Ground cover for wooded area

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Saturday – November 28, 2015

From: Lake Peekskill, NY
Region: Northeast
Topic: Erosion Control, Grasses or Grass-like, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Wildflowers
Title: Erosion Control Shrubs and Groundcovers for Steep NY Wooded Slope
Answered by: Anne Van Nest


I need to cover a couple of very steep slopes in upstate New York that are partially wooded and near a brook. The slopes are about 130 feet back from the brook. Someone estimated that there is a couple feet of compost on the slopes. If you walk on the slopes, you sink into the soft dirt. The slopes are in partial shade and cover an area of about 54 feet by 100 feet. Currently some pachysandra and vinca are growing on one of the slopes. I want to plant the slopes with native New York and non-invasive groundcover/plants. I am worried about erosion and so am hoping there is a relatively fast-growing, non-invasive groundcover that I can plant, along with a variety of perennials, wild shrubs, grasses, ferns or herbs that are appropriate for woodlands/river areas. In the meanwhile I have started to plant a grass called Eco-grass (several fescues) that was suggested to me. The grass can grow roots to 14 inches long according to the website. The grass came up quickly in shady areas and in the sun. Would this be sufficient cover for a steep slope? I am guessing that with all the soft compost on the slopes, a fine grass might not provide sufficient erosion control.


The decomposing leaf litter on your wooded slope will provide a nice rich soil to re-establish native groundcover plants that will be able to help stop erosion. Your search for a fast growing, non-invasive native groundcover will be quite a challenge. Most of the fast-growing groundcovers are non-natives and quite invasive (such as vinca, euonymus and the Japanese pachysandra). Virginia creeper and native grape vines are fast growing vines that will stabilize your slope but they will quickly form a dense cover that will shade out any desirable native plants that you want to encourage on your slope. Mayapple and the native pachysandra could become a good groundcover for woodland areas but you will need patience to get them established. Emily DeBolt has a good article online about native groundcovers for the Northeast that will give you some good insight.

To find a list of possible native shrubs, perennials, grasses, ferns, and herbaceous plants that will be appropriate for your site, visit the Native Plant Database on the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center website. Select New York, perennial habit, shade and moist soil moisture. Then search individually in turn for shrubs, grasses, herbs, ferns. If you would like to limit the heights of your groundcovers, you can also select the size characteristics.

Some groundcovers to consider:

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (Kinnikinnick)

Red bearberry is a trailing, evergreen shrub with paddle-shaped leaves on flexible branches. The thick, leathery leaves, rolled under at the edges, are yellow-green in spring, dark-green in summer, and reddish-purple in the fall. Nodding clusters of small, bell-shaped, pink or white flowers occur on bright-red stems. Flowers in racemes on short branches. Bright-red berries succeed the flowers and persist into winter. This ground-trailing shrub has the papery, reddish, exfoliating bark typical of woody plants in northern climates. It is a hardy shrub for landscaping rocky or sandy sites

In Greek arctos is bear and staphyle grape, whereas in Latin uva is a bunch of grapes and ursus is bear. The berries are indeed eaten by bears, as the name redundantly indicates. Kinnikinnick, an Algonquin word for many tobacco substitutes, is most frequently applied to this species, which also had many medicinal uses, including the alleged control of several sexually transmitted diseases. An astringent tea can be made by steeping the dried leaves in boiling water (sometimes used as a laxative). Bearberry is long lived, but grows very slowly. It has no serious disease or insect problems.

Athyrium filix-femina (common lady fern)

Highly variable in appearance over its range, Subarctic lady fern is typically a large, clustered fern, 2-3 ft. tall. Its light-green color and twice-pinnate fronds with finely toothed leaflets create the illusion of a dainty fern, despite its large size. Stems are greenish-yellow to red.

Clematis virginiana (Devil’s darning needles)

A 12-15 ft., fine-textured vine, climbing by twisting leaf stalks. Profuse, axillary clusters of small, white flowers are followed by plume-like, feathery achenes. Trifoliate leaves are bright-green. A climbing vine with white flowers in many clusters arising from the leaf axils.

