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Growing Plants in Problem Places

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When you read the descriptions of where to plant your new tree, shrub or perennial flower, invariably you see words such as “fertile, well-drained soil” and “full sun.”

In an ideal plant world, all soils would be rich in organic matter and well drained, and the locations would be sunny and protected from wind. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t describe my yard. I do have some full sun locations, but those sites are exposed and windy.

A protected spot in the backyard would be perfect for plants, but it floods in late winter and spring for weeks—a perfect recipe for plant death. Then there’s the north side of the garage that has great soil, but it’s dark all day.

So, what can you do if your yard doesn’t have the ideal planting location?

There are ways to use almost any location in your yard as planting space. It just takes the proper plant selection, a little site preparation and some improvisation at planting time.

Clay soil is a blessing and a curse. Clay naturally contains many nutrients and holds water well; however, once wet, it’s difficult to work and takes a while to dry out.

The key to working on wet, clay soil is to improve the soil drainage and texture. You can install drainage pipes to divert the water to improve drainage, but an easier solution is raising the soil. Raised beds for perennial flowers or raised mounds for trees and shrubs allow the water to settle below the root zone.

Build 8- to 12-inch-tall raised beds for perennial flowers. Amend the beds with compost to improve the soil texture, creating air spaces in the dense clay soil.

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From the Organic Authority Files

For planting trees and shrubs, create a mound with the native soil so that one-third to one-half of the rootball is above the normal soil line when you plant. Select the right plant for wet sites, as well. Some plants that will tolerate wet, clay soils include Joe-Pye weed, Louisiana iris, Miscanthus ornamental grass, obedient plant (), winterberry holly, pepperbush (Clethra), willow, cypress and eastern white cedar.

Planting in Shade

Photo courtesy of the
National Gardening Association.


Selecting the right plant is also important when planting in a shady location. First, determine the amount of shade you have.

Part shade is defined as 3 to 4 hours of direct sun a day. Astilbes, coleus, impatiens and heuchera are examples of plants that grow well under these conditions.

Filtered or dappled shade is what’s found under small trees like flowering plums and medium-sized deciduous trees whose lowest branches are at least 20 feet off the ground, such as maples. Azaleas, mountain laurel, bleeding hearts, hostas and ferns grow well in dappled shade.

Deep shade is what’s found on the north side of buildings or under evergreen trees with low branches. Few plants, other than moss, grow well in deep shade, so it’s wiser to mulch that area instead.

Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, book author, speaker, and radio and television personality, has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for theNational Gardening Association and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.

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