The Q&A Archives: Woodland garden

Question: I looking for recommendations for plants to use in a woodland garden

Answer: Hostas, popular easy-care perennials, prefer a moist soil and may be grown in containers too. Prepare the planting bed with plenty of compost. Hostas are often beset by slugs and snails. To help protect them, place a strip of copper foil around the bed, or apply diatomaceous earth.

Hellebores are strikingly attractive shade-loving perennials. Common species include Helleborus niger (Christmas rose), H. orientalis (Lenten rose) and H. foetidus (Stinking hellebore), which--despite its name--smells unpleasant only when its leaves are crushed. All prefer rich soil amended with organic matter. Don't move or divide these plants often, as they are somewhat slow to establish.

Ferns are a natural choice for a woodland setting. To keep plants looking tidy, remove faded fronds.

Trillium, a member of the lily family, blooms in early spring. These perennials die back in mid- to late summer.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria) (figure A), a perennial, will act as a groundcover if kept well irrigated. Its creeping roots make it a perfect companion to azaleas and rhododendrons.

Corydalis flexuosa grows in clumps, and its delicate foliage resembles that of the maidenhair fern. Clumps should be divided in fall or spring. This perennial grows well from seed and will self-sow, once established. 'Blue Panda' (figure B) is a compact, free-flowering cultivar, with gentian-blue blooms. Plants die back in summer.

Rhododendrons are excellent shrubs for a shady garden. These spring-blooming plants don't like to be planted too deeply in the soil: the top of the root ball should be just above the surface. They require an acid soil that's rich in organic matter, filtered shade and constant moisture. The roots grow near the surface, so apply a thick layer of mulch to help prevent them from drying out. After plants bloom, apply an acidic fertilizer formulated for rhododendrons, and pinch off faded blossoms. If you look closely just under the blooms, you'll see a small, striped bit of brown or tan wood. Break faded blooms off at that point. This process, called detrussing, will cause new leaf buds to form, encouraging the plant to grow bushy and full.

Color in a shade garden can come from not just flowers. Some foliage plants will provide brilliant hues.

The genus Pieris includes seven species of evergreen shrubs that grow well in full sun or light shade. Some have attractive foliage that is red or pink when new. These shrubs prefer a moist, fast-draining soil that's high in organic matter. After plants bloom, remove spent flowers. Pieris leaves are poisonous if ingested.

Top-dress woodland plants with a thick layer of mulch to reduce weed growth and keep the soil moist and cool.

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