Poor shape and shade in my front yard. HELP!!!

megansnotagreenthumb(Z5)March 7, 2009

My husband and I just recently moved into our new home. There is 2 giant pine trees and a tree that I'm not really sure what it is yet because it is winter/spring. The people that lived here before us did not take very good care of the yard AT ALL!. I've been seriously raking my front yard for 2 days and I am still not done! There must have been 2 years worth of pine needles and leaves in the yard. I noticed that grass didn't grow under the pine tree.....I looked that up and found out why. So I looked up some flowers that will grow in acidic soil. I have a huge list but I still not sure what to do. My whole front yard is basically a dirt pit. They did have some ivy...but it has taken over the "flower bed". I'm only 20 and this is the 2nd place I've lived in with out my parents. I also have a 19 month old daughter who loves to look at flowers and be out side. When I lived with my parents I always tried to help my dad do a little gardening here and there, so I don't know to much. But I love to do it. So.....my question is what should I do! I have no clue about when where or what....HAHA. I pretty much know I want pansies and snap dragons. I really love lily of the valley and Virginia bluebells. I just don't know what plants do well in Indiana. I've looked that up online and found basically nothing. I'm open to any advice. Just throw it at me. I'm really eager and excited to learn about gardening. Thanks so much!!!!

Megan

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rbrady(5/Eastern Ia)

Hi! How much sun gets to the area underneath? For shade you could try Hosta, Heuchera, Tiarella, Ferns, Ariaema (Jack in the pulpit), Trilliums, Foxglove, perennial Geraniums, Aruncus (Goatsbeard), Aquilegia (columbine), Smilacina (Solomons Seal), and some Asters. I have all those listed under my pines and they do pretty well. There are a bunch more, I just can't think of them right now.

You should also save those pine needles-they would make great mulch!

Rhonda

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 6:13PM
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megansnotagreenthumb(Z5)

I only get a decent amount of sunlight when the sun is mainly in the western sky. My front yard faces south. Would it help if I posted a picture of my yard? I'm pretty sure it would. I don't even know what kind of pine trees they are!!! Hopefully I can find my camera cord that goes to the computer. I had gotten lost in the move :(

    Bookmark   March 7, 2009 at 8:28PM
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gardengal48

The reason why grass doesn't grow well under a pine tree isn't because the soil is acidic (although it very well could be) but rather because a) turf grasses don't care for much shade and b) the roots of the pines extend outward a great distance and suck up soil moisture and nutrients. Smaller plant have a difficult time competing in the shade and dry, lean conditions.

Pines and other conifers don't make soil acidic - they grow where conditions suit them and if they desire acidic soil, that's where they'll grow. Some pines actually prefer more alkaline soil conditions. And contrary to common opinion, pine needles don't make soil acidic - that's a very persistent but invalid gardening myth.

Do a search for plants that tolerate dry shade - these are the type of plants that will thrive under these conditions. A number of hardy geraniums, epimediums, the aruncus Ronda mentions, also the foxglove. But there are many others, like fernleaf dicentra (bleeding heart).

As to other plants for your garden, I'm not sure why you're are not coming up with anything online. The Internet is full of plant lists for any kind of gardening condition you can think of. Find out your hardiness zone and search for plants under that qualifier. And contact your local extension service - they will have various resources and info sheets on how to garden in your area. If local nurseries or garden centers offer classes, consider attending as many of these as you can manage - they are typically free and should be a great source of information. Look particularly towards those that address improving the soil, as that is the fundamental basis behind any successful gardening endeavor - good soils make good gardens regardless of other growing conditions.

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 10:49AM
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megansnotagreenthumb(Z5)

Well I sent about 30 mins on the computer yesterday trying to find plants that grow well in Indiana. I didn't know there were zones until it asked me on this site :( hhaa. I've been looking at a lot of online catalogs and stuff and I've been writing down as much as I could. As for the pine needle and acidic soil thing. Thanks for telling me that. I read it on about 2 different web sites. Should I do a pH test on the soil under my trees? I had already started a compost pile in my yard in Jan. It's going to rain today so I'm going to go out there tomorrow and turn it. Hopefully that will help the garden also. Thanks again!

    Bookmark   March 8, 2009 at 12:39PM
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mainegrower(Z5b ME)

The internet is a great source of information, but so are books. "The Complete Shade Gardener" by George Schenk is a great source not only for plant information, but also for soil, types of shade as well as inspiration. The book is a few years old now, but I still use my original edition all the time.

There's probably no real need to have the soil tested for pH. As gardengal48 pointed out, if you have pine trees growing you can assume the soil is acid.

Again echoing gardengal48, your chief issue is not going to be shade; it will be root competition. Try driving a spade into a cleared section of ground. If it is nearly impossible or very difficult to dig, you have a huge mass of roots just beneath the surface. White pines (if that's what you have) are not as awful as some trees, but if they're really "giant" they will be an ongoing problem. If you have areas relatively free of roots, tough plants tolerant of dry shade may well work. The problem with soil improvement (and giving extra water) in such areas, however, is that roots will seek out the new, improved neighborhood and quickly colonize it.

The best plan is elimination of the trees - expensive, but probably worth it in the long run. Other options include containers and using plants that can adapt to the conditions. Unfortunately, trial and error is probably the only sure way of doing the latter. I've spent the past 30 years gardening among sugar maples and white pines - many more of which I should have removed when they were small enough to do so. Despite the difficulties and failures, there are more than 100 kinds of rhododendrons, many Japanese maples, more shrubs than it's easy to count, small conifers and numerous wild flowers flourishing, so don't be discouraged.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2009 at 6:04AM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

Surely there's a better plan than elimination of the trees!
Megan, I'm in a similiar conditon, my front yard faces north, not much sun, and the yard is small and was overrun with weeds that would grow in this conditon. One rose bush, looking very pitiful. Just keep researching, and cleaning up( good u got plenty of stuff to start compost!)
I'm new to gardening, and learning by trial and error but already the front of the house looks better. Just hang in there, and u can turn that dirt pit into a forest like paradise. Best of luck to you!

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 4:10PM
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blueridgemtngrl(6b)

I personally wouldn't take the trees down. They are likely native to your area and support a lot of wildlife.

There are many things that can be planted under a pine canopy. I live in the Blue Ridge Mountains, where pines dominate the area, and as long as the area isn't dense shade, there are a lot of choices.

What grows naturally under mine (keep in mind I'm in NC) are Christmas ferns, lady ferns, maidenhair ferns, solomon's seal, striped wintergreen, wild blueberries, wood strawberries, azaleas, dogwoods, rhodies, virburnums, mountain laurel, rattlessnake orchids, violets, hearts a burstin...

There are many non-natives that will do OK as well. As I garden mostly with natives, I can't help you there.

With pines, you may need to start out with smaller plants so you can get them in between the roots, but many plants evolved to co-exist with pines and don't mind the root competition.

If you decide to plant natives, leave the pine needles in place. They are supposed to be there and natives need them to thrive.

Jeanne

    Bookmark   April 23, 2009 at 9:21AM
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