The Q&A Archives: dense shade area needs help

Question: Hello. In the front of my house where the walkway starts I have a very old and large holly. It shades that area completely and also drops leaves all over. Do you have any suggestions to what I could plant in the space. I really would like something to set off the entrance to the sidewalk. Also is there anything I can plant under the holly that could stand up the the falling holly leaves?

Thank you.

Answer: Hollies can be difficult to plant beneath because the shade is dense and the canopy also blocks rain from reaching the ground. And although the leaves are prickly and nasty if you step on them, they do serve as a natural mulch and are best left where they fall to help feed the soil gradually as they rot down.

I would suggest an undemanding, drought tolerant, shade tolerant groundcover such as epimedium perhaps mixed with some hostas. Hostas are available in a wide variety of sizes with different leaf colors, shapes and textures so you can create as lively (or as formal or serene) pattern as you desire. Another possibility would be Vinca minor or periwinkle which is a glossy leafed evergreen ground cover with blue flowers in the spring.

You would need to plant each one in its own prepared planting hole, digging to avoid damaging the roots excessively and also to avoid larger roots. It would be helpful if you can add some compost and organic matter such as leaf mold mixed into each hole. Plant and then water each plant deeply and mulch with about two inches of organic mulch to help keep the soil evenly moist. Water as needed the first season to keep the soil slightly moist, after that they should be well established enough to get by on their own except in cases of extended dry weather or drought.

I hope this gives you some ideas.

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