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Gardeners can have it made in the shade.

Byline: Paul Rogers

COLUMN: Roots of Wisdom

Too many homeowners are in the dark about shade gardening. They consider gardening in less than full sun to be an obstacle to the successful growing of plants. Actually, gardening in the shade may make gardening easier and more enjoyable. However, before we begin a look at the plants for a shade garden, we need to analyze the shade.

All shade is not equal. Not only are there various degrees of shade, but there are also different conditions that cause the shade. Shade that is caused by buildings, fences or other structures blocks the sun's rays, which only modifies the aboveground environment for plants; whereas shade caused by a tree or trees challenges plant growth by a reduction of light energy striking plant leaves but also (likely of greater importance), tree roots severely restrict the availability of water and nutrients belowground.

Normally, plants can be selected that will prosper when located on the north side of the house. The soil can be amended by the additions of compost or peat moss, lime and fertilizer. Ferns, hostas, gingers, bleeding hearts, astilbes, trilliums and dozens and dozens of other plants will perform wonderfully well in such a location.

However, the ground area under an evergreen tree such as a pine, spruce, fir or hemlock is completely occupied with tree roots. Few to no plants can survive under such trees, not because of shade but because of competition. If you were to chop out planting holes in such a location, then fill the holes with compost and install shade-tolerant plants, success would be short-lived! Tree roots severed by the planting hole activity would quickly invade the rich compost planting mix and choke out the roots of your introduced plants.

The ground area under deciduous trees offers a wide variety of conditions above and below ground because of different tree structure and root formation. Trees like maples have shallow roots that would provide some competition to surface vegetation, whereas oaks construct deeper root systems and high trunk branching, thus allowing more light to reach the ground plane and less root competition to plants placed beneath the trees. Note also that in nature numerous plants grow, flower and set seed in the interval between ground thaw and full tree leaf emergence.

To garden successfully in the shade of trees you can do no better than to spend time in our local woodlot. If possible, visit a structured wooded garden like the New England Wildflower Society's Garden in the Woods in Framingham to observe a highly structured professionally designed, planted and maintained woodsy garden. Then, a visit to any one of our state parks will expose you to a more casual, less intense forest floor treatment. The first impression gained should be of the diversity that exists in some forest situations. The second is the atmosphere, one of immersion in nature that calms and cleanses the spirit.

Plants growing in the shade enjoy many benefits over sun plants. In the shade plants develop slowly enough so that constant shaping and trimming of foliage is less necessary. Located in the shade, plants do not dry out as rapidly, flowers last longer and light-colored blossoms conduct their display without being scorched or burned.

Gardening in the shade allows you to select from an entirely different palette of plants - both native and exotic. Developing a garden in the shade provides you with a treat and retreat during the hazy, lazy, hot days of summer.
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Title Annotation:LIVING
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 22, 2008
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