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Gardening with Wanda: Frequently asked questions of the Extension Office
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My trees naturally cool my landscape. But what can I plant under them in those dense shady spots?

We know grass will not grow in dense shade, but there are a combination of plants worthy of consideration for lawn replacement. Here are a few to think about.

Most varieties of plants that grow well under trees are considered groundcovers and they are usually foliage; flowering plants do best in full to partial sun. That does not mean you cannot find wonderful plants in a varying shades of green and variegated leaves. Variegated leaves can add cream, yellow or white to a basic green palate. There are some shade-loving plants that can also add color through their attractive blooms.

Hostas and plaintain lilies: These can make a statement in a shade garden, with their large deep green or variegated leaves. These plants come back every year more robust than the year before and can grow anywhere from 8 to 18 inches. They form in clumps and shoot out a tall spike of flowers in the summer.

Vinca minor or periwinkle: This is a vining plant that can be used as a shade groundcover. It sports a sky-blue violet flower and can be a vigorous grower. It also comes in a variegated selection and can cover large areas in a short time. Annual trimming is required.

Liriope (monkeygrass): This forms dense clumps that spread through underground stems. The colors can range from dark green to an almost black leaf. There are different varieties or you may opt for its dwarf cousin, mondo grass. It grows low and is suitable between stepping stones.

Fern: There are many types, both native and exotic. Make sure they are planted in a moist environment and most ferns will thrive in a woodland garden setting. The texture of the fern leaves provide an excellent contrast to many types of large leaf plants. Common types include royal fern, lady fern, painted fern, holly fern and sensitive fern.

If you are looking for shrubs or a splash of color for your shady areas, try acuba, camellia or the many species of holly. Flowering annuals, such as impatiens and begonias, will also add a splash of color to a shady spot. Columbine and phlox are a good perennial choice for color. There are many selections one can consider when developing the ideal summertime retreat in the shade.