planting along an old-fashioned stone wall

redhighlander(6)June 22, 2014

We have recently moved to a house with property bordered with an old-fashioned stone wall. It is so messy looking, with vines, tree roots, rocks in the earth, etc. I have tried to attach some photos, but I'm not sure that they all attached. Can anyone give me some advice? I've looked around the town (many people have stone walls like mine) and hostas and day lilies seem to be what most people plant along the walls. It dresses them up a little. How do I even go about preparing the earth to plant? It looks like a tough job. Thank you so much for your expertise.

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The tree roots will make it a bit tough for hostas.

You will have to make some raised beds with good soil along the length of the fence, it will be a tough slog, although if you do it right the end results should be good.

nearer the tree put some ostrich ferns and Lamnia They will grow any where.

I would make the beds at least 6 feet wide.

Hemerocallis (daylilies) will grow although with that much shade they won't flower much (if at all)

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 2:39PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

that trees roots are on the surface upwards of 5 to 6 feet from the trunk ...

even adding soil on top ... will not help.;. as it will PROBABLY fill the new good soil with feeder roots.. faster than you can grow hosta to compete... besides the fact.. its not good to add too much soil on top of tree roots...

not to mention.. any significant depth of soil.. will sorta defeat the wall itself.. whats the point of burying that a foot deeper in good soil ...

dayllily.. is a run it over with the truck invincible.... but significant shade might be an issue ...

i would start by IDing the tree... get us or the tree forum a pic of the leaves... and start there ...

of course.. there could always be potted hosta there ...

and i bet the workhorse hosta.. the undulata clan.. might thrive ... given enough water to get fully established ...


    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 2:57PM
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Thank you for your feedback. I have a tremendous length of stone wall to deal with. Runs the entire width of the back yard and the entire length of the front and side yard and we have 2/3 of an acre. Some areas are more clear of tree roots, and some areas get some afternoon sun. This is probably going to be a multi-year project. I am open to other ideas for plants. Thank you!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 3:06PM
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Instead of fighting the existing nearby situation, why not plant in the pockets of the wall? There are many plants that will grow well in such conditions and the over-all look is fantastic. You might want to google for examples.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 3:10PM
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Thanks whitelacey, sounds interesting but I'm not sure how hard it would be too keep them alive? Lots of watering? What do you think about planting pachysandra along the wall? Would that be easier to grow?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 4:14PM
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Seeing that other people in the area have gardens along their stone walls, I would stop by and ask ?s. Who knows they may even share some of their plants with you. I'd do a major cleanup first, collect info and ideas, and then start digging and amending. You're going to have fun and your wall is amazing. WW

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 4:29PM
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alisande(Zone 4b)

After you've lived there for awhile you may find you like the stone walls just the way they are. We have many on our property, and I've never done any planting near them. I do keep an eye out for poison ivy, but otherwise I just admire them. I think they're beautiful.

I love hostas, but I can just imagine green mold accumulating on the stones behind any plants. I could be wrong about that, but I've seen it other places on my property where plants and stone meet without a lot of air circulation.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 4:37PM
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cyn427(z7aN. VA)

I would give just about anything to have stone fences like that! Lucky you! I agree with Alisande-embrace them. Clean out the weeds and then live with them for a year before you do anything. Do a lot of walking around just looking and thinking/imagining. Watch the light, so you will know what your conditions are as far as sun/shade.

Agree also that asking neighbors for advice is a great way to proceed. You'll make new friends that way, too!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 5:12PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

That's a single stack stone wall. Typical here in New England. It was created by a farmer who had cleared that field and then had to deal with the rocks which seem to grow up through the soil each year. The single stack was just an easy way of putting the rocks to the side of the field.

Below is my favorite tool for working in the kind of rocky root filled soil that I suspect you have. You may also need a 6 foot digging bar if the boulders are very large.

You can plant in amongst the rocks, but you have to pick your spots. Luckily you have a long wall and you should be able to find them. Here's some that I have planted.


    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 6:37PM
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I agree with others who suggest embracing the wall. It's a marvelous feature of your property. I used to live in Madison, CT and stone walls were everywhere. Ha! Now I live in Delaware, where there is not even a pebble. If you intend to plant gardens, You may find that you need to invest in a couple of industrial strength pry bars. I used to enlist the neighborhood kids to jump on the end of the pry bar while I maneuvered small stones under the boulder, gradually lifting it up to ground level. Goodness, that was a lifetime ago. 1970's. Well, none of this addresses your question about how to go about planting near the wall. I guess my answer is: I wouldn't plant next to the wall. I'm sure this is not the kind of answer you were looking for.

Happy gardening. Enjoy your 2/3 acre!

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 7:20PM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Your stone wall is stunning, and a huge opportunity. While the tree roots may be an issue in many areas, it sounds like you have a lot of wall, so you may be able to pick and choose which things you put furthest from the tree root areas....and you may not want to plant the whole will be a lot of maintenance every year, even with "low maintenance" plants like still have to go clean up all the dead leaves, etc.

Also, you may want to consider what kind of work you are willing to do. A low ground cover just to "fill in the gaps" between the wall and the grass might be helpful, but when I see the pics of your wall, I see beauty as it is....low maintenance just the way it is, and lovely.

Maybe take the areas that bother you the very most...the areas you deem "scraggly", so to speak, and plant just those areas first.

A wonderful, lush ground cover that does well in even dry shade (scraggly tree trunk areas) is Bigroot Geranium...geranium maccrorhizum. It practically grows on top of the soil, so you can pull it out by hand like butter, no problem at all, if it goes somewhere you don't want. It does not seed, so you can have massive amounts of it WHERE YOU WANT and just the slightest tug will remove it where you don't want it. PLUS, it's nearly evergreen, so it's one of the first things to green up in the spring (hiding your scragglies immediately), gets a bit of fall color and an early June bloom. Has a nice pine scent.
It is my go-to perennial for tough spots, or to carpet a spot until I figure out something else to full, full sun, it will survive, but it will get crispy edges unless it gets watered a lot, so I think it would be best under those tree areas...

