Thursday, August 27, 2009

We get questions....

Dear Don,

I need suggestions for a difficult shady planting area off our parking lot. We planted Mondo grass in this area years ago and it is doing well, but it is very slow and not very interesting. It is the north side of a commercial building, and is also shaded by Sapium trees and very large Xylosma shrubs (which we keep pruned up for safety reasons). Watering is with an old sprinkler system with regular lawn-type heads.

It would be nice to get some flowers, but that might be asking a bit much. We’re ok with keeping the mondo grass, just want something more interesting with it. -- Bob


First, review the sprinklers for coverage and make sure the entire planting area is getting watered.

Lift several clumps of mondo grass and plant most of them in the shadiest areas. Set some in reserve to plant around new plants.

Plant groups of 3 – 5 each of one-gallon perennials in 5 - 6 places. Choose for tolerance of shade, some seasonal bloom if possible, and ability to withstand existing water schedule and raking of leaves in fall.


Turf lily

Liriope muscari

Purple flowers in summer, grassy leaves. Long-lived, very shade-tolerant.

Lenten rose

Helleborus orientalis

Flowers in pink, purple, or white resemble single rose blossoms. Bloom in winter. Very shade-tolerant, tough, long-lived.

Heartleaf bergenia

Bergenia cordifolia

Big leaves look lush year-around. Pink flowers on the common form are a nice bonus in late winter. New white-flowered form (‘Bressingham White’) is even showier, and the two colors mix nicely.


Aquilegia hybrids

Showy flowers in spring. Each plant lives 3 – 4 years, but tend to reseed nicely. Attract hummingbirds.

Coral bells and ornamental Heucheras

Heuchera sanguinea and hybrids

Delicate-looking wands of pink-red flowers in spring; hybrids are grown for colorful foliage.

You may want to add some low shrubs along corners or up against the building.

Plants selected should be no more than 3’ tall, or readily pruned to that height. Examples: dwarf Heavenly bamboo (Nandina domestica ‘Firepower’) could be planted on 2 – 3’ centers (a total of 10 – 12 plants). Other options include Sweet Victorian box (Sarcococca ruscifolia) or a dwarf variety of Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium).

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