The spring catalogs are now arriving, giving us plenty of time to decide what new plants we want. Many of us have various degrees of shade and need to find the right plants.  There are some beauties out there! I ordered seeds of a new flame red CELOSIA (Cockscomb) and they have arrived. It is fluffy and soft looking compared to the big sturdy heads, we are used to. It is a sun plant about 2 1/ 2 feet tall.

          Under my Crab Apple Tree, which is trimmed up to head high, there are PULMANARIAS, which are sometimes called LUNGWART. They are not very tall (8-14 inches) and among the first to bloom in the spring. They are fun because of their spotted, sometimes fuzzy leaves and blooms, and are loved by bees. The blooms can be of a number of colors: blues, reds, whites, and pinks. The foliage is the most interesting and lasts all summer. They do seed themselves but do not spread far away.  Different species will have different markings.  They make an excellent groundcover under shrubs or trees.

          If you want something larger, about 3-4 feet, that likes an acid soil, the shrub RHODENDRON. They are grown for their huge blooms. They are not the easiest to grow in Nebraska so takes a little “baby sitting”. Roots spread out close to the surface so can dry out in a dry winter requiring water on days that thaw out. Zone 3 is their northern most zone so a little protection helps them along in winter. They keep their leaves in winter so the north side of a shrub or building gives protection from wind.  They are usually not long lived here except for the PJM variety.  Many do not like hot temperatures so check their zone range. PJM has smaller blooms that cover the shrub in early spring. The two I have are lavender to purple and have been on the north side of the house for many years.  Foundations are alkaline so you need to use Sulfur each year to reduce the pH.

          Easier to grow are BLEEDING HEARTS (Dicentra sp.). They like moist, fertile soil with humous (compost), well drained, and neutral to alkaline soil. (Mine in most places measure about 7.2 pH.) The stems snap easily so be careful if you try to divide them after they go dormant when hot days strike. The red, pink, or white hearts dangle from a large curved stem.

          We always think of grass as a full sun plant but there is a moisture shady loving one with long dramatic striped leaves that likes it under my                big COTTONWOOD TREE (Hakomechloa sp.). The leaves are bright yellow with green stripes forming a wide clump only 12 inches high making a good edging for my chunky bark paths.

          Many of our early, small, spring bulbs will bloom in spring before the trees can spread their leaves completely. Several of these become dormant during hot weather. SNOW DROPS (Galanthus sp) will be one of the earliest. It needs to be near a path or area in which it can “show off” as it’s a small white flower (2-3 inches tall). Be careful planting bulbs among tree roots.  One can plant each one in its own little hole without harming roots.  Adding soil on top of tree roots has been known to kill trees.

          For a ground cover without blooms GINGER (Asaram sp.) does very well. Usually not more than 8-12 inches high with deep green, glossy and marbled leaves, they can fill in a difficult space. To find the dark brown flowers one has to hunt under the leaves. Ants carry the seeds to different areas.

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