Shady Backyard Landscaping IDEAS
Photo by Max Vakhtbovych from Pexels
Modern Landscaping

Shady Backyard Landscaping IDEAS

My topic for the evening is Greener Gardens: One Step at a Time. I’ll be discussing options for creating landscapes that are more sustainable. Ideas range from simple steps to ambitious projects any gardener or homeowner can undertake. The goal is beautiful gardens and landscapes that are attractive and healthy for humans, wildlife, pets, and the environment as a whole. My focus is on the Chesapeake Bay and all its tributaries.

Admission is free. I will have copies of my books, Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping and How to Prune Trees & Shrubs for sale, which I will happily sign after the talk.

I am looking forward to it, and I hope to see some of you there!

Although it is dreary and rainy today, I am happy because we are getting some much-needed rain. Rain or shine, this time of year my garden looks both wonderful and riotous. I thought I would share a picture of what the front garden looks like this week, plus shots of a couple major players.

Above: Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) in shades of purple and white fill the garden this time of year. Phlox self sows and pops up in shady parts of the front garden as well as the areas (toward the foreground) that receive a good amount of sun, meaning 6 or 7 hours of direct sun per day.

Above: I love full size wild columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) and have it everywhere in the garden, since it is a generous self-seeder. The plant above is ‘Little Lanterns’ (A. canadensis ‘Little Lanterns’) a dwarf cultivar that is 10 to 12 inches tall, self sows, and reliably comes true from seed.

Above: This is one of my new favorites: Robin’s plantain (Erigeron pulchellus ‘Lynnhaven Carpet’). Plants are currently covered with cheerful yellow and white daisies that arise from ground-hugging rosettes of gray-green leaves. Flowers are maybe 8 to 10 inches tall, but the leaves are only about 2 or 3 inches tall. (If it wasn’t raining right this minute, I would go out and measure!) This native species thrives in part shade to shade, tolerates a wide range of conditions, and spreads to form a nice, dense carpet.

The purple leaves in the photograph above are purple Japanese parsley (Cryptotanea japonica ‘Purpurea). They self sow and pop up here and there. I love the rich color of their leaves. (I don’t think they are edible despite the common name.) I was planting a garden at a friend’s house this morning in the rain, and I realized that some of them had piggy-backed their way to her a year or so ago with divisions of other plants.

Enjoy the rain!

I will be speaking to a small group in Snow Hill, Maryland, on Saturday, April 8 at 10:00 a.m. I hope some Eastern Shore Gardener readers can join us! The talk is hosted by the Lower Shore Land Trust, 100 River Street, Snow Hill. There are still seats available. I will be speaking about Building Diversity in the Garden.

Cost is $15 (money raised supports the land trust!). You can also pay $40 for registration plus a copy of my book, Chesapeake Gardening & Landscaping, which I will happily sign after the talk. Reservations are required, and you can Register online today or RSVP at 443-234-5587. Limited seating!

Scarlet buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

While I am enjoying this year’s early spring, our saucer magnolia (Magnolia x soulangeana) was tricked into bloom a month too soon. I looked out this morning and all the buds, which were just a day or so away from opening all the way up, were frozen solid. By afternoon, they had turned brown.

One of the great things about digital cameras is that they keep track of dates, so I could easily check to see when I have taken pictures of the tree in bloom in past years. My largest collection of shots is dated April 9. While similar trees in Pennsylvania, where we lived before, were frosted out probably three years out of four, this is the first time we have lost flowers to freezing temperatures since we moved here in 2004. I will have to content myself with photos of magnolia flowers this year. I expect I am not alone.


Flowers on April 9 in a previous year.

The loss also prompted me to check dates for a few other plants that are currently in bloom in the garden. My hellebores typically bloom around the third week of March, but this year they have been flowering since the third week of February. Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis) and winter aconites (Eranthus hyemalis) were also about a month early.

Snowdrops, March 10 in a previous year.

Winter aconites, March 5 in a previous year.

“Glorious February afternoon” isn’t a phrase I have used often in my life, but I have certainly enjoyed the ones we have had this winter. I have been using the recent warm days to give some of my shrubs much-needed haircuts.

Pruning does not need to be one of the great mysteries of gardening, and the techniques I use are pretty simple. Regardless of what I am pruning, I start by looking for two types of growth: Deadwood and rubbing and crossing branches.

Whether you are pruning a tree or a shrub, deadwood can be removed any time of year. Cut back to healthy wood, and be sure to discard the trimmings away from the garden to prevent the spread of any diseases or insects that may have caused the damage.

Rubbing and crossing branches need to be removed because the rubbing damages the bark on both branches. The damage makes it easier for diseases and insects to get a foothold. Rubbing and crossing branches also create congested growth in the center of the plant.

Whenever you prune a shrub, start by taking a step or two back from the plant to look at the overall shape and identify branches that rub or cross. Mark the culprits with plastic tape if necessary. Marking is also a good idea if you want time to decide which of the two branches needs to be removed. It can be particularly hard to decide when pruning old, overgrown shrubs, because they have so many congested branches in the center. In this case, you can make a plan to prune over several years, and cut out a few branches each winter.

Basic Annual Shrub Pruning

Illustration by © Elayne Sears, from How to Prune Trees & Shrubs, © by Barbara W. Ellis, used with permission from Storey Publishing.”

I usually select branches that cross the center of the plant to remove, because this not only eliminates rubbing, it opens up the center of the shrub to let in light and air. When removing a branch, use thinning cuts. That means, always cut back to where that branch arose from another branch or from the ground. Leave the branch collar, the wood around the base of the branch, intact to promote healing.

Also use thinning cuts to remove any wayward or overly long branches that ruin the shrub’s overall shape. Your objective should be a shrub that is somewhat wider at the bottom than the top, so that light reaches the lower branches. Always cut back to another branch, because pruning actually spurs growth. If you cut across a branch, rather than removing it entirely, it responds by producing vigorous shoots at the tips that quickly regrow. Thinning cuts do not cause this response.

My book, How to Prune Trees & Shrubs, provides much more information on pruning, including principles that every gardener needs to know, basic pruning guidelines for all types of shrubs, trees, and vines, and plant-by-plant lists with recommended pruning times for a wide range of popular plants. You can order it by clicking the book cover on the right.