Practical Permaculture – Planting Under Pine Trees

"Sweet Woodruff" - © chriscondello 2013 - Wilkinsburg, PA - Private Garden - Although plants will grow... Don't expect them to be the most prolific bloomers in your garden...

“Sweet Woodruff” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – Although plants will grow… Don’t expect them to be the most prolific bloomers in your garden…

The space underneath of a pine tree is one of the most difficult places to garden, sometimes it may seem impossible. The extreme microclimate created underneath can challenge even the most experienced gardener. It is tough, but it is by no means impossible. Carefully chosen plants, coupled with a few secrets, is all one really needs to green up an otherwise brown and lifeless corner of your yard.

Some of the challenges presented under a pine tree include extreme shade, lack of moisture, a heavy layer of pine needles, and rarely, extreme acidity. In all honesty, the biggest challenge is a lack of moisture, as a pine tree can create a solid rain shield underneath its branches.

If your pine tree has branches all the way to the ground, your first step will be pruning off all of the lower branches to allow enough room to work underneath. This also allows for sun, air and rain to access the ground… I have found in the days after doing this, weeds will quickly grow underneath of the tree… Take it as a good sign… And study the hell out of it… Everything you need to know will grow right in front of your eyes…

If your tree has already been pruned up… Start by simply observing your space, often times you will find some weeds, or a patch of grass already growing somewhere under the tree… Get my point?.. I feel pretty comfortable saying that if weeds already grow under your tree, plants of your choosing will also grow under said tree. A lot can be learned by simply studying the area, careful observation is always the key to choosing your plant locations… In fact… Careful observation is the key to any garden… And it does not stop once the plants are in the ground… When… In fact… Your observation is just beginning…

"Hanging In There" - © chriscondello 2013 - Wilkinsburg, PA - Private Garden - I planted this hosta 3 years ago... It was not much smaller than this when I planted it...

“Hanging In There” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – I planted this hosta 3 years ago… It was not much smaller than this when I planted it…

There are many plants that can survive with minimal water, and a lot more that can survive arid conditions after a year or so of establishment. Sedums are little cactus-like plants that never need watering once they are growing on their own, they do not grow as densely in the shade, and they do not flower as profusely… But they will be there for years to come.

Hosta and sweet woodruff work well under conifer trees once established… And by established… I mean watered once a week for the first year… Once these plants are established, they will grow, slowly, but they will grow… Cut the recommended spacing in half under a pine tree if you are going for a mass-planting… Leave the pine needles under the tree to serve as mulch, it will extend the amount of time between watering…

Any acid tolerant, shade loving annual will do well under a conifer tree. If you grow annuals, then I’m sure you will be out watering once a week in the summer anyway, what’s a little extra time watering your plants under the pine tree… In fact… Any shade tolerant annual will work well under a pine tree… If you baby it…

"Minimalist" - © chriscondello 2013 - Wilkinsburg, PA - Private Garden - Another hosta that has remained relatively the same size as when I planted it... This garden was a test for me... Now that I know how the plants will act... I can begin to fill it... And others like it...

“Minimalist” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – Private Garden – Another hosta that has remained relatively the same size as when I planted it… This garden was a test for me… Now that I know how the plants will act… I can begin to fill it… And others like it…

Acidity… Is really only a problem in myth… As pine needles… Although acidic in nature… Take a really long time to break down… Unless you are standing in an old growth pine forest that has been around for hundreds of years, I doubt that tree has had much of a chance to drastically alter the pH of the soil. A cheap pH meter available at any garden supply center will answer this question for you, I recommend having one regardless of where you are gardening.

A way to cheat the acidity factor is to dig your planting hole two, or even three times the size of the plant you intend to grow. Remove all of the soil from the hole and put it somewhere else, then fill in the hole with clean topsoil… Acidity problem solved… I wouldn’t recommend digging out every square inch of soil underneath the tree, just remove the places you want to plant… And dig around those roots for crying out loud…

If you are the type of gardener that can’t consistently water their garden for a full year, you probably aren’t trying to break ground in every available corner of your yard… I would suggest picking an easier place to put your garden… Unless you want to install a drip irrigation system… In that case… By all means garden away…

"Heuchera" - © chriscondello 2013 - Wilkinsburg, PA - My Garden - Not under a pine tree... But up against a north facing wall that gets no sunlight... And very little rain...

