

I have Hostas & various 'wild' ferns under an oppressive cedar tree. I guess that's an obvious choice.

Subject: RE: Perennials for evergreen woodland garden
From: Wendy P
Zone: 7
Date: 01-Oct-04 02:11 PM EST

Brent.... never apologize for doing the right thing. Many people are not aware of the incredibly vast assortment of both ferns and hostas. Different varieties of each will take either moist shade or drier shade. That's what those silly reference books and plant tags are there for us to discover.

It always disturbs me to hear people dismiss Hostas without realizing their true potential. Slugs CAN be beaten. I'm on the Wet Coast and some of my Washingtonian neighbors consider the slug to be their state bird.

Several times a year I like [and I'm using the term figuratively] to go through the beds and lawn and hand-pick every slug I can find. I'll gather them up in my hand -yes, I know it's gross- and then throw them over my hedge onto the road. I make sure there are no cars coming when I send them on their way. [Can you imagine what would happen if a non-gardener encountered one of my flying slugs?] As I live on a fairly busy street it doesn't take long for them to be road-kill [think of the recipe for that one]. If I do this fairly often early enough in the season, I'm not left with too many hosta-munchers. I'll look in the beds under the driftwood, etc and check for eggs. When discovered I'll squish each and every one. I take no prisoners!!

Subject: RE: Perennials under pine trees
From: Miriam
Zone: 8
Date: 30-Jul-08 02:59 AM EST

I have 3 big pine trees (50ft/30 yrs old) in our backyard. We just cleared off most of the other evergreens in between them, which had either died or were getting unsightly due to neglect. There is hardly any soil, and what soil is there is very dry (when I water it, the water just sits on top and doesn't penetrate even an inch down!). I would like to plant some perennials and create what I think is like an English "cottagy" type of garden under the trees if that is possible. Is it possible? It's rather shady, with a bit of late morning sun.

What do I do to get the ground ready for planting? Do I put topsoil on? What depth of soil will I need? Do I need to mix that with peat moss?

I've bought a pink hydrangea, white daisy, and a fern. Will these survive?

Thanks in advance for whatever advice you have to offer! I'm rather new to this, and would really like to make it work!

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