Converting to Shade Garden

chicoryflowerAugust 31, 2007

I have a sunny yard and lots of sun loving plants, but I can't stand the sun. I desperately need shade.

Does anyone know anything about converting a grassy knoll to a budding woodland?

My instinct is to start planting trees and giving away the sunny plants we have, but this instinct may be wrong. Should I be consulting a professional?

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I never did much shade gardening till we moved here. I'd suggest before you go whole hog on what could be an expensive project look up what plants are shade loving for your area. You might find they are too limiting for you. What you might really need is to switch from plants that require a lot of care to those which don't but still love the sun...native varieties for example or
Instead of a variety of flowers maybe a few well thought out bushes or even hedges combined with some hardsurfaces like walkways.
Remember with trees you are going to have leaves to rake and branches to pick up after storms plus if you plant too close to the house or well you will have unwanted roots to deal with.
A good landscaper is handy but as with any project the more you know going into it the better the choices you can make. Like with all professions there's good ones and bad ones and often it's not till after the fact or in the middle of a project we find out which one we actually have employeed.

    Bookmark   August 31, 2007 at 6:24PM
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gottagarden(z5 western NY)

There is a shade gardening forum and they can give lots of guidance on this. (personally I have full sun everywhere.)

    Bookmark   September 3, 2007 at 8:29AM
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faltered(Hamburg NY Z5/6)

Shade gardening doesn't have to be expensive if you start from seed or find someone to swap with. Hostas are an investment but you will be able to divide them in no time and have them all over your garden. Definitely check out the shade forum, you'll find lots of advice there.


    Bookmark   September 4, 2007 at 3:23PM
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waplummer(Z5 NY)

How large is the grassy knoll? Is it large enough to create a little woodland? What trees are you considering? Hopefully natives. But whatever you come up with, there is no need to get rid of your sun-lovers at this time. Check out the Plantsmen Nursery in your area.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2007 at 10:47AM
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penny1947(z6 WNY)

I am no help because I love the sun and all the plants that I can now grow since having a maple tree removed that was storm damaged. Unless you buy a fast growing tree, you won't get much shade for several years. Maples grow fast but also tend to have branches that break off easily, roots that grow too close to the surface, are messy with all their little helicoper seeds that can sprout all over the place, and they are also subject to sudden death. If I were in your position, I would consider having a gazebo or pergola put un to provide the shade that you enjoy and then you can grow shade loving plants around the base and some nice perennial vines like native coral honeysuckle up the sides. I am still digging out tree roots from the tree that was removed that had traveled up to the bed in front of my porch. A pergola or gazebo would also cast some shade on various parts of your yard as the sun moved around. You could add hanging baskets and containers of shade loving plants to it also. The structure could be a large or as small as you wanted in a very short time without having to wait several years for trees to grow and fill out.....just another perspective.


    Bookmark   September 28, 2007 at 8:32AM
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ken_mce(zone 4, NY)

What you are talking about is a permanent change in your property. I would suggest you study the question over this winter and begin planting in the spring. A little patience now could make a big difference later. Trees will be the backbone of the new landscape. Place them first and fit the bushes inbetween.

The first thing you need is an understanding of your situation. If you are up on a hill you will want trees that don't windblow. If your property is soggy for days after every rain you'll want water tolerant plants. You ought to check and find out what kind of soil you have. Thompkins county is basically glacial till, but what you need is the details of what is on your property. If the soil is acid you need acid lovers. If alkaline there are trees for that. If your PH is roughly neutral you can grow 'most anything, but you need to know what you're working with.

If you are in town then you'll want to pay some attention to making things neat and orderly so the neighbors stay happy. Out in the country you can do what you please. It could be as simple as stop mowing and see what comes. Walk around your neighborhood and see if there are trees and plants you like. Find out what they are. Go down to the arboretum at Cornell, see if they have any spiffy exotics you could grow. Browse through some nurseries and get a feel for what is easily available and how prices run.

You house will have a variety of pipes and wires going into it. You will want to work around these so the trees don't fight with the house. I had to take down a lovely thirty foot birch because it would not stay out of the sewage line. I would suggest deciduous trees right around the house so you will get more light in the winter. A line of evergreens can be used for a windbreak if you're on a hill and have more wind than you need. In our climate the house may tend to be damp if you leave no room whatsoever between the house and the tree canopy.

I personally think that an All along the entry to a property is a magnificent thing. Be sure to leave room enough that a fire engine can fit through.

The factors that will go into your plan are time, money, energy, and expertise. To some extent you can substitute these for one another. You can't do it with none of them.

You might want to do a rough sketch of your property, perhaps at a one inch to the foot scale. Cut out circles that have the same size as various adult tree diameters and move them around on your map, see how you can get good coverage without getting into the powerlines, hanging over the house, etc.

You can then go out and sit boxes at the spots you chose on your map, pretend the adult tree is there, walk around and think if you'd like it there. If you don't, it is much easier to move the box than a tree.

The trees will all start small, how small or large depends on what you can spend. Plant between them with bushes that will grow quick and give you fill-in shade while the trees mature. Decades from now the trees will kill off the bushes. By then they won't be needed. You can encourage things to grow faster by improving the soil. This is pretty easy to do, see the soil forum for details. I think a shade garden is harder to do well than a sun garden, but more comfortable to actually live in.

Good luck with it!

    Bookmark   October 21, 2007 at 12:15PM
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Thank you for these responses and sorry for zoning out there.

I have started taking out the sunny plants that I don't want and have narrowed the garden down to a few easier to care for plants, leveled out the bumpy planting beds and have spread grass seed and divided sweet woodruff and plopped it in here and there. I love that stuff!

I have a few trees in the front yard already...

sugar maple (close to street)
plane maple
norway maple (side yard - huge about 50 years old)
a bunch of pines off to the side (long needled, no interest to deer - not sure what they are)

I have 3 spots for trees and I'm hoping to plant:

Nyssa Sylvatica (black gum - native)
Gingko (not native, obviously)
Autumn Purple Ash (native)

Also I'd like to have some smaller companion trees with these - Elderberry, saucer magnolia (with the nyssa sylvatica), and a smaller serviceberry under some powerlines, just to round things out.

Underneath all this, easy to maintain landscaping (sweet woodruff, hostas, vinca, bleeding heart, mayapple, jack in the pulpit and va. bluebells).

However, we need to maintain a wide grassy area in the center of two treed sections - so the kids can sled.

That's all of my ideas at the moment.

Do any of those trees give cause for concern on a 1/3 acre lot?

    Bookmark   October 27, 2007 at 11:26PM
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