Here is a link that might be useful: pics of geranium maccrorhizum & other recommended ground covers

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:25PM
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Well I sure do appreciate everyone's advice! I come from a less rural area where the yards are more manicured, and though I found the stone wall charming when we bought the house 1 1/2 years ago, I guess I'm having a hard time just letting it be. I LOVE the hostas, steve mass! And the spade! I probably won't be able to plant along every square inch of it, but maybe enough to satisfy me.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:25PM
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I agree with annie in not planting against the wall; you don't want to hide such an interesting feature. You'd be surprised what can be grown in cracks, crevices, and pockets.

Link to Google images might give you some ideas.

Here is a link that might be useful: gardening in a rock wall

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 8:25PM
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Thank you mary4b for all your suggestions. I am learning so much just reading everyone's responses! Thanks for taking the time. Also, thank you for complimenting the stone wall. I know I loved it when we first moved in, I don't know why it's bothering me so much now.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:13PM
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Mary4b, can I ask about the geranium - do you buy it locally or mailorder?

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:28PM
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Off topic - another Delawarean! Where are you located? I live in a suburb of Wilmington called Newport. Welcome to the forum. Wonderful folks here with a wealth of knowledge.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 9:56PM
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Hi Donna, I'm not in Delaware. I'm in Scituate, Massachusetts.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 11:06PM
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RedHighlander. You simply need to fall back in love with your stone wall. It's great.

    Bookmark   June 22, 2014 at 11:32PM
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Hello again. I already posted a response that I would not plant at all near the wall. Here's maybe a better response. IF I lived on your property and IF I decided to plant adjacent to the wall, I believe I would use sheet composting, sometimes also called lasagna composting. What I am imagining is not a long thin strip running the entire length of the wall, but isolated deeper curving beds located at choice spots.

The approach is to map out your planting area, then start layering compostable material over the area: start with cardboard or newspaper,then pile on grass clippings, straw if it's available, shredded leaves that you've chewed up with the lawnmower, other garden debris and weeds that you've chewed up with the lawnmower, pine needles, manure whatever you can get your hands on. Be sure to wet each layer down, especially the cardboard. I've done this and it works. It is not instant gratification, but if you're into hostas, you already are a patient gardener. It might take up to 2 years to get a bed ready to go depending upon the content of your layers, but you'll have minimal digging to do. Once sheet composting has done its magic for a year or two, you won't need to till the area - just make little holes and pop in your plants. If you want plants that may require some shade, like hostas, I would not battle with the existing trees that are growing right next to the stone wall. Plant a new tree situated away from the wall by 20 feet or so. Locate the tree so that it's creating afternoon shade in your future planting area. How about a dogwood? Want a fast growing tree? River birch are amazingly fast growers. 10 years from now add a bench and a birdbath in the middle of your shady hosta haven and invite me over for a mint julep.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 8:05AM
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mary4b(4b WI)

Annie Golden's idea for sheet composting areas that are hard to plant, is ideal.....way less backbreaking, and cheaper to do with your own clippings, kitchen compost, etc... I am doing a very similar thing right now along an area that I thought would be hard to dig.

Redhighlander, I was lucky to receive my geranium macrorrhizum from my sister, and have since passed it on to many people. I looked all over for it on the web, and do not see it for sale. There are cultivars for sale, but not the species. If anyone else knows who sells it, please post. It is the species that I like the best, it fills in the fastest without being invasive. If you want to send me an e-mail, I can help you get some from me.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 8:45AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

if you reread.. i did NOT say it wouldnt work ...

i listed the variables that i thought problematic ...

all this talk above... and yet.. you didnt even consider the tree ID ...

first ... take it step by step.. do an area say.. 20 feet long .. prep and plant somethings... and see how it all works out ... then move on .. in fall.. do another 20 feet of bed prepping for fall ...

if one thing doesnt work.. do another..

as you note.. you have a predefined idea of a look ... that you already now.. isnt going to work .. so bend.. flex.. find something that will ... on some level.. you are giving up too easy ...

also .... on some level ... you are decorating.. and want to do this right now.. or so it seems.. reading between the lines ... well that would be all well and dandy.. if the beds were there.. and plants of some kind also ...

but to a gardener... i see a 5 or ten year project... of experimentation ... and learning.. that is what its all about for me ....

if its not for you ... and you have a budget.. do some checkbook gardening.. and get the ball moving ... JUST DONT GIVE UP ... crikey ... that wall is too supreme.. to just have grass running down it ... it is an architectural wonder.. that most of us.. couldnt afford to build in our gardens ... [except for johhny ... mostly because he has this thing about moving rocks.. lol] ....

water will be an issue.. with a garden of such vast linear length ...

good luck ... dont give up ..


    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 9:11AM
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As Americans we do not have in most places anyway the relics and ruins of time standing in our midst. When we went to Ireland, I was deeply impressed with the stone ruins and older still-usable structures of long gone centuries. The people live side by side with the structures and it seems an amiable arrangement.

We have mostly the mentality of take-out food, temporary buildings, tear it down to make way for the new. But in your case, you have something of an age with the old covered bridges. What a treasure.

I'm thinking the local historical society could give you some pictures of plantings popular through the years with stone wall backgrounds. One thing I'd suggest to plant as a tree AWAY from the wall, but visible as a part of the picture, would be an apple tree. Then the lasagna mulching to create a bed could have an anchor in the landscape.

    Bookmark   June 23, 2014 at 11:44AM
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