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Q&A: Planting ideas for dry shade

Julie Weisenhorn, Extension Educator - Horticulture

Q: I have a large dry area shaded by mature trees. Can you give me an idea of how to approach planting
Mulch retains soil moisture and deters weeds.
Hosta and Heucherella  'Stoplight' perform
well in dry shade.
this area? What plants will add color and won’t be too expensive? I have a limited budget.

A: Here is a publication from U of M Extension: "The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites". You'll see it contains plant lists for 30 difficult sites. This publication includes a list for dry shade as well as shrubs for shade, small trees for shade, and tall perennials for shade.

Because budget is a factor, approach this project in phases. You don't need to do all the planting in one year. Remove weeds first. Then cover the ground with 3-4 inches of shredded wood mulch to reduce weeds and hold soil moisture. Check with your county or municipality about free mulch options. You could apply the mulch this fall. Next spring (Year 1) plant major plants such as shrubs and perennials. Be sure to water after all plantings to minimize transplant shock and give the plants a good start. The following year (Year 2), add low-growing perennials that will spread and fill in spaces between the shrubs. Year 3 add some masses on the outer edges. Always space plants according to their mature size. It should be listed on the plant's label. 

Initially, your planting may seem sparse, but the plants will eventually fill in. By avoiding over planting, you'll keep your costs down and your plants will be able to grow to their mature size and form.

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