A beautiful and common Clematis, it trails over fences and other shrubs along moist roadsides and riverbanks. The female flowers, with their feathery tails or plumes, give a hoary appearance and are especially showy in late summer. Lacking tendrils, the vine supports itself by means of twisted stems, or petioles, that wrap around other plants.

Carex plantaginea (plantainleaf sedge)

A 1-2 ft. sedge; the plant strongly tinged with red-purple at the base and on the sheaths. The evergreen leaves are broad, up to an inch across, and have puckered ribs.

Aralia nudicaulis (wild sarsaparilla)

A single leaf stalk grows 18-24, dividing into three parts each with five oval leaflets. A separate stalk, shorter than the leaf stalk, bears ball-shaped clusters of tiny, greenish-white flowers followed in fall by dark purple berries. The leafless flower stem, topped with clusters of greenish-white flowers, is beneath a large, umbrella-like leaf. Often grows in colonies from extensive rootstock.

From the Image Gallery

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi
Creeping snowberry
Gaultheria hispidula
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus
Common lady fern
Athyrium filix-femina
Northern maidenhair fern
Adiantum pedatum
Devil’s darning needles
Clematis virginiana
Plantainleaf sedge
Carex plantaginea
Podophyllum peltatum
Wild sarsaparilla
Aralia nudicaulis
Dwarf red blackberry
Rubus pubescens
New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus
Trailing arbutus
Epigaea repens

More Erosion Control Questions

Native grasses for erosion control in Harlingen, TX
March 12, 2009 – I like to know what type of fast growing grass, ground cover or trees I can put on a slope for erosion control in Harlingen Texas the slope receives afternoon Sun
view the full question and answer

Limiting erosion around pond from Brooklyn Park MN
May 20, 2013 – Minnesota resident, wants to find plant limit erosion from pond?
view the full question and answer

Native Plants for Shaded North Slope in Ohio
January 03, 2013 – I have a shaded north hillside which needs erosion control plants. Mostly moss and very thin grass grows there now. Please help!
view the full question and answer

Erosion at edge of driveway in Abilene TX
August 26, 2011 – My lawn suffered a great loss of grass over the winter and the soil at the edge of the driveway is washing away with watering and the occasional rains that we have. I am trying to get the grass to gr…
view the full question and answer

Plants to stabilize a steep bank in South Carolina
January 09, 2010 – I would like to use native plantings to stabilize a steep bank. The bank is on the side of the gravel road I cut back into the woods and around a 36″ pipe going under the road to allow the free flow …
view the full question and answer

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Woodland gardens enchant us. They’re intriguing – they remind us of fairy tales and adventure. With relaxed, natural looks and carefree plants, maintenance is easy, leaving you with more time to enjoy it. Woodland gardens play off the region’s natural setting and leave room for awe. Plus, more practically, they are an excellent solution for shady yards.

I’ve created and explored many a garden and I’ve concluded these are five essentials for creating a woodland garden.

1. A winding path

Say bye to sidewalk-straight paths. Create a path that curves through the garden, leading you along. The path can be paved with well-worn stones, bricks, mulched or just left with exposed earth. The path can be edged with river rocks too. Tidy perfection and symmetry have no place here.

2. Curved beds

When it comes to beds in a woodland garden, there’s no room for right edges and hard lines. Allow the edges of your garden beds to curve in organic movement. Remember, there are seldom straight lines in nature.

3. Greenery

My biggest tip for a woodland garden? Select plants native to your region for easy maintenance. Work with nature as much as possible.

Also, consider layering when you’re creating a woodland garden. There’s more of an incorporation of vertical space because you’re dealing with trees. You’ll need to think in terms of a top layer (trees), a mid layer (shrubs), a lower layer (flowers or grasses) and ground cover.

Good tree options for the top layer include dogwood, magnolias, birch and Japanese maple. Azaleas, holly and hydrangea are all excellent shrub-type choices.

