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Shade Gardening as an Alternative to Lawns

by Judy Eisenberg

Reprinted by permission of the author and of the Somerville Journal.

Growing the perfect healthy lawn free of crabgrass and weeds in shady areas requires high maintenance care, excess watering, and the use of chemicals and pesticides that are damaging to the environment. You can certainly grow your lawn organically, but consider replacing the grass growing in the shade with native groundcover, plants or shrubs. This way you’ll never have to mow the grass, re-seed, or deal with lawn grubs, and you will have a much smaller water bill.

columbineShade tolerant native plants have adapted to the New England climate’s heat, drought, excessive rain, cold, and snow. They require minimal labor and are more pest resistant then non-natives, but do establish more slowly than turf. You may want to plant a groundcover to provide stabilization before planting other plants or shrubs. Some native ground covers that do well in shade and require much less irrigation than grass include Blue Wood sedge, Wild Ginger, Lobrador Violet, Barren Strawberry, and Virginia Creeper (a climbing vine, but will grow well on the ground). Some taller natives include Solomon Seal, Christmas Fern, Blue Wood Aster, White Wood Aster, Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), and Coral Bells (Heuchera americana). A few native shrubs for dry shade include Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium), Nannyberry (Vibernum lentago), Maple-leaf Viburnum (Viburnum acerifolium), Eastern Yew, and Fly Honeysuckle (Lonicera canadensis).

These native plants are accustomed to growing in the decaying organic matter found under woodland trees. So, before planting, amend your soil with organic compost. Apply a good layer of leaf mould (decomposed leaves) or mulch to help keep the roots cool and minimize evaporation. Even though the native plants I have recommended can tolerate somewhat dry conditions, give them plenty of water during the first month after planting. And remember to water them well during dry periods the first year.

jack2Do not remove natives from the woodlands. You can purchase native plants at select garden centers and at the New England Wildflower’s Garden in the Woods.

About the Author

Judy Eisenberg is founder of Sun and Shade Gardening
Photos provided by Judy Eisenberg
Jack-in-the-Pulpit photo by Jennifer Chesworth