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Gardening in difficult places





Crinoid
Trying to figure out how to make low maintenance garden in very dry deep shade under maple trees, z5b-6a. Bullet proof plants, recommended for such places, died first. Even invasive species, goutweed and pachysandra, are just static, for a couple of years already. They were watered for establishing and soil was improved before planting.

No big plants, this is narrow long space behind townhouse.
Hardscaping, gravel or bark mulch will be last option.

What you are using in such conditions?
ocalhoun
Well, you could go the hardscaping option, and forgo plants if nothing will grow.
You might also want to check the soil quality there; perhaps there's more reasons nothing will grow there besides just lack of light.

Besides that, you have two options:
1: Find the most dark-adapted plants to plant there... In the rain forest, understory plants survive with just a few tiny, broken sunbeams. Surely there must be plants in the world that can survive the shade from just one maple tree!
2: Thin out the tree. I wouldn't suggest cutting living branches, but definitely cut out all the dead branches and remove any moss there might be. If having plants underneath it is very important to you, then you might even cut some of the living branches out. The more you remove, the more light will get to the ground beneath it.
Crinoid
These are big trees with shallow roots, they are outcompeting most of the plants. If any place, including raised bed with good soil, becomes fertilized and watered - tree roots come there. Without watering, the soil will be bone dry in summer. Keeping all watered well, that there will be enough water for all, costs too much. Watering some areas with desired plants better than the rest of the backyard - tree roots come there too.

Only tree peony at the periphery of the tree canopy, where it gets some sun, does well, it has a very deep roots.

Soil is a poor, filled with debris, shallow top soil with heavy clay layer under it, trees sucked out all what is possible from it. All humanly possible soil improvement (without hired labor) was done, but this cannot compensate full soil replacement and building raised beds, what again costs too much. Plus you can't drive truck with soil there: everything must be carried in hands through the house, and final soil level should not be much different than at neighboring backyards.

Using containers - as a solution for a bad soil - actually is not a solution at all. Most plants die after overwintering, repeated freezing-thawing cycles with too much moisture. Only Aegopodium (goutweed, invasive) survives, in both soil and containers. The only solution, moving containers for a winter into covered storage near heated structures, is not an option for the absence of such. Burying them into the clay for winter leads to the root rot, too much moisture during cold season. It's like immersing into the cold bath for a months.

This year trying the 9 gal (35 liters) insulated pots (thin foamed plastic), leaving them in winter where they were during summer, and will see how it will work.
Making really large planters, insulated by 5 cm thick styrofoam, is also out of means, plus wood can't be used outdoors: termite-prone area. As soon as they will have something to eat, they will come.

What are your difficult places, did you find solutions?
furtasacra
You can try what I did... I have a deeply shaded back yard, and nothing (pretty) would grow.... so I went for a walk in the woods and grabbed pretty native plants growing in similar conditions and planted them in my yard.

I'm not sure how legal that is, but it worked. As a bonus, these plants (3 kinds of ferns and a bunch of stuff I can't even identify) require no care at all, except pruning and thinning to keep them from spreading where I don't want them.

There's also a good bit of hardscaping, too - bench, fountain, patio, fireplace, and shiny decorative objects sticking up out of the ferns and hanging on the fencing to catch the light and provide color in places where nothing will bloom.
ocalhoun
furtasacra wrote:

I'm not sure how legal that is, but it worked. As a bonus, these plants (3 kinds of ferns and a bunch of stuff I can't even identify) require no care at all, except pruning and thinning to keep them from spreading where I don't want them.

If it was government-run forest land, then it was very illegal.
If it was private land, and you didn't have permission from the owner, then it was trespassing and petty theft.

Ferns are a good idea though... they grow in places like that, and if the climate is right, they grow very well... not unattractive at all either. They usually like to have a lot of water.

Dig down a foot or so there. If the dirt you pull up is full of tree roots, then the tree will be taking away all the nutrition from the soil...
Spread an impermeable surface (thick plastic, roofing underlayer, or thin concrete pad), then put plenty of good planting dirt on top of that. Then you can plant whatever you want there, as long as it likes low light conditions, and by the time the tree roots break through to compete with them, they'll be well established. Don't completely cover up the tree's root system though; it needs water and nutrients too. (Usually, a tree's root system is about the same size as the branches and leaves above ground.)
jwellsy
What growing zone are you in? I'm in the North end of zone 5 and for shady areas I've had success with Hosta's and Lily of the Valley. I like the Hosta. But, they don't spread out as much as the Lily of the Valleys.
Crinoid
Zone 6a, same city at the North has USDA z5b.

