June 2003
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Garden design using shade plants and shade trees   

Gardening Newsletter - June 2003, Issue 10

At long last, the Browse Pages for the Garden Plants Encyclopedia have been updated to include all the new plants in the database.  If you've searched the Garden Plants Encyclopedia, you've been seeing the new plants since April.  I've organized the browse pages a bit differently in that the list is alphabetized by both the common and botanical name.  This should make plants easier to find plants when you're not sure if the name you have is botanical or common.

Rebecca Green

CephalotaxusShade Tolerant Conifers

Japanese Plum Yew (Cephalotaxus spp.), yews (Taxus spp.), and hemlock (Tsuga Canadensis) tolerate shade better than most conifers. They all make great privacy screens and are natural backdrops to shade loving perennials. Japanese plum yew has the coarsest texture of these three plants, while hemlock has the lightest texture. Unfortunately, only Japanese plum yew is deer resistant.

Stop! Don’t Change the Flowers!

Container gardening is becoming increasingly popular. Indeed container gardens can soften the hard lines of buildings and make city dwellings much more habitable.

One popular trend in container gardening is to plant a tree in a large container and plant flowers around the tree. As the seasons change the gardener changes the flower plantings beneath the trees. In temperate climates, the flowers may be changed as many as five times during the year.

Attractive as these plantings may be, changing the plantings beneath the tree is detrimental to the health of the tree. About seventy percent of a tree’s root system is in the top foot of soil, whether or not the tree is planted in the ground or in a container. Each time the flowers are changed the tree’s roots are disturbed and many are killed. It isn’t unusual for trees in such situations to die after about five years.

Instead of planting flowers with relatively short blooming periods beneath the tree, plant evergreens that are attractive all year long. Ideally these should be planted at the same time as the trees. Some good groundcover choices for containers in the shade are: Euonymus fortunei, Carex (sedges), Liriope (lilyturf) and, Hedera helix (ivy).

A Tip For Cut Flowers

To make your cut flowers last longer, combine 8 ounces of water with 8 ounces of ginger ale or clear soda (7-Up) and ½ teaspoon bleach. The soda will give the plants sugar, while the bleach kills bacteria.

Let Nature Be Your Guide

Most flowers look better planted in large drifts than they do planted individually. Collectively they can make a resonating bold statement, while individually they become lost in the sea of bloom. As the plants spread from year to year, the shape of the drift will shift slightly. Observe natural settings and you will see that plants grow in clusters, swirled around each other, not in lines or even circles.

Creating a Woodland Garden

Even though you may live in the suburbs or in a city, creating a woodland garden with native plants is not as difficult as you may think. The trick is thinking less on individual plants and more on the garden as a whole. Here are some tips that will help simplify the creation of your woodland garden.

You don’t necessarily need trees for a woodland garden. Woodland plants usually need shade, which doesn’t have to be created by trees. Shadows from buildings can create the needed shade. Planting on the north or east side of the house also provides for some shade. You can even get creative and use overhead lattice to create shade.

You may not need to significantly amend your soil. Many woodland plants thrive in poor soil. After all, frequently there are few nutrients left in woodland soil once the trees have taken what they need. Woodland plants are use to getting by with little. Many grow tall and leggy in rich soil.

Only water to get your plants established. Again, many woodland plants are use to competing with big trees for moisture. They will do fine without a lot of supplemental watering. There are no sprinkler systems in the forest.

Use ground-up leaves as mulch. Leaf litter is the best mulch around. Just run your lawn mower over the leaves. Don’t use whole leaves though, as many types of leaves become matted and decay slowly.

Don’t fertilize your plants. This is especially true if you use leaf litter as

Mulch. There isn’t a garden fairy in the forest sprinkling Miracle Grow on the plants. The organic leaf litter will provide the nutrients your plants need to grow.

That's all for now. If you have any comments or questions on the newsletter, please email us at


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