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Shade gardening at high altitude

TAMMY PRICE

Shade gardening presents a new challenge for gardeners. It gives us a chance to be creative with our garden space. Shade gardens are cool, peaceful places, perfect for contemplation and relaxation during the hot summer months. Spring is a great time to start a shade garden. Temperatures are cool, and precipitation is high. These conditions allow the roots to get well-established before the heat of summer sets in. When planning a shade garden, look for plants with variations in leaf color and texture. Be creative with dimension have your garden flow from tall plants to ground covers. Some of the most attractive shade gardens Ive seen follow the lines naturally created by the surrounding space.When choosing the site for your shade garden, your need to know whether the location gets filtered sun, morning sun, or complete shade. Then, you can choose plants appropriate for that space. Shade is created on the north side of buildings and under trees and bushes. If your garden will be under trees, remember that the trees roots will compete for food and water with your new plants. Shade gardens under trees require weekly, deep watering. More frequent, shallower watering will cause the plants roots to be shallow, which results in weaker, less successful plants. You may also want to apply fertilizer to ensure that they get adequate nutrients.Soil preparation is basically the same for shade gardens as for any other type of garden. Lots of organic material will make a huge difference in your plants success. Even plants that like more sun will produce excellent foliage if the soil is right, though they might not bloom. If the garden is under a tree, the soil is probably weak because the tree has used up most of the nutrients. Its a good idea to remove some of this soil and replace it with a good planting soil.When you prepare soil under trees, be careful not to damage anchoring roots, as this will make the tree susceptible to wind damage. Also, cut roots are unable to uptake water and nutrients to the branches and leaves of the tree. Finally, a cut root is the perfect opening for diseases and pests. A general rule is to avoid cutting any root larger around than a pencil. The shade plants you choose will go in between the trees larger roots. If the garden is under a deciduous tree, dont allow too many leaves to accumulate on the plants. Leaves are beneficial, but if there are too many, they will mat and smother your plants. Leaf-matting can also cause diseases, which will spread to your plants. Hosta is the first plant that comes to mind when we think about shade gardening. Though they are beautiful and there are a large variety of them, they often dont do well in Summit County. Instead, try other shade lovers with an eye toward foliage color and texture. Foliage will be the focus of your garden, but many shade lovers flower, giving your garden interesting spots of color. If you choose plants with different bloom times, you can have color in your shade garden all season long. Contact your local nursery for information about known-growers for your area. The nursery expert can also help you choose a variety of plants to create texture and dimension in the garden.A favorite ground cover of mine is the Carpet Bugle (Ajuga reptans). There are several different varieties that range in color from dark, glossy green to a burgundy that becomes cream with a pink margin. Carpet Bugle is 4-6 inches high and has a spread of 10-15 inches. In late spring, violet-blue flowers emerge from short spikes. It is adaptable to different sun exposures, meaning it will do well in filtered or morning sun and full shade.A medium-height plant, like Fringed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Formosa), adds depth to the shade garden. It has fern-like foliage and sends up slender stalks that hang with deep pink, heart-shaped flowers around mid summer. It reaches 12-18 inches in height and has a spread of 12-18 inches. Bleeding Heart likes full shade.A nice tall selection is Monkshood (Aconitum napellus), also known as Wolfs Bane. It has lacy, 3-parted foliage and produces violet-blue, helmet-shaped flowers in late summer. It reaches a height of 2-3 feet and has a spread of 18-24 inches. Monkshood likes filtered shade. Be aware that this plant is poisonous if eaten, so take care if very young children will be in the garden.Once your new shade plants are in the ground, youll want to carefully mulch them. Try to keep the mulch away from the stems of your new plants and dont allow any mulch near the base of trees. Mulching will protect your plants, slowly add nutrients to the soil, and help hold in precious water. If youve planted under a tree, it will also benefit from mulching.While shade gardening may seem intimidating at first, newbies and veterans alike will find joy in the many varieties of shady plants available today. Shade gardening takes patience, but the rewards far outweigh the effort. Who knows, you may find in shade gardening a new passion that lets your imagination and creativity run wild. For more information about this or any gardening/landscaping questions, please e-mail us at office2006@neilslunceford.com or call (970) 468-0340.


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