Common lower level woodland plants are ferns, columbine, phlox, coral bells, golden rod and elephant ear. As far as ground cover, popular choices include Virginia creeper, moss, lily of the valley and ivy. Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, but it should give you a few ideas to start.

4. Decoration

Gnomes, fanciful creatures, saint statues or mirrored glass orbs all provide that extra element that separates woodland gardens from their more serious counterparts. Birdbaths or birdhouses are also nice to include. Many woodland gardens feature a small pond or have a tiny bridge over a creek. An arbor also can be a pleasant addition.

5. A place to rest

Whether it’s a stone bench, wooden Adirondack chairs or metal patio furniture, allow a place for rest in your woodland garden. Breathe and unwind in what’s sure to become your favorite spot.

Designing a Woodland Garden

Posted May 31, 2016 08:37h in Uncategorized by Becky Robert

Last week we continued our efforts to increase the integration of the campus proper with the Crum Woods. In accordance with the Swarthmore College Master Plan, we have been planting woodland gardens to extend the edge of our natural area, the Crum Woods, and to expand our distinct sense of place.

Here are some pointers to create your own woodland garden:

Our latest woodland expansion into Parrish West Circle has two of our oldest Nyssa sylvatica as well as native Cladratis kentukea, Halesia diptera var. magniflora, and Quercus macrocarpo to mention a few that form the mature canopy. photo credit: R. Robert

1. Choose a location with existing mature trees.

Our latest woodland expansion into Parrish West Circle has two of our oldest Nyssa sylvatica as well as native Cladratis kentukea, Halesia diptera var. magniflora, and Quercus macrocarpo to mention a few that form the mature canopy.

Deciduous azaleas, like Rhododendron ‘Sundance Yellow’, make great shrub layers in woodland gardens. photo credit: R. Robert

2. Select plants appropriate for woodland conditions.

Since woodland gardens are under a canopy of mature trees, the plants selected for that garden must tolerate dappled shade and drier conditions as they are competing for light and water resources.

In the Parrish West Circle, we received a donation of wild-collected deciduous azaleas for our shrub layer. You can also find several cultivars of Enkianthus campanulatus, Hamamelis vernalis ‘Lansing’, and Ilex opaca ‘Dan Fenton’ in this planting.

Epimedium ‘Enchantress’ is a great perennial for the woodland garden. photo credit: R. Robert

Some great shade perennials for a woodland garden include: Tiarella cordiflora, Epimedium , Anemone, Aquilegia , Begonia grandis, Carex, Chelone , Brunnera macrophylla, Trillium, Tricyrtis, and Astilbe. Let me emphasize this is a short list. The variety of shade plants is extensive.

Once established, woodland gardens require minimal care. photo credit: R. Robert

3.Give extra help getting a woodland garden established.

As with any new planting, woodland gardens require more frequent watering to become established. They may require extra care because, again, they are under a canopy of mature trees competing for water resources.

Once established, woodland gardens only need an annual top dressing to encourage healthly soil and plant community.

Happy planting.

How to make a garden out of a woodland

The light beneath a deciduous canopy is constantly changing, not just through different seasons of the year but also through the hours of each day. As summer approaches, established woodland plants appreciate the shade of the leaf cover, but they still need good light and generally will flower much better with some direct light every day.

This has to be balanced with protection from direct midday sun, which can scorch the foliage of many woodlanders. Similarly in winter, if shoots or flowers have frozen overnight, the early morning sun shining directly on to them can cause damage. Dappled light and shafts of sunlight emphasise light and shade, and as any photographer will tell you, provide depth and contrast to pictures in a way that the glaring full sun cannot.

These subtleties of light are matched by the understated charm of many woodland flowers, which often eschew flamboyance for more intricate detail and graceful form. Even those woodland plants renowned for flamboyant flowering, such as azaleas and rhododendrons, are toned down in this arboreal setting by the massed greenery of the canopy itself.

