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Lawn drainage problems – and plants that love shade

It's always a pleasure when one of these "Plant Man" columns generates a flurry of e-mailed comments and questions from readers! That was the case with two recent columns about creating a "shade garden" area in your landscape.

I received various questions about perennials and other plants that work well in shady areas. I always reply personally within a day or two when I receive e-mail at [email protected] and I also include some of those questions and my answers in this column from time to time, so please feel free to write to me.

I'll get to the shade-loving plants in a minute. But first, my column on soil type prompted this question from a reader:

QUESTION: "Please Help!!!!! I am new to grass and soil! I am a city girl and know nothing but concrete. I was told that I have "soy soil", which the builder claims to be very good soil. However, it holds the water. When we walk across our lawn we feel like we are walking through a swamp. We had sod installed which took very well because of the clay-like soil. At least that is what we were told. We were also told that if we wanted to solve this problem that we would have to add sandy soil and re-sod. Do you have any other suggestions? I sure do hope so." – Debbie

ANSWER: I know a number of people with similar problems. What you will probably have to do is to install drainage tiles. To do this you will most likely need some help. Check with your local soil and water conservation district office for advice. Essentially, what it means is that you will have to lay a grid with trenches similar to foundations around the house. Then connect to a central channel that drains into a ditch or something like that.

You can find another solution at this web site: http://www.gardenadvice.co.uk/howto/lawns/drainage/ and you click on a direct link to that by going to my web site www.landsteward.org and finding this column under the Plant Man heading. The "drainage" article has some detailed instructions for installing drainage pipes, but, being European, all measurements are given in millimeters! Just remember, one inch is equal to about two-and-a-half millimeters. You might also want to consider creating a soak-away or what's called a "French trench." Rather than explain it here, I suggest you check out this resource: http://www.baygarden.org.uk/lawn%20drainage.htm and again you can click on a link from my web site. Yes, both these resources are from Britain; and who should know more about draining rain-soaked lawns than the British!

And now a response to all the readers who enquired about plants that thrive in shady areas and would enhance a shade garden area. Rather than feature individual questions, I'll mention four "shady characters" that you should consider.

Blueberry. If rhododendrons or azaleas grow in your chosen spot, chances are that some blueberry bushes will, too. There are a number of good varieties that do well in partial shade (ask me if you need specifics) and you'll have the added advantage of growing your own fruit.

Pachysandra Green Carpet (P. terminalis). A slightly acidic soil and a shady location are ideal for pachysandra. This is an excellent choice for groundcover around shade trees and larger shrubs where grass usually doesn't grow.

Trailing Periwinkle (Vinca minor). Speaking of groundcover, Periwinkle is very effective in quite deeply shaded areas and doesn't need much help from you. Its blue flowers look lovely in the shade, but be aware that it is aggressive and can choke out weaker plants that get in its path!

Hydrangea. There are quite a few varieties of Hydrangea to choose from and all can be quite spectacular, although it's interesting to note that the color of the blooms can vary depending upon the pH balance of the soil! One variety that I particularly like is the Hydrangea paniculata and it has the added benefit of being fairly fast-growing.

Whatever you choose to go with, don't forget that fall planting season is almost upon us, and now is the time to make your plant-buying decisions before all the goodies are gone!

The Plant Man is here to help. Send your questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to [email protected] and for resources and additional information, including archived columns, visit www.landsteward.org where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.

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