About Your Garden Shade Gardens & Making Mulch

by Mira Dessy

Dear Mira,
I am seeking information for the best perennials for my shady yard. I have several very old maple trees in my yard (they came with the house which I purchased a year ago!). The trees are lovely, and I have no plan on removing them, however, they create a shady to partly sunny (depending on location and time of day) yard that I would like to somehow spruce (no pun intended)up. I live in Western North Carolina so the climate is some what mild. I have places a few Hasta plants in the yard that seem to be doing quite well. I like the green of the Hastas and I know that there are several different varieties, but I want some alternatives and some added color. Any suggestions?

Dear Mickie,
Shade gardens can be wonderful. They really help to enhance the area under trees and such, adding another dimension to your garden. As to what to plant. There is actually a wide range of things that you can put in the garden that are perennial. There are many varieties of hosta that have different size or color leaves. You can also plant ferns, pulmonarias (which are a primarily foliage plant but the leaves are spotted), woodruff, carpet bugle (a red leafed ground cover that spreads like crazy. For flowering plants you could put in daffodils (believe it or not they do well in partial shade), windflowers, astilbe and corabells. There are actually quite a few other but this should be a good start to enhancing your shade garden.

Dear Mira,
Do you have any suggestions for sources of cheap mulch for the garden? I live in a new home (so the lot was prepared with fill dirt) in hot Florida. Thick layers of mulch are essential to holding in the moisture in our dry sandy soil, and summer is only beginning. I have been cleaning my friends' yards to supply my own yard with grass clippings and other yard wastes which make excellent mulch. I am know resorting to buying bags of mulch at the department store. This can get expensive. I was wondering if any household waste (aside from the kitchen compost items) such as newspapers or cardboard boxes, etc, could be utilized for this purpose. Any suggestions would be appreciated.
Mulched Out in Florida

Dear Mulched Out,
Compost is one of the best mulches that you can have for your garden. It is fairly easy to make by simply mixing household waste (vegetable matter only) with brown matter (such as dried leaves) and green matter (such as lawn clippings). It does take a season to get decent compost. For example, this spring we used the compost that was created by heaping our clippings, etc on a pile from last spring until frost. It sat over the winter and was ready this spring.

Cheap mulch can be had from a few of the following places: stables (usually they will give you all you want) but be warned you can get a lot of weeds from this if the shavings have not aged a bit. Fresh shavings contain a lot of seed as a horses digestive tract is not very efficient. Woodshop shavings, be careful though that the wood did not have any varnishes or finishes on it as this can be bad for the plants. Also you could see if any of your neighbors have trees that they have taken down. Getting a chipper shredder and spreading this on your yard is a good way to get cheap mulch.

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