“Heuchera” – © chriscondello 2013 – Wilkinsburg, PA – My Garden – Not under a pine tree… But up against a north facing wall that gets no sunlight… And very little rain…

For the sake of giving you a place to start, try some of these plants… They will work under any tree… But are a little more tolerant of the conditions presented under a pine tree…

Hosta – I wouldn’t choose the exotic varieties as they can be finicky. Go to a big box store and purchase the largest plants possible as they will grow very slowly, it’s best to just buy them the size you want them. Hosta can often be easily obtained from a friends garden, in my neighborhood they grow behind every abandoned house, I just move them to the front yards.

Sweet woodruff – Really a cool plant that produces insignificant white flowers in the spring that when growing in profusion can permeate the air with a super sweet scent. Woodruff tends to spread rapidly in the shade, if babied for a year it will grow forever. Don’t expect it to bloom a lot… Or every year… But it will bloom…

Lily of the valley – Another plant that can commonly be acquired from a friend, when it is grown in ideal conditions it will naturalize quickly. Another plant that needs around a year of care before it will take on a mind of its own. Beautiful bell-like white flowers grace this plant in spring, with a sweet scent to boot… I would consider it one of the cooler spring flower scents…

Fern – another plant that I would skip purchasing the exotic varieties, you want the regular old, every day ferns for under pine trees. Your first attempts should not be with twenty-dollar a piece plants, there is a good chance you will fail at first. Keep your eyes open when you are out and about, you will find them eventually… Ferns transplant easily as long as you limit the time between digging and planting… Just be quick…

Bleeding heart – These plants really do not need water other than the first week or two after planting, they can handle some pretty extreme conditions. Many of the plants in this family form fern leafed mounds of green, choose the low-growing, spreading types and let them do their thing.

Azalea – A seriously acid tolerant plant that is at home under any pine tree, to be safe I would plant it closer to the edge… A pine tree flanked on either side by mature azaleas is really a stunning thing to see in spring… They are really at home with each other…

Rhododendron – One of my favorite ornamental shrubs,we had one in our front yard that was always beautiful this time of year. Not only does this plant tolerate acidity, it is also very shade tolerant.

Blueberry – When grown in the shade, they do not produce lots of fruit. But, they are a stunning plant year round. In the fall the foliage turns a bright red color that is striking against a pine tree… Just saying…

Hydrangea or Oak leaf hydrangea – Very shade tolerant plants that grow well under conifers, also drought resistant once established.

Wild geraniums – This family of plants will grow anywhere, under almost any circumstances. Many of them have scented leaves that deter deer, and some flowers are edible.

Yarrow – Attracts so many beneficial insects that you will find it listed as a companion to almost everything… Enough said…

Tea berry – Small, creeping plant with slightly mint flavored berries, like the gum. The berries are typically hoarded by the wildlife, but that’s not such a bad thing. If you can get your hands on a few, they are like eating mint-flavored church wafers… At least that’s what they remind me of…

Trillium – If you can get your hands on them… Plant them everywhere… They are beautiful… And we need to protect them… And yes… They are at home under a pine tree…

Impatiens – This year will be difficult again due to the downy mildew, but they will figure that out soon enough. Impatiens are built for shade, but they do require water… Water at a minimum once a week when there’s no rain…

Heuchera – One of my all time favorite plants… It will do great in any amount of light… But they really shine in full shade… Many of the newer cultivars come in bright leaf colors, these are designed to glow in the shade.

plant petunias and question everything – chriscondello

I now have prints available to purchase online… You can find them here – www.society6.com/chriscondello – This site… And all the photographs and information presented within… Are provided free by the author… Me… At one time I had considered asking for donations… But that’s not me… So I have decided to sell prints of some of my photography… It is by no means a requirement… But it helps… If you have a few minutes to check them out… Then by all means… Please do…

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Practical Permaculture – Gardening In The Shade

100_0861

Bleeding Hearts, formerly known as “Dicentra spectabilis”. But based on our recent ability to see plants on a molecular level, the name has been changed to “Lamprocapnos spectabilis”.

Let me start this off by saying I love shade gardens, and I love my ornamental plants. I believe that it is important for me to note that although permaculture is primarily focused on food production, a true permaculturist understands the importance of promoting all forms of gardening regardless of yield. As far as permaculture promotion is concerned, the last thing on earth we want to do is exclude all of the flower gardeners from the mix… They play an important role in pollinator promotion and I think as permaculturists we should promote ornamental gardeners as well…

All too often shady spaces are cursed by gardeners, it can seem like anything you try to grow fails. Grass fails to grow properly, and the common plants found at the big box stores grow poorly and discourage interest. This unfortunate, but common situation could have been avoided had proper shade loving plants been chosen. Many plants have evolved over time to prosper in low light by developing delicate, thin leaves that efficiently absorb whatever sun falls on them.

