Archived Story

It’s just plain yukky outside [UPDATED]

Published 6:58am Monday, May 5, 2014 Updated 8:59am Monday, May 5, 2014

This time of year, everything is either tan or brown, yukky!

The bare spots you have been trying to ignore stand out like kneecaps on a Chickadee. If you are dealing with dense shade, under an oak tree for instance, about all you can do is mulch the area. Dress it up with stepping stones and people will think you are a great landscaper.

If, however, the bare area gets some sun, either all over for a few hours, or dappled shade all day, there are options.

If you have an east facing slope, vinca is the answer. All it needs is a few hours of sun then shade for the rest of the day. It spreads by roots, is easy to pull up if it creeps into a forbidden area, and best of all, it blooms with small bright blue flowers held just above shiny oval leaves.

There are always the natives. Blood root has large lobed leaves that persist all summer. It blooms with a pretty white flower in early spring.

Add Solomon’s seal, either variegated or all green for the mid height, and native ferns for the tall background. All the care you will need is to keep the area watered in the hot days of summer. The three shades of green are very soothing to the eye when it’s 95 above and no end in sight.

If you want a little sparkle under the trees, look for Lamium maculatum, Pink Pewter. The leaves on this shade plant are silver with green edges. It blooms in early summer with pale pink flowers. It spreads fast and is a great ground cover. If it starts looking tacky, just cut back hard. The light color of the leaves and blooms really stand out in the shade. It likes part shade but will tolerate nearly full shade.

Another silver-leaved plant is Brunnera. It blooms in early spring with airy blue flowers. This part shade plant takes a bit more care. The flowers should be cut back after blooming to encourage the plant to form a nice mound of leaves. It can get 18 inches tall and each plant will be 18 to 24 inches wide.

Hostas are always an option. They come in every size from two inches tall and wide to Empress Wo who spreads many feet tall and wide. Picture her filling that empty spot in the shady corner. One plant and you’re done.

Japanese painted fern will grow in dry shade. Most other shade plants need moist soil. This fern has slivery fringed leaves and can lend a light, airy look to the shaded area.

All these plants will do better with a mulch to keep the soil cool, damp and weed free. Leaves make the most natural looking mulch. Bark is usually too bold a look. If you have had issues with slugs, you will want to treat your shady ground covers early in the spring, as soon as you see green sprouts. Most treatments only need to be applied once. Look for the iron based granules. They are safe for the pets, that is unless your pet is a banana slug.

Make your shady spot an accent, not a detriment.


Bev Johnson is a master gardener in Otter Tail County.


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