Clearly the key factor in any woodland garden, whether established or new, is to find the right balance of sunlight to shade. Trying to approximate the shade you have to that found in a native woodland is a good start, as it can suggest the relative density and diversity of the flora at ground level.

Many coniferous woods have thin vegetation below them unless the trees are widely spaced. Walk through such a forest and the reasons become obvious – the environment is dark, dry and nutrient poor thanks to the thick carpet of dead needles. In an ideal woodland, sunlight should reach the ground in most of the site for two to three hours per day, more in spring.

Evidently, deciduous tree cover allows you more planting options than evergreens. Ideal trees will cast light shade or hold their branches very high, allowing light to penetrate, such as oaks.

Keith Wiley in his sublime garden (Christopher Jones)

Existing woodland

There are two major challenges when you start to build a garden where there are already established mature trees. One is getting sufficient light to reach the ground and the second is the nature of the soil, especially the degree of tree root infestation. There are steps you can take to improve both of these issues.

In a densely packed wood, you will have to consider whether you should thin the trees. This is not a job for the faint-hearted, involving hard graft, hard cash or both, as ideally the stump and roots should be removed as well, especially if you intend to grow any understorey trees and shrubs which could be subject to fungal attack from rotting stumps.

The easy decision is to first remove dead, dying and weak trees or branches. Then it becomes either more exciting or challenging, depending on your outlook, so give the next stage a lot of thought.

Do you thin the trees evenly throughout the wood, leaving just the best specimens? Or leave groups of closely spaced trunks and open up glades between them – or some combination of both?

Lift the canopy

In more open woods, or if you have just a few mature trees, you can still increase light levels by removing the lower branches on some or all of the trees.

How high you go depends to a certain extent on the size of the trees. As a general rule, the taller the tree, the higher the branches that can be removed. However, you must always remember to keep the symmetry of the tree; too high and the finished effect can look like a small lollipop on a long stick. Because conifers generally have a greater light-blocking canopy, they are likely to need pruning higher than deciduous trees — but there is no limit to how high “skirting up” can be taken. Provided the tree is strong and healthy and the branches are cut when the sap is not rising (that is, when the tree is dormant) no harm should be done. Clearly there can be some cost involved, as you may need the help of a tree surgeon. I do not feel comfortable removing branches above about 15ft (4.5 m) without calling in expert help.

Autumn’s foliage provides nutrients for spring’s flowers ( GAP Photos//Pernilla Bergdahl)

Prepare the soil

I used to believe that woodlanders were pretty easy-going with regards to soil fertility given that they are able to cope with thin soils and tree roots, but in recent years I have come to the conclusion that the opposite is true and actually they are quite greedy feeders. To maintain good growth and healthy plants, an annual mulch is, if not a necessity, then highly desirable. Even wood anemones (Anemone nemorosa) that in the wild revel in seemingly inhospitable sites, are transformed when given a nourishing annual mulch of organic matter.

In their natural ideal conditions of deciduous trees, all the plants that grow in woods are treated to an autumnal mulch of fallen leaves. Spring-flowering bulbs and perennials get first option each year to exploit this bounty before the trees suck it dry of nutrients through late spring and summer. Without this annual injection of organic matter, the health and vigour of the woodland flora would quite quickly deteriorate. As in nature, so too in the garden.

As long as you can reasonably push a spade or fork part way into most of the ground beneath your trees to turn the soil, you don’t need to do much more than clear the ground of weeds. Ground clearance is best carried out in winter, after which you can spread a thick layer of organic matter then plant in early spring. From then on, apply a feeding mulch when the plants show signs of diminishing vigour or on a regular basis through the winter.

If you have trees with shallow, aggressive roots, one way of preparing the ground for planting is to raise the soil level above the existing roots. This is risky, though, and I would not attempt it around an especially valuable tree (like a magnolia), nor would I pile any soil up around the tree trunks.

I would restrict myself to adding soil to a depth no greater than 1ft (30cm) around the outer fringes of the tree’s spread, petering out to nothing around the trunk. The tree roots will eventually grow up into this added soil, so at best you are only gaining a few years of breathing space in which to be able to plant. However, it offers the benefit of being able to support a wider range of species (including some woody plants) than would be possible by mere seed scattering alone and allows more control over the finished plant combinations.

