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Wednesday - April 29, 2009

From: Durham, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Shade Tolerant, Herbs/Forbs, Shrubs
Title: Foundation garden in shade in Durham, NC
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I'm trying to replant a 3'x8' garden near the foundation of our house in Durham, NC. This part of the yard gets little, if any, sun and is mostly clay. I've tried adding compost and soil conditioner but it hasn't seemed to help. I would love to find some evergreen shrubs and some drought resistant plants that would do well there. Any recommendations please?


You are going in the right direction adding compost to the soil in your bed. Another step you can take is to mulch the plants, once you have them in, with a good quality shredded hardwood mulch. This will protect the roots from heat and cold, help to hold in moisture and, as it decomposes, will contribute to improving the texture of your soil. Both compost and mulch will need to be added again from time to time. This practice also helps to address the problem of the clay soil. Clay does not drain well, and almost any plant that is not a wetlands plant needs good drainage. The continuous addition of organic materials will help keep your plant roots from drowning. A larger problem could be the amount of sun your bed is getting. We consider "sun" to be 6 or more hours of sun daily, "part shade", 2 to 6 hours of sun, and "shade", less than 2 hours daily. And if the shade is because of overhanging trees, there could be the issue of allelopathy, by which some mature trees emit substances toxic to competing plants beneath them. Even the twigs and leaves of some trees have this property, so your bed should always be kept clean of any tree debris. While there is not much we can do about the allelopathy, we can suggest some plants that tolerate clay soil, shade and require less water. We will, of course, be recommending only plants native not only to North America, but to North Carolina. Plants already accustomed to the rainfall, climate and soils of an area will need less fertilizer, water and maintenance.

To find plants for your garden, we are going to our Recommended Species section, click on North Carolina on the map, and then use Narrow Your Search to select first on "herbs" (herbaceous flowering plants) under Habit, "shade" and "part shade" under Light Requirements, and "dry" under Soil Moisture. We will repeat this with "shrubs" and then "ferns" under Habit. We have tried to select plants that are considered "woodland" plants, so they will be more likely to withstand having trees over them. Follow the plant links below and read all of the page about each individual plant, to help you make your decision about whether that one will work for you.

Herbaceous flowering plants

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine) - perennial to 2 ft. tall, blooms red, pink, yellow February to July, part shade to shade, low to medium water use

Coreopsis lanceolata (lanceleaf tickseed) - perennial to 2-1/2 ft. tall, evergreen, blooms yellow April to June, sun to shade, medium water use

Rudbeckia hirta (blackeyed Susan) - annual or short-lived perennial, to 2 ft. tall, blooms yellow June to October, sun to shade, medium water use


Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush) - deciduous, blooms white, yellow April, sun to shade, medium water use

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (coralberry) - deciduous, to 4 ft. tall, blooms white, green April to July, part shade to shade, low to medium water use


Adiantum pedatum (northern maidenhair) - perennial, deciduous, part shade, shade, medium water use

Athyrium filix-femina (common ladyfern) - perennial, deciduous, part shade, shade, medium water use

Osmunda regalis (royal fern) - perennial, deciduous, part shade, shade, high water use

Aquilegia canadensis

Coreopsis lanceolata

Rudbeckia hirta

Lindera benzoin

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

Adiantum pedatum

Athyrium filix-femina

Osmunda regalis





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