From the Sperry Garden – June, 2010

Our son and his family picked me up for Father’s Day lunch this past Sunday. (My wife and the rest of my family were in D.C. visiting our other son.) As we left, Brian commented on how shaded our landscape has become in the years since he lived here. Our mostly native pecans, red oaks, bur oaks, chinquapin oaks, elms, ashes and cedars have just gotten bigger and bigger.

So, when somebody asks me what they can grow beneath their shade trees, I’m the voice of experience. Gradually, I’ve had to replace almost all of my St. Augustine with other plants that could hold up to the shadows. (For the record, St. Augustine requires at least 4 hours of good, direct sunlight, preferably 6 to hold its own and stay vigorous.)

This bed, decked out for Flag Day just as it will again be decked out for July 4, is purple wintercreeper euonymus. I’ve become a big fan of this plant, and I’ve used it in several hundred square feet of full-shade (and full-sun) beds. It’s deep, dark green in the summer, but the winter color is a handsome maroon, hence the name. It takes it two full seasons to thicken up this much, and it has to be trimmed once or twice a year to keep it tidy, but it’s a winner.

My other big-time go-to groundcover in the shade is mondograss (a.k.a. monkeygrass, lily turf and ophiopogon). I dig and divide my own. I use it to hold soil on steep, washing slopes, and I use it beneath my pecans because it has no runners. Pecan leaves tend to hook into vining groundcovers, making it difficult to clean things up in the fall.

When your time comes (And, it will!) to replace grass that is struggling, consider types that can handle the shade. These two ought to go toward the top of your list.

Posted by Neil Sperry
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