shade gardening ... BY GLADYS JEURINK

          There is not too much reason to plant directly under a tree.  First, it isn’t good for the tree as the tree needs all the water, oxygen, and food it can get.  If you put mulch around the trunk and out for two feet, it will save moisture, cool the roots, and eventually break down into humus.  When you dig into roots near the surface any wounds will stress the tree and may cause problems, especially during a hard year.

          Second, some ground covers such as vinca will survive usually in competition with tree roots and shade.  Be very careful about adding soil above the roots for your new plants. Trees can be killed by adding more than an inch of soil. The soil will smother the roots and the tree needs that air.  Ivy can be tucked between roots and ginger loves shade.  Here you need to remember to water as the trees are busy using available water.  Also, there is Bishop Weed (aegopodium) which can be solid green or a white striped one called “Snow on the Mountain”, that will grow in the shade under a tree. Watch out as this is a vigorous plant that might prefer to come into your lawn. 

          One thing I have tried that I like under a tree in the shade is a bench or a hammock and nearby planters or pots.  These don’t cover a great deal of the tree roots, and the plants can be changed if you like.  My huge cottonwood has a bark chip floor complete with a lounge chair, and a small table for drinks.  My little dog loves to sit in the chair with me and enjoys the shade.  It’s a good place to bring the houseplants out for the summer.  Fancy pots can be used out there. Just set your potted houseplants inside the fancy pot for the summer.

          Farther away from the tree trunk is a Lenten Rose (helleborous). It loves damp soil and high shade. The Lenten Rose blooms as early as February.  George has a purple one and a white one. Ferns, anemones (ranunculaceae), bergenia (saxifragaceae), as well as lily of the valley (convallaria) all look good under light shade.  If the tree is big and the branches have been pruned up high, a Redbud tree loves it and does much better than in full sun.

Copyright 2006