Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
March, 2006
Regional Report

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Bleeding heart has such delightful flowers and delicate, lacy foliage that I have planted it in several of my shade beds.

Made in the Shade

Years ago I designed my perennial beds to be permanent. But the truth is, each and every one of them is a work in progress. Sometimes plants aren't satisfied with their allotted space, or neighboring trees eventually grow large enough to cast shade on what was once a sunny bed. When this happens, it's time for some renovation. I'm sure that nearly every landscape has some area that receives little or no sun, and while shady sites can be considered problem areas because of the difficulty of establishing grass, these sites are really wonderful for showcasing shade-loving trees and shrubs, as well as bulbs, perennials, and ground covers.

Degrees of Shade
Shade can vary in intensity and is sometimes difficult to define. My garden experiences three distinct types of shade; part shade, light shade, and full shade.

Part shade also can be called semi- or half shade. It's an area that alternates between full sun and full shade. If the area is shaded during midday and afternoon and is open and sunny during the cooler morning hours, I think it's a bonus. An area that receives morning light and afternoon shade allows for a wealth of plants.

Light shade often is called dappled or moving shade. A lightly shaded area lies somewhere between part shade and full shade. Here, the sun never seems far away and is not so much blocked as filtered, typically by the animated movement of foliage on deciduous trees. Honey locust, willow, and mimosa -- those with small, feathery leaves -- are typical of trees providing light shade.

Full shade suggests a garden that is nearly always in substantial shade during the growing season. A full-shade garden reaps the benefit of moisture-retentive soil during dry spells.

Choosing Your Plants
Once you've decided just how shady the bed will be, choosing just the right plants shouldn't be too difficult. Some shade plants make up for their lack of spectacular blooms with bold foliage. You can achieve a striking effect by combining several plant varieties in a single garden area. If you have moist shade, try hostas, ferns, sarcococca, Kalmia latifolia, or English ivy. For dry, shady areas, try vinca, alchemilla, camellias, autumn fern, hellebores, and aspidistra. I love the combination of hellebores, dicentra, and old-fashioned violas.

Preparing the Bed
Whether you're installing a new bed or renovating an old one, it's a good idea to give the soil a boost by adding peat moss or other organic matter. I spread a 4- to 5-inch layer of compost over the soil surface, sprinkle 1 cup of granular 10-20-20 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed, and mix it all in thoroughly. I try to dig the organic matter in at least 8 inches deep, and then rake the soil smooth.

Mulch and Water
Once the plants are snuggled into their new homes, I topdress the bed with a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch. You can use shredded leaves, aged compost, or finely chopped bark to help suppress weeds and slow evaporation of soil moisture. Once the mulch is in place, water the bed thoroughly. I use a watering wand to provide a gentle shower, sweeping it back and forth until I'm sure the soil is completely saturated.

When all this is done, it's time to sit back and relax. The newly installed plants will begin to recover and produce new growth in a week or two.

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