The Q&A Archives: soil prep

Question: I am trying to landscape the drive-thru area at our business. It is an area that is sloped and shaded. I planted hostas and day lillies in June of last year. The lillies came up but the hostas are no where to be seen. They were plants that were split from a friend's garden. The area appears to have been asphalt at one time, since chunks rise to the surface every year. I clean the soil out as best I can each year but can't seem to get anything to grow there. I have added black dirt, but maybe not enough. I fear that water runs down the slope before getting the plants watered. I also fertilized the soil with a slow-release fertilizer in the spring. Can you help me get anything to grow there? Thanks.

Answer: The area you describe sounds like it would be difficult to garden in unless you amend the soil (again!) with organic matter to help it hold moisture. So, spread 3-4 inches of compost or other organic matter over the top of the bed and dig it in to a depth of 6-8 inches and then plant things that thrive in dry shade. Such as:

Lady?s Mantle (Alchemilla mollis) ? Lady?s mantle is prized for its large leaves, pleasant rounded growth habit and airy yellow flower clusters that appear late spring through early summer. This perennial will grow about 18? tall and wide. Deadhead to prevent self-sown seedlings or allow these volunteers to gently naturalize.

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria spp.) ? Lily-of-the-valley plants are charming and often grown as an attractive ground cover where they will naturalize well when conditions suite them. Fragrant white bell-shaped flowers on 6? stalks appear mid-spring and were popular as cut flowers in wedding bouquets. Prefers part shade and well-drained soil and will tolerate dry conditions well, especially after flowering. Lily-of-the-Valley spreads through rhizomes underground and will naturalize readily so provide plenty of room and a natural boundary.

Bishop?s Cap (Epimedium grandiflora) ? A wide range of plants are available in this species from low-growing ground covers only 6? tall to much larger plants up to 2? in height. Also known as Barrenwort, this perennial plant is perfect for the dry shade beneath trees. Foliage can turn red or orange in the fall and remain over winter providing winter interest and the flowers in spring and summer are also attractive.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp) ? The common name refers to the plants medicinal uses throughout history, but it is also called ?Cowslip? or ?Bethleham Sage? as well. A spring flowering perennial, Pulmonaria grows about 12? tall and 18? wide and has long, lance-shaped leaves that are often speckled, splotched, variegated or frosted looking. Highly attractive foliage and vivid flowers make lungwort a favorite understory plant. Part shade and well-draining soil are preferred.

Comfrey (Symphytum grandiflora) ? An herb, long used medicinally, this perennial will tolerate dry shade once established. Growing about 12? with handsome, semi-evergreen foliage, comfrey does well under shrubs or small trees. See more details about comfrey in the shade garden and ways to use this early spring-flowering perennial plant.

Yellow Archangel Deadnettle (Lamium galeobdolen) ? Yellow archangel is a perennial plant that grows 1-2? tall and wide. It spread through creeping stems and can be somewhat invasive if not kept in check. Archangel would make an excellent, low-maintenance ground cover for a woodland area but is probably not the best choice for small mixed borders. Yellow summer flowers, variegated foliage and drought tolerance after the plant is established make Yellow Archangel Deadnettle useful in some garden situations.

Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) ? Native to Eastern North America the Christmas Fern is a non-flowering perennial. The Christmas Fern is evergreen, providing winter interest, and does best in average to rich, dry or moderately dry soil. The fern will reach a height of 2 feet tall and the rhizomatous clumps will slowly grow to over 2?. Low maintenance and highly attractive with upright, evergreen foliage frond.

Hope these suggestions are helpful!

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