If you have established trees that make underplanting impossible, you still have options, provided light can reach the soil. I have successfully established carpets of erythroniums by regularly scattering their seeds in situ. Virtually any woodlander that naturally spreads by self-seeding could be tried. For instance, I have often grown primroses and chionodoxa among the roots of established magnolias.

Designing And Planting A Woodland Garden by Keith Wiley (Timber Press £25) is available to order from Telegraph Books at £22 + £1.95 p & p.

In the past couple of weeks, I’ve had several requests for suggestions about what to plant under pine trees, so I thought I would share my thoughts with you. Here in Wisconsin native evergreens grow pretty well in a variety of soils, but preferably on the acidic side with a lower pH level.

Because of the acidity in the soil, not all shade plants are comfortable growing under pine trees. Plants also have to tolerate drier soil conditions not only because they share the ground with the tree’s root system, but also because of the dense canopy which not only blocks the sunlight, but also prevents the rain from reaching the ground. Here are some suggested native plants for you.


Canadian anemone (Anemone canadensis) – white rose-like flower

Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) tubular-shaped salmon and white flower which blossoms in the spring

Cutleaf Toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) – small white flowers

In my woodland, cutleaf toothwort (Cardamine concatenata) – one of my favorite spring ephemerals. Shagbark hickory (Carya ovata) tree stump to the left, mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum) in the background. Trunk is hop hornbeam (Ostrya Virginiana)aka ironwood. Note: Click photo for larger view.

Sharp lobed hepatica (Hepatica acutiloba) – three-leaved groundcover with white flower

Three-leaf false Solomon’s seal (maianthemum trifolium) – white star-shaped flowers, oval levels, reddish berries

Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum) – large white lily-shaped flowers

Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) – blue bell-shaped flower

White baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) – white plume-like flowers, awesome red berries which are considered poisonous if eaten in large quantities

Wild bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) – fringed leaves, pink heart-shaped flowers

Wild geranium (Gernaium maculatum) – pink/lavender flowers; leaves turn red in fall

Wild ginger (Asarum canadense) – velvety-leaved groundcover with white/scarlet flower

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) – white umbrella-shaped flower head


Ivory sedge (Carex eburnea) – delicate, fountain-like

Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) – upright, clump-forming; unique colorful seedheads


Partridgeberry (Mitchella repens) – waxy, round leaves, white flowers, red berries

Princess Pine (Lycopodium obscurum) – club moss; looks like a miniature Christmas tree, typically with three “fairy candles” at top

Running pine (Lycopodium clavatum) – club moss, also called stag’s horn moss; evergreen, needle-like leaves


Lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) – erect, lacy-cut leaves

Hayscented (Dennstaedria punctilobula) – light green, lacy fronds

Marginal Wood (Dryopteris marginalis) – grayish-green, deeply cut, leathery fronds


American Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana ) – deciduous, fall flowering shrub with very tiny, distinct yellow flowers; prefers rich, moist soil however

Highbush cranberry (virburnum trilobum) – aka American cranberry; deciduous, maple-shaped leaves, white flowers, red berries

Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens) – low-growing shrub with white bell-shaped flowers, waxy leaves, bright red berries, leaves turn red in late fall


Many of the short grass prairie species such as little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), Indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans), Virginia wild rye (Elymus virginicus), big leaf aster (Aster macrophyllus), false indigo (Baptisia australis), purple (Echinacea purpurea) and yellow coneflower (Ratibida pinnata) and butterfly weed (Asclepias tuberosa) will do well around the drip line where they can receive lots of sun. And of course black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia hirta).

For those of you who are Wild Ones members, see also Native Ground Covers for Shady Areas (page 10-11) by Pat Armstrong.

Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium is a relatively easily grown plant that needs moist soils but can be produced in dry soils as well

Botanical Latin Name: Geranium maculatum L.

