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I have a small area which I would like to fill with (hopefully perennial) foliage plants, to green it up. I was thinking a variety of different hostas would fit the bill. If this was your bed, what do you think would look best?

Here are some of the conditions in the bed:

  • Lots of roots from the trees
  • A pH of about 5.8
  • Less than 1 hour of direct sun each day, but plenty of light (except for under the steps)
  • About 8" of good topsoil, over a hard clay base
  • I can irrigate
  • During a heavy rain, I would expect some overpouring from the gutter
  • Possible chemical content from cleaning the deck

I would like recommendations from as many people as possible. The more input I get the better. I'll post back eventually what I end up doing. If you had this in front of your house, what would you plant?

Note: I'm mainly looking for plant recommendations. If you want to give an opinion on improving the conditions, etc. that's fine, but please do not make that the main part of your answer.

Below are pictures of the area:

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Update: Would it be possible to grow a vine (on a support of course) like climbing hydrangea up the non too attractive deck support posts?

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I'm not sure what your zone is, but I have a zone 4 garden around a spruce tree, as well, and the plants that have done well there are:

They'd all be able to take the shade you have there, too - except the blueberries might not fruit well. They're a pretty little shrub, anyway, so it still might be worth it.

  • Thanks, michelle. I like bleeding heart. How about the fern leaf species? The standard old fashioned bleeding hearts tend to die back around now, in my area. Astilbe is also good. – J. Musser Jul 15 '14 at 16:45
  • Right you are - forgot the bleeding heart (the "fringed" version which is probably the same as the "fern-leaf") lurking at the back of my blueberries. There's also a japanese barberry next to them but I hesitate to encourage more of that prickly thing - actually ripped out a bunch to put in the blueberries. – Ecnerwal Jul 16 '14 at 11:49
  • I have the old fashioned kind, and yes, they do start to die back mid-summer. You'd need to plant them with something else or try the fern leaf. Also, thanks for the edit! – michelle Jul 16 '14 at 14:31
  • What would you plant the bleeding heart with? – J. Musser Jul 18 '14 at 0:23
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A beautiful space. I'd consider a foundation plant like Taxus baccata 'Repandens', Hostas would work well, Heleborus niger, Ligularia sibirica and Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' (zone 6?)...This is the front of your home? When you clean your deck cover these beds with plastic! From what I can see, these beds could be much larger with big consistent radius. Trenches for edging to separate bed from lawn would be great. Have fun but as you know us gardeners put too many species together. Big swaths of the same plant are powerful. Dying to see what you do decide to put in there!

  • Thank you for the reply. On the Hakonechloa, from what I've seen, these may be difficult to keep small, and would tend to spread into other plants' spaces. I wouldn't worry about it, except that there are a lot of tree roots, so bringing the H. macra back might be damaging. Thoughts? I like the Heleborus. just planted 68 of them in a border. Also, I did edge that bed, but the roots only let me go in about 2" I would bring it out, but a lot of people like to walk across right there, right in front of those trees, and around the side. Do you think I can manage to grow anything under the steps? – J. Musser Jul 13 '14 at 2:45
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Hmm, well I'd be surprised if you managed to get anything much at all growing there, and I wouldn't pick hostas either - they prefer rich soil that isn't too acid and damp conditions. Growing beneath conifers, the acidity may rise/fluctuate under certain conditions, although 5.8 (as you say it is currently) is fine.

What may be successful are the Lamiums, such as Lamium maculatum, L. maculatum 'White Nancy' and 'Beacon Silver', or the taller Lamium galeobdolen for instance. They tolerate dryness quite well once established, aren't that fussy about conditions because they're pretty resilient, but you may find you need to water, given they're growing so close amongst roots of large trees, and to fertilise in spring each year, although usually it's not necessary to feed them at all.

As for 'chemical content', depending what that is, no plant will appreciate being doused in strong chemicals, but I expect you know that already.

  • Thank you for the reply. Dryness won't be an issue, because I can irrigate (and do already at times, for the trees). Good suggestions. – J. Musser Jul 12 '14 at 16:13
  • I had L. galeobdolen in there at one time, but it got trampled by the kids. Man is that plant tough. I think I might put some back once there are some taller plants in the area (which will discourage short-cuts). – J. Musser Jul 13 '14 at 2:57
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    ...or you could build a path into the garden to encourage short-cuts in the right spot... – michelle Jul 15 '14 at 18:14
  • @michelle I did put one path (stepping stones) in the bed, but I think a ground cover is more tempting to walk through than taller perennials. – J. Musser Jul 18 '14 at 0:25
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You wouldn't get much fruit (if any) with that little light, but blueberries would probably still make a nice bush - I have many doing exactly that in the deep woods, waiting for a tree to fall over so they can set fruit - you can have ones of differing heights via what you choose to buy. If you provide some strings and don't consider their bristly nature a detriment, Hops (humulus lupulus) climbs well - but it does need strings. I know it does fine in acid conditions (whether or not the books agree) since my best one is growing in MY blueberry bed with overhanging pine tree. Clematis climb nicely but supposedly want a less acid environment. Hostas (IME) vary a great deal more than the conventional wisdom seems to think in light level acceptance - but some types (Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans', for one) should do fine - I have very happy specimens under a pine tree, beside a porch, beside the steps...a variegated variety (no name known) died out in the same place and really seems to want much more light in general.

Pachysandra and myrtle are what the "Old Italian Gardener" put in place under the spruces at one place I know, and he's been gone to the garden in the sky for 30 years or so, but they are still there (in some places with weed problems from ferns - but ferns can be a non-weed if you like them in a spot, of course, or you remove them if they are a weed.)

  • Good recommendations. On the hops, I would prefer a vine that didn't die back in winter. Do you think ferns would grow under the steps? – J. Musser Jul 15 '14 at 16:40
  • I really doubt ferns will grow under the steps, though they might be willing to grow along the edge of under the steps. For a climber, if dropping leaves in winter is OK you might try grapes, but they might also be far more than you want in maintenance - again, unlikely to make much fruit under these conditions, but willing to grow under conditions not ideal for fruiting. – Ecnerwal Jul 16 '14 at 2:05

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