The Q&A Archives: Planting In A Microclimate

Question: I live in the San Gorgonio Pass at about 2400 feet. In winter we get frost and snow that doesn't stick. Summer temps can climb to 105F. Being in a pass we are subject to drying winds from both the San Bernardino Valley area and the Coachella (Palm Springs-low desert). In addition, I'm in the middle of a long downhill run - side to side I gradually slope about 8 feet. I have a bare yard which in front is dominated by a Pine (50 ft) and an Elm (35 ft). The back features holes dug by the former owner's dogs, and lots of sun. We are planning for a koi pond and stream. I want Hydrangeas, Hosta and anything that will attract the local birds and insects, but no grass. Any suggestions?

Answer: It sounds as though your landscape will be shaded by the pine and elm trees. For shady sites, there are quite a few plants to choose from! Consider: Alchemilla (Lady's Mantle), Astilbe (Meadowsweet), Bergenia (same), Brunnera (Siberian Bugloss), Campanula carpatica (Bellflower), Ceratostigma (Blue Plumbago), Chrysogonum (Goldenstar), Heuchera (Coralbells), Hosta (many varieties are low growing), Primula (Primrose), Pulmonaria (Lungwort), Trillium grandiflorum (Wakerobin), Trollius (Globeflower), Dwarf Bearded Iris, Ajuga (groundcover), Pachysandra (groundcover), Asarum europaeum (European Ginger -groundcover).

Annuals such as impatiens do well in shady areas. Flowering perennials such as Astilbe, Aconitum, Aquilegia, Brunnera, and Alchemilla will put on a nice show. Try Asarum europeum, also known as European Ginger for something that is absolutely gorgeous and somewhat new to most gardeners. Of course Hostas are one of my top picks for shady areas and there are many, many varieties. Bulbs such as daffodil, most tulips, crocus, grape hyacinth, squill and dwarf iris. Instead of grass I would choose flowering ground cover such as Ajuga or Epimedium. Pachysandra is another top choice for shady area ground cover. For erosion control I would opt for Coronilla varia or Crownvetch. It is a flowering ground cover, excellent for erosion control that spreads rapidly and efficiently. It grows to about 2' tall. If that is too high for you, consider Lamium Mac. 'Silver Beacon'. It also flowers and grows to 6" in height.

Hope these suggestions help!

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