Common Name: Wild Geranium

Sun Exposure: Full Sun to partial shade

Hardiness Zones: 3 t0 8

Mature Height: 1.5 feet to 2 feet

Spread: 1 foot to 1.5 feet

Spacing: Clumping flowers so 1 foot between plants.

Growth Rate: Fast seasonal growing.

Flowering Time: Blooms from April to May.

How Long It Flowers: One month, possibly longer with continued deadheading of the old blooms.

Flower Color: Deep pink, pale pink, and lilac colors.

Soil Requirements: Prefers moist soil but tolerates poor drier soil.

Pruning: Deep heading the flower blooms will bring more flowers to your geraniums.

Flower Form:

This member of the geranium family is a showy clustering plant that produces a five-petaled flower on top of its vibrant green foliage. Being a perennial plant that colonizes with its thick rhizomes makes it an excellent choice for gardeners who long for a more carefree garden.

Geranium is known for its pink and lavender blooms

The beautiful flowers will continue to bloom for the full season of April to May with a watchful eye to remove the dead flowers making room for more of the delicate pink or lavender blooms.

Geranium does not repeat its bloom

Each of the blossoms consists of the five petals, one pistil with its own five carpels, five sepals beautifully colored green and ten stamens that consist of their anthers in a pale yellow hue. This plant usually does not repeat bloom. If the soil dries out in the summer, the foliage may be yellow.

Wild Geranium Ships as Bare Root

23 Landscape Ideas for a Wooded Backyard

The region is operating out of open space generally. These regions are also referred to as songbird or butterfly gardens. There are nevertheless a few wet locations but the improvement is huge. Small water areas, full of algae, can be toxic to some wildlife species along with provide the perfect living website for undesirable mosquitoes. Many communities provide free mulch to residents you just have to know where to search for it. It is dependent on the manner in which you need to use the region. Or you could make an outdoor seating area should youn’t already have one.

A wholesome forest is beautiful. Poor-quality trees ought to be cut to earn space for better trees. A great deal of trees and shrubs around a house is able to look unattractive, but in a few climates, they’re also able to be a significant fire hazard.

If you enjoy grass and would be happy to maintain it sod away. Ultimately, it’s difficult to keep grass beneath a deck. Grass also needs a hefty quantity of water, and might require fertilizer and weed treatments also, all which impact your bottom line. Ornamental grasses seem spectacular in winter. The American lawn is now the focus of a good deal of controversy. A purely ornamental garden is similar to a gorgeous, sleek automobile free of engine. In addition, you need to decide if you prefer an indoor or outside fairy garden.

Establishing a wetland in your yard might be as easy as planting wetland plants in an existent wet area, or it might require the exact same effort required to put in a backyard pond. The trick to installing any thriving lighting project is to begin with a very good design. Wooded landscaping design sometimes takes a similar strategy, but it could also function as a way to blend the home with the surrounding rustic atmosphere. Landscape designers and architects help determine the treatment of vast regions of land.

If you have some concerns there are wild animals getting beneath your deck, you’re going to be pleased to learn there is a means to keep them out. The birds benefit also. If you’re planning on having fish within your pond, in addition, there are requirements for keeping the water clean through filtration. If you choose to supply water, be sure to be sure it stays fresh! As a distinct issue, at the base of the ridge there’s a little creek. Even a few tiny boulders placed near a path can create a striking design statement.

Wooded Backyard Landscape 14 Wooded Backyard Landscape 13 Wooded Backyard Landscape 12 Wooded Backyard Landscape 11 Wooded Backyard Landscape 10 Wooded Backyard Landscape 9 Wooded Backyard Landscape 8 Wooded Backyard Landscape 7 Wooded Backyard Landscape 6 Wooded Backyard Landscape 5 Wooded Backyard Landscape 4 Wooded Backyard Landscape 3 Wooded Backyard Landscape 2 Wooded Backyard Landscape 1 Wooded Backyard Landscape 25 Wooded Backyard Landscape 24 Wooded Backyard Landscape 23 Wooded Backyard Landscape 22 Wooded Backyard Landscape 21 Wooded Backyard Landscape 20 Wooded Backyard Landscape 19 Wooded Backyard Landscape 18 Wooded Backyard Landscape 17 Wooded Backyard Landscape 16 Wooded Backyard Landscape 15

Your neighbors won’t welcome these invasive plants in their property. It’s possible to install it to the fence, in the backyard. Should youn’t have a yard, or dwell in an apartment, a little fairy world in a clay pot can produce a superb table centerpiece.