When filled with cool flowers and foliage spread out below an interesting tree canopy, a shade garden can be the most beautiful spot in your yard. It is important to remember when learning to garden in the shade, not all shade is created equal. Figure out exactly which type of shade you’re dealing with, because the type of shade will ultimately affect the variety of plants you can grow.

toadlily

“Tricyrtis formosana” or Toad Lilies prefer shade or part shade and grow naturally at the edge of forests.

Deep shade is all day shade where no direct sunlight hits the ground; this often occurs under heavily foliated trees. Deep shade may be dry or moist depending on whether the trees are surface-rooted or deep-rooted. Fewer plants thrive in this type of shade, especially if dry, than in brighter conditions.

Part shade means shade for part of the day with direct sunlight during the other part. Many sun-loving plants bloom well in part shade because they receive from four to six hours of direct sun each day, though they may not perform as well as in all day sun. Morning shade followed by afternoon sun may be too hot for many shade plants, causing them to wilt in the heat. But the cooler morning sun with afternoon shade is good for many shade loving plants.

Light shade occurs under an open branched tree canopy where spots of sunshine filter to the ground in a constantly shifting play of shadows, a wide selection of plants prosper in filtered shade.

Open shade occurs on the north side of a building where no direct sunlight falls, but where light may be reflected to the ground from surrounding walls. Open shade often remains damp, unless the building creates a rain shadow and blocks rainfall from reaching the ground. This is a very common urban garden problem, usually requires one to get creative.

"Arisaema triphyllum" - Jack-in-the-pulpit

“Arisaema triphyllum” – Jack-in-the-pulpit

Many shaded locations are cool and damp, but some are actually dry. Upon close examination you may discover that certain shady spots in your yard have poor, dry soil because your trees have surface roots that suck up all the available surface moisture and nutrients. A thick canopy of tree leaves may worsen the problem, acting like an umbrella and deflecting rain from the ground beneath. Lack of moisture, not lack of light, often proves to be the culprit when shade loving plants fail to grow in their prefered habitat.

Dry, root-clogged soil feels and looks hard and compacted; when you try to dig a hole with a shovel, it can’t easily penetrate the ground. If you discover that the soil in your potential shade garden is hard and compacted, try digging in lots of organic matter, like rotted manure or compost, as long as you don’t mess with the major tree roots the tree will not suffer.

Where digging will tamper with tree roots, spread a layer of topsoil no more than 4 inches deep over the ground. Cover this layer with a 2 inch mulch of chopped-up leaves, which will decompose into a rich humus. Anything deeper than this could smother the roots. Earthworms will eventually move into the decomposing leaves, further speeding the decomposition, and also burrow into the harder subsoil beneath the topsoil, making it easier to garden. Where shallow-rooted trees pose a problem, you will be waging a continuous battle and will need to replenish your mulch every once in a while.

When gardening in dry shade under a tree, water regularly and deeply during the summer months. Where you might normally apply an inch of water a week to satisfy your garden needs,  you may need to apply 2 or even 3 inches of water to compensate for the water absorbed by the tree. Many plants will adapt to the dry shade after a year of stabilization, if you can water regularly for a year you can usually garden under a tree.

Shade loving plants do not usually bloom as abundantly as sun lovers, perhaps as an energy-conserving measure, but you can enjoy a variety of flowers in the shade by choosing the right kinds. however, your shade garden will rely upon an assortment of beautiful foliage plants for much of its allure. You can brighten up the shadows of your garden using a few simple tricks.

"Trillium erectum var. album" - The white flowered form of Red Trillium...

“Trillium erectum var. album” – The white-flowered form of Red Trillium…

– Grow lots of plants with white-variegated leaves or white or pastel flowers, brighter colors tend to glow in the shade.

– Dark red and purple flowers tend to recede into the dimness, they should be used sparingly.

– Brighten open shade along buildings by painting walls in bright reflective colors.

– Use golden-leaved plants and those with yellow flowers to create the impression of a beam of sunshine scattered across the garden floor.

– Contrast plants with finely divided, fern-like leaves with those featuring big, tropical-looking leaves to add excitement and drama.

I am a man who really enjoys ornamental flowers and understands the importance of a diverse eco-system. As a master gardener, I know many people who have beautiful and beneficial ornamental only gardens, but have no interest whatsoever in growing food; to exclude them from the mix would be a kick in the nuts to the principles of permaculture. To expect the world to conform to us will ultimately lead to the failure of the movement… Ornamental plants need loving too!..

peace – chriscondello

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.