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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Thursday - April 03, 2014

From: Montgomery, AL
Region: Southeast
Topic: Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs, Wildflowers
Title: Plant Suggestions for Shady Site under Trees in Alabama
Answered by: Anne Van Nest

QUESTION:

I live in Montgomery, AL and have a bare area (20' x 5) that's shady and soil erosion is a problem. Grass stops growing at the drip line of the trees here. Do you have any suggestions for growing something that is fast growing and evergreen? Also, we have a woodland area behind the above bare spot that opens to a lake. This area is shady with some moss but no grass. What can we plant under these trees (sweetgum and oaks) that's low growing? We love the view of the lake.

ANSWER:

It's quite a challenge to find shade-loving, fast-growing, evergreen, native plants for your bare area. This search criteria only resulted in 2 possible plants. So, to give you more of a selection, I have expanded the search to include deciduous shrubs too.

The first place to go to find a list of potential plants is our Native Plants Database. Use the Combination Search feature instead of Recommended Species. This will provide a bigger selection with much more choice to narrow down. The volunteers and staff at the Wildflower Center who maintain the database have partners in different regions to help with these recommended species lists based on what is easy to access in local nurseries.

Under Combination Search, select the following categories: State – Alabama, Habit – Shrub, Duration – Perennial, Leaf Retention – Evergreen & Deciduous, Light Requirement – Shade, Soil Moisture – Dry (it’s usually very dry under trees), Size – 0-12 ft. These search criteria will give you some evergreen shrubs of varying heights to consider. Follow each plant link to our webpage for that plant to learn its growing conditions, bloom time, etc. At the bottom of each plant webpage, under Additional Resources, there is a link to the USDA webpage for that plant. Take a look there for more specific details about suitability before you put them on your final planting list.

The results have been put into height groupings below to make them easier for reviewing.

0-3 ft

Gaulteria procumbens (eastern teaberry or wintergreen), about 1 foot tall, evergreen, white blooms in the summer and showy red fruits in the winter. 

Diervilla lonicera (Northern bush honeysuckle), yellow blooms in summer, red fall leaf color. 

Gaylussacia baccata (black huckleberry), white flowers in early summer followed by purplish, edible berries.

Hypericum prolificum (shrubby St. John’s wort), showy yellow blooms in summer. 

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii (Turk’s cap), bright red, pendant blooms late spring through early

3-6 ft

Amelanchier stolonifera (running serviceberry), deciduous, white flowers, edible fruit.

Ceanothus americanus (New Jersey tea), clusters of white blooms in spring. 

Dirca palustris (Eastern leatherwood), small yellow flowers in spring, yellow fall foliage color. 

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry), non-showy greenish white blooms are followed by clusters of coral-pink berries that remain through winter.

Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum), flat-topped cluster of white flowers followed by red to blue-black berries.

Viburnum rafinesqueanum (downy arrowwood), white flat-topped clusters of flowers followed by dark blue berries. Colorful fall foliage.

6-12 ft

Corylus americana (American hazelnut), edible nut, fall color from bright yellow to wine-red. 

Lindera benzoin (Northern spicebush), pale yellow blooms before the leaves emerge, followed by bright red fruit. Golden yellow fall color.

Physocarpus opulifolius (Atlantic ninebark), clusters of white flowers in early summer, yellow fall foliage color.

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac), orange, red, purple and yellow fall color. Dark red berries that persist through winter.

Sabal minor (dwarf palmetto), evergreen.

Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry), pinkish-white flowers are followed by edible, blue fruit. 

 

From the Image Gallery


Eastern teaberry
Gaultheria procumbens

Northern bush honeysuckle
Diervilla lonicera

Black huckleberry
Gaylussacia baccata

Shrubby st. john's-wort
Hypericum prolificum

Turkscap
Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii

Running serviceberry
Amelanchier stolonifera

New jersey tea
Ceanothus americanus

Eastern leatherwood
Dirca palustris

Coralberry
Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Downy arrowwood
Viburnum rafinesqueanum

American hazelnut
Corylus americana

Northern spicebush
Lindera benzoin

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