Plants grow against one another, above one another and below each other. Many different heat-tolerant plants with low water requirements offer year-round interest. Once the plants are a couple of years old they will start to generate seed. If it were just 1 plant it would eliminate a great deal of its impact. Cactus plants don’t need much water. Plantings mature at various prices, and you may add new features every year. To begin with, you will need to remove and save any current sod so that you may use it in other regions of your lawn.

Mature trees are an asset for any home, adding value to the property and reducing energy costs. We like big trees. We love that feeling of a home that’s tucked into capital-N Nature. Every silver lining has a cloud, and mature trees bring the challenge of landscaping a wooded lot.

Why is landscaping a wooded lot difficult?

Big trees have big root systems. They have massive canopies that prevent a lot of the rainwater from hitting the ground. Their roots are greedily sucking up water and nutrients, and many trees suppress the growth of smaller plants by dropping leaves or needles, and sometime even by releasing chemicals into the soil. When trying to landscape a wooded lot, we can’t just pick plants that say “shade”, because that doesn’t encompass everything that’s going on.

Wooded lots also tend to either not have grass at all, or to have thin, weak lawn areas that don’t amount to a heck of a lot. From a design standpoint, lawns are useful. Functionally, they unify the planting beds around a yard, and they provide a durable means of getting from point A to points B, C, D, and so on. Aesthetically, they tone down the feeling of chaos that can come from a yard full of nothing but shrubs and perennials. This gets more difficult to accomplish if there’s no lawn.

To illustrate what I mean, here’s one of my favorite projects. The client wanted a collection of curated garden beds, heavy on the native plants. I wanted to make sure there were durable paths – the lawn areas – and an overall cohesive look.

Tips for landscaping a wooded lot

A wooded landscape won’t feel finished unless there’s somewhere for the eye to land. You may not consciously be able to say that’s what’s wrong, but unconsciously? You’ll be bouncing around, trying to figure out where to look. For this I look to create a focal point, something that is clearly What You Should Look At. Every one of my wooded landscapes has a focal point. Here, it’s a patio with a firepit.

When landscaping a wooded lot it’s also important to figure out how you’ll get around the property. Paths become very important. We’ve done grass paths, gravel paths, and wood chip paths. It’s even possible to create paths just by strategically placing your plants to make it clear where one should step.

Wooded areas can quickly begin to feel cluttered and chaotic if not planted properly. A few tips:

Pick a primary plant: just like when designing a landscape for plant collectors, I try to find one or two plants with strong structure or color (or both) to create some unity. Diverse plant groups can be placed around these and they work, because the primary plants pull the space together.

Create movement: place some key plants (I like boxwood that’s left shaggy, not sheared) in groupings to help direct you where you need to go. Lead the eye to the focal point destination, deflect away from anything undesirable. You’re reinforcing the paths and/or bed edges.

shaggy boxwood

Simplify the color palette: this may seem out of character for me, as my approach to color is “plantings can look like about three hours after a dog ate a box of 64 Crayola crayons and still be perfect.” Landscaping a wooded lot means you’re probably dealing with some heavy shade, and an explosion of colors won’t read as strongly as simple colors. White and purple flowers, or purple and pink flowers, or white, yellow, and purple flowers, all make for simple, striking combinations. And don’t forget foliage!

Play with texture: Again, heavy shade can make everything seem a little more homogenous and muddy. Textural contrasts can make a shade garden exquisite. As an example, in my yard the fine texture of Fargesia (clumping bamboo) works beautifully alongside the broad, smooth leaves of oakleaf hydrangea.

