The Q&A Archives: Red Clay

Question: I have a very shaded, red clay with several (25) large grey rocks (maybe 25-40 lbs.each)the kind that you see on highways used for storm drains. The house is a 60,s style ranch. The area is 12 ft. wide and 35 ft. long and on an steep incline with an old brick retaining wall.
Can you please tell me what will grow in this heavily shaded, red clay rock garden? I have a drip hose for watering but sometimes it just runs off. I have put hostas, coral bells, aztec grass and none seem todo very well. They seem to get smaller.

Please help. I can't really afford any major changes like replacing the retaining wall. I just need to know what to grow and how to make them thrive under these circumstances.

Thank You

Answer: I don't think the heavy shade is as much of a problem as the soil you're working with. Some great groundcovers for heavy shade include: Sweet violet (Viola odorata), Black mondo grass (Ophiopogon planiscapus 'Arabicus', Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum var. pictum), Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), Pachysandra (Pachysandra terminalis), Wild ginger (Asarum canadense), Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum), Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), Confederate jasmine (Trachelosperum jasminoides), Vinca minor, and Asian jasmine (Trachelosperum asiaticum).

With a sloping area, the water will naturally run off before it soaks in, unless it has somewhere specific to go. If you take the time to amend the soil with organic matter each time you install a plant, the water will tend to soak in rather than run off, especially if you apply water slowly, either through a drip system or a soaker hose. If it is impractical to amend the entire area with compost, peat moss, etc. prior to planting, at least dig some of the organic matter into the planting areas and leave a small indentation (watering basin) around each plant to help channel the water to the root zones. Then if you apply water slowly for an extended period of time it should soak in rather than run off.

Best wishes with your garden!

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