I still trying to grow ferns, too dry (even with watering - I can't water deeply every two days, time and water bill if compensate tree's water consumption) and too little sun (sun is enough for hostas, but too dry). Ferns started to grow when were moved to the front yard, less tree roots, strong part sun half of the day. Go figure Confused After two years, after they grey big, returned back, still require damp soil and fertilizing - trees are using all.

Goutweed and pachisandra are alive with little watering, but not grow to cover all the ground. 1 of 8 lily-of-the-valley survived with a lot of watering, still static for 5 yrs. Edimedium, mazus, veronica, saxifrage died.

I thought about some drought resistant plants like hens-and-chicks or sedums, only everything drought resistant I know requires full sun.

Raised bed, separated from roots, should work but is out of means - I tried the smaller lower version with landscape fabric underneath, lasted only for two yrs.

Pruning tree should help with sun, but not tree roots, out of means again: only 1 of the 3 trees in question has trunk on my backyard, everything reachable from ladder and telescopic cutter is cut off, everything else is a job for a tree surgeon, $2000+ every 5 yrs, no access for a truck - all should be carried through the house only, and each of the trees covers 5 properties across, 3 along. Small properties, naturally. This is unsolvable problem, I know.

Do you know drought and shade tolerant plants that can stay in wet clay soil all cold season?
Last resort is to let the native flora to take over and may the fittest win, or place a paving stones over, with intervals for rain permeability, if the family members agree to do most of the work Laughing
jwellsy
You need a certified Master Gardener. Call your local garden centers and ask if they have a certified Master Gerdener on staff, then go talk to them. The local college probably has a horticulture department that would probably be glad to help you. A local botanical garden caretaker would be a good resource.

You may also be able to take a walk through some local forested areas and observe the undergrowth for potentialy successful specimins. Be careful about breaking local laws on disturbing plants.

Would a rain barrel collecting roof runoff and a drip hose connected to the drain valve be possible?
ocalhoun
Crinoid wrote:
everything else is a job for a tree surgeon, $2000+ every 5 yrs, no access for a truck

Allow me to introduce you to your new friend, the pole saw:

Or, the cheaper option:


Many of these can be extended to ridiculously long lengths, and if you secure the ladder to the tree, (and preferably also tie yourself off to the ladder) you can use them while on the ladder.

(Failing that, just pave the area with bricks and have lots of potted plants.)
Crinoid
Thanks, everyone. Sorry, was absent for a while.
No place for a rain barrel, and down sprouts are on neighbors territories(row houses, you know).

I have a pole saw, the cheaper version, it's only 3m or so, add 1.5 m of a free standing ladder - this is not much, bottom branches only :sigh:
Was thinking about using pistol crossbow with flexible tree saw (1, love the comments Laughing ), shooting from the second story of the house. But only few branches of one tree could be reached this way.

I'll try to find a website with knowledgeable gardeners is my zone, thanks.
jwellsy
Crinoid wrote:
Thanks, everyone. Sorry, was absent for a while.
No place for a rain barrel, and down sprouts are on neighbors territories(row houses, you know).


Maybe the neighbor would split the cost of a rain barrel and let you have half the water.[/b]
ocalhoun
Crinoid wrote:

I have a pole saw, the cheaper version, it's only 3m or so, add 1.5 m of a free standing ladder - this is not much, bottom branches only :sigh:

Well, that seems obvious enough... get a longer pole, or a taller ladder. You could rent an extremely tall (10m or more shouldn't be hard to find) ladder from any tool rental place, and it would be save enough to use as long as you have someone on the ground steadying it, and tie it off against the tree limb you're leaning it on once you get to the top. Shouldn't be very expensive either.
deanhills
Crinoid wrote:
Trying to figure out how to make low maintenance garden in very dry deep shade under maple trees, z5b-6a. Bullet proof plants, recommended for such places, died first. Even invasive species, goutweed and pachysandra, are just static, for a couple of years already. They were watered for establishing and soil was improved before planting.

No big plants, this is narrow long space behind townhouse.
Hardscaping, gravel or bark mulch will be last option.

What you are using in such conditions?
I would make a rock garden, or just use nice colour river stones to complement the maple trees. You can play with different coloured stones.
bigt
furtasacra wrote:
You can try what I did... I have a deeply shaded back yard, and nothing (pretty) would grow.... so I went for a walk in the woods and grabbed pretty native plants growing in similar conditions and planted them in my yard.

I'm not sure how legal that is, but it worked. As a bonus, these plants (3 kinds of ferns and a bunch of stuff I can't even identify) require no care at all, except pruning and thinning to keep them from spreading where I don't want them.

There's also a good bit of hardscaping, too - bench, fountain, patio, fireplace, and shiny decorative objects sticking up out of the ferns and hanging on the fencing to catch the light and provide color in places where nothing will bloom.


I like this idea, but maybe you should check with a land developer or someone you know that has some woods nearby. Native plants are always the best option.
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