The Q&A Archives: Shade Plants Wilting In Dry Shade

Question: I have a shady area at the rear of my yard and get eastern exposure. I have planted hostas ferns and and various other shade loving plants including goat beard, bergenia and astilbe. Before planting I amended the soil with peat moss and a commercial garden soil. All the plants do well in the early spring when we have a lot of rain. However, in the summer months no matter how much I water I can't seem to get the soil to hold water. The ferns are the first to go. I am at the point of taking everything out and bricking over the area. Please help. The plants recover every spring but is a mess later in the year. What did I do wrong when I put in the garden? Do I really have to did everything up and amend the soil again? Thanks for your help. Oh yes, if you are wondering I put in 75 bags of commercial garden soil and 30 bags of peat moss. The area is approximately 30ft in length and 9 ft wide with a small one person path made of cobble stones. It's really very pretty in spring. Help.....

Answer: You didn't mention whether there were any trees nearby. Tree roots can absorb incredible amounts of water and if there are any around, perhaps that's why the soil is dry. Small plants can't really compete with thirsty tree roots.

If trees are not a problem, perhaps water is evaporating at a rapid rate during hot weather. You can slow evaporation by covering bare soil around the plants with 2"-3" of organic compost.

Finally, it's possible you're not watering deeply enough to keep the roots of your plants happy. Try applying water slowly so that it soaks in and thoroughly wets the root masses of your plants. (Frequent, shallow watering will keep the roots in the top few inches of soil, which can dry out quickly and cause plants to wilt.) To check the efficiency of your watering practices, dig down into the earth after watering to see how deeply water has penetrated the soil. You may be surprised to discover you're not applying enough water at any one time to percolate down to wet the root systems of your plants.

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