Shade Gardening: How to Plant Under Mature Trees and More

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In my mind, shade gardening offers the most beneficial inventory. of plants to choose from but that doesn’t mean these plants They don’t come with their own set of challenges—which may or may not arise from the situations they’re designed for. The following offers a few things to keep in mind as you enjoy all these adventurous plants while battling shady conditions. Check out some new shade plants that are winter hardy.

Coping with root competition for shade caused by trees

Generally, if you’re shade gardening, you have shade from trees, and the trees have roots. Although it’s counterintuitive, the base of a tree often has the best soil for shade perennials. There you will find gaps between the large anchoring roots of the tree and the low roots of the feeder that will thwart your efforts towards a shady paradise. Certain trees are notoriously difficult to plant under, such as western red cedar (Thuja plicataZones 3-8) or walnut (Jaglan spp., zones 3–9). In these cases, it is better to hire heavy-hitting ground covers that have proven to be effective in establishing themselves in the most difficult situations.

You may have to resort to establishing plants by adding 6 inches of compost to the feeder roots of existing mature trees. This will go a long way in getting your chosen inventory started for a season or two, before the feeder roots of your trees take over the newly added substrate added to their diet. They will believe you did it for their benefit and will soon reclaim their territory. Keep in mind, however, that trees are generally welcoming things and, once established, won’t be offended by the presence of other plants among their root systems. All this makes for a completely satisfying relationship for all parties involved.

Example: Jessica Diggle

Dealing with fungal diseases that thrive in shade.

There are many types of fungal diseases, but the most damaging ones—fungi—need moisture and cool temperatures to survive. If mildew is a concern, and not because of a humid climate, consider changing your watering schedule so that the leaves of your shade-sensitive plants are completely dry by late afternoon. As always, remember that there are plenty of good plants to try if one keeps giving you grief. Before spraying any fungicide, consider changing your planting palette.

Powdery mildew is caused by shady areas.
Photo: Steve Aitken

Deal with wet soils in shaded areas that create anaerobic conditions.

Soil that is constantly saturated often creates anaerobic conditions for plant roots and, if dug up, can be easily identified by the smell of rotten eggs. A generous boost to that soil’s organic content with compost will never hurt the situation, but remember to work within your parameters. If your soil is consistently wet in certain areas of the garden, choose plants that are naturally adapted to those conditions. from Buttercup (Ranunculus spp and cvs., zones 4-9) to skunk cabbage (Lysichiton camtschatcensis and cvs., and L. American and cvs., zones 5-9), some plants find such digging particularly satisfying.

L. American and CVS, zones 5-9
Photo: Michelle Gervais

Daniel Hinckley is a plant explorer, nurseryman, lecturer, and author. His latest book, Wind Cliffs: A Story of People, Plants and Gardens. Describes the history of the evolution of your home landscape.

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