Use garden ornaments: Wooded landscapes are the perfect place to incorporate garden ornaments that will “surprise” visitors as they move through the garden. Small fountains, like a shishi-odoshi, are perfect.

So are small statues, like this one of my favorite saint (guess who grew up Catholic?)

Bottom line, a wooded landscape takes some thought and planning ahead of time but the results are totally worth it. If you’re still not sure where to start, contact me today!

Plants For Woodland Gardens: Ideas And Tips For Creating A Woodland Garden

Do you have large trees or unused wooded areas in your yard? Put them to use by creating a woodland garden. These garden designs provide a more relaxed and natural look to your landscape, and as a bonus, many of the carefree plants that are used make woodland garden maintenance simple. Learning how to plant a woodland garden is easy and rewarding.

Creating a Woodland Garden Design

The best way to create a woodland garden in your yard is by taking clues from nature. Look to your surroundings for help. How do the natural wooded areas grow? What native plants do you see? Now look at your own area. How is the light, the soil, drainage, etc.? Once you have examined all of these factors, you’re ready to design a plan for your woodland garden.

When laying out your flower bed, it often helps to use a hose, chalk or flour to outline the garden area. Get it ready for planting by clearing the area you wish to use. Remove all trash and debris. This includes unwanted plants that may be growing there as well, like saplings, poison oak and poison ivy (dress appropriately for this), and any underbrush or roots that may be in the area.

Prior to planting, add any paths or stepping stones that may be desired, meandering these throughout the garden.

In nature everything is layered with high to mid canopies, understory plantings and ground cover. Since plantings are not perfectly lined up in nature, nor should they be in your woodland garden. Therefore, strategically place your plantings in the cleared off area. It is helpful to keep them in their containers until you plant so you can simply place them where you want, playing around with the design until you find something that suits you.

Prune any the dense foliage growth of the taller trees to open up the canopy. Prepare the soil by adding compost as needed to amend the soil. Then you can dig your holes and add your plants, watering generously. Begin by adding your smaller trees and shrubs. Once these are all in place and planted, you can put in your understory plantings.

For additional interest, you can add a birdbath, bench or other feature to your woodland garden design. Top it off with some mulch, preferably using one that matches your natural woodlands, like pine needles, shredded leaves or bark.

Plants for Woodland Gardens

There are a number of suitable plants for woodland gardens. In addition to small shrubs and trees, ground covers and mosses make good choices for a woodland garden, along with other shade-loving perennials. For more impact, combine contrasting feathery plants with plants that have big broad leaves.

Small Shrubs and Trees

  • Azalea
  • Birch
  • Flowering dogwood
  • Holly
  • Hydrangea
  • Japanese maple
  • Magnolia

Perennials and Bulbs

  • Anemone
  • Bleeding heart
  • Blue-eyed grass
  • Bloodroot
  • Calla lily
  • Campanula
  • Cast iron plant
  • Columbine
  • Coralberry
  • Elephant ear
  • Dutchman’s breeches
  • Ferns
  • Foamflower
  • Ginger
  • Goldenrod
  • Heuchera coral bells
  • Hosta
  • Mayapple
  • Phlox
  • Trillium
  • Tuberous begonia
  • Violet
  • Watsonia
  • Wood lily
  • Wild geranium

Ground Cover Plants

  • Ajuga
  • Ivy
  • Lily of the valley
  • Liriope
  • Moss
  • Vinca
  • Virginia creeper

Woodland Garden Maintenance

Native plants in a woodland garden design offer the advantage of lower maintenance. While new plants may require supplemental watering during the first year of establishment, the care of your woodland garden will be minimal, much like it is in a natural woodland setting.

Keeping the area mulched will help retain moisture and reduce weed growth. Organic or humus-rich mulch will also keep the soil well nourished, minimizing the need for fertilizing.

The only other care your garden will need is occasional pruning of the shrubs and trees as necessary.

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