This is my first venture into this UGQ Forum. I need some advice. I have recently cleared some wooded space (approx. 300 square feet)of LOTS of briars, brambles, bushes, small treelets, etc. It’s at the rear of my backyard which then leads to a creek and hiking trail beyond it. My goal is to have a more open wooded area, but nothing particularly “fancy” or high maintenance. I might eventually move to a fancier vision of the space, but right now my time, energy and resources tell me to not get too fancy right now. I am not sure how to proceed next. There are TONS of dead leaves, which have accumulated over the years. So far, I have done nothing with them. I don’t know whether to clear them, too, or leave them there. I would like to gradually plant perennial shade-happy things like ferns, hostas, bleeding hearts, maybe a few shade-happy shrubs, etc., to create a naturalized looking wooded space at the back of my yard. There are still plenty of large and small trees in the cleared space. I know that every year the leaves will fall. Any guidance about the leaves and ideas for shade-happy plantings would be welcome.
Thank you in advance for any assistance! I’m excited about this forum. Thank you so much, Margaret!
Do you get any sunlight at all? or is it all deep shade? I have a similar area in my yard, half of it’s total shade and the other half is dappled sunlight. I’m going to do hostas, ferns, etc. as well. I’m going to try a few native flowers in my partial sun areas. Going to put out some columbines, even though I’m probably too late for a bloom from them this year, but there’s always next year. Basically I just bought several partial sun perennial seed packets and I’m just going to try some things this year. I figure there’s not a whole lot of money invested with going the seed route so not too much loss if they don’t work out. I don’t mind spending on the ferns and hostas b/c those are a sure bet in the shade garden. Flowers in a shady area are a new venture for me, but I’m determined to have a little color!
As for the leaves, I like to follow the “disturb the soil” as little as possible theory so I’m just going to rough up the dirt only in the areas where I plant, add a little extra compost and then plant in that way. Those are my thoughts on my natural wooded area!
The front part of the area gets some sun, but only in the morning. The rest is pretty much total shade. Good idea about seeds for perennials. I hadn’t thought of that! I was also thinking of some kind of a ground cover such as pachysandra (sp?) and periwinkle. Again, the idea is LOW maintenance, with a less wild appearance, but not perfectly landscaped. So, maybe I’ll clear away some leaves at the front and do some of the perennial seeds there, and then leave the rest of the leaves behind that area and put in the ground covers, sprinkled with ferns and hostas.
Thanks for your ideas! Any others out there?
Most woodland plants will enjoy the leaf cover which insulates in the winter and breaks down into a rich humus as it decomposes. I would leave the leaves, at the most, just push them aside when you plant. I’m not sure what the larger context is (urban, suburban, rural) but I must say I would hesitate to put in something such as Japanese pachysandra or periwinkle. To me, these plants scream cultivated garden rather than ‘naturalized looking wooded space’. Why not look to some native ground covers, there is a native pachysandra- Pachysandra procumbans, which I think is even prettier than Pachysandra terminalis, although it probably will not be evergreen for you in Mass.
Also check out Margaret’s 4 toughest groundcovers.
I particularly think that Geranium macrorrhizum would be a good choice.
I bought a house with an area quite like this one you describe where someone had also cleared and planted, here in zone 4 central VT. My best advice: AVOID PERIWINKLE AT ALL COSTS. Since it was planted by whoever lived here before, it has literally taken over the entire forest floor and choked out countless native plants. I assume the same would happen with thugs like English ivy or pachysandra. I’ve tried to fight back with plants that are better behaved: Astilbe, Hosta, and hellebores, and native groundcovers: Canadian anemone (hard to find, but hard-working), tiarella, native ferns.
I also think it looks much better now that I’ve added some native or near-native shrubs, like native witch-hazel, spicebush, azaleas, and such. My woods are also happy to support easy woodland perennials like Solomon’s Seal, Bleeding Heart, toad lilies, and aconites, all of which I love. Hope some of this can help!
I second the post about pachysandra and periwinkle; they’re not wild, and they’re not native, so they’re not natural-looking. Tiarella is very pretty, and sends out runners; heuchera and ferns are also easy, low-maintenance, and pretty. There are lots of wildflowers that are lovely, trilliums, dog-toothed violets, violets, hepatica, but I expect that you’ll need to spend a couple of years fighting back the brambles that want to return from their severed roots. Whacking them back may take as much energy as you have for a while. One of the things that matters here is if you have deer: if you do, you will have a limited palette of plants to choose from. There is no joy in planting hosta to see it disappear.