Do you find yourself looking at your yard, overgrown and shady, seeing problems with trees that have grown bigger than you ever imagined…
- throwing shade most of the year, so the grass has died underneath
- showing roots near the soil surface, and grass won’t grow there, either?
You may be frustrated by shade because your garden doesn’t look the way it always has.
Time to change your point of view. Quit fighting the shade. The result can be an easier-to-maintain and visually rich landscape that takes advantage of the light you have – and don’t have.
- Give up on grass! Just because you “used to” have grass a certain distance from the tree trunk doesn’t mean it will still grow there if you just do things right. Most of the tree’s roots stay in the upper 12 inches of soil. Lawn grass is out-competed for light and nutrients.
- Search out the lovely ground cover options that thrive in shade. One good choice is grass look-alikes such as carex, which offers low mounds of fine-textured foliage without mowing. Damp soils expand the choices beyond green varieties to variegated ones that add light to shady areas. For moist conditions, think liriope and monkey grass as well as carex.
- Raise your sights. A “ground cover” can be more than 3 inches high! Consider many of the lovely shrubs that prefer partial shade and add visual impact year-round. One example - the new “Lemon Lime” cultivar or reddish “Harbor Dwarf” nandinas can provide easy care and attractive contrasts. Or push the limits with a burgundy colored shrub such as “Purple Daydream™" dwarf loropetalum. These shrubs and more will stay 2-3 feet high and allow you to fill the edges of tree shade with billowing color.
- Build short layers. In front of shrubs, even low ones, use the front space for seasonal interest with plantings such as caladium. Or go for an easy perennial – ferns. Ah, you didn’t know ferns were considered a perennial? They may go dormant in winter, but try a lacy metal edging to the bed to sustain interest. Low, white-painted iron work can contrast with mulch in the fern bed, then enhance the ferns’ curves in summer.
- Consider containers. The old approach was to bring out your house plants for the summer, burying their pots so the plants looked like they lived in the garden. Today’s approach says, “Who needs that work?” Choose colorful ceramic containers and set them in clusters in partial shade under the tree near the drip line. You can move them in, even empty them, at the end of summer, or use plants that can stay outside year-round. Think bright yellow filled with blue salvia or a bright red tropical like Begonia boliviensis.
Your goal in shade plantings, like elsewhere in the garden, is to use masses of plants to catch your eye whether sitting on the patio or looking out the kitchen window.