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Mr. Smarty Plants - Shade and Rain Garden in South Carolina

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Friday - May 08, 2009

From: Simpsonville, SC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Shade and Rain Garden in South Carolina
Answered by: Joe Marcus

QUESTION:

Dear Mr. Smarty Plants, I have two seperate but important questions for your mastery of native plant knowledge. First, I live in a thick, 112 ft. tall white oak forest. Therefore, there is lots of shade. But, 1 huge, and now dead, tree has left a big, open space in my backyard, making enough sun for grasses; non-native and native to grow. I am trying to remove all grass (but i would like some Indian Wood Oats in this area) so that non-native species will be limited. And if non-native plants do pop up, such as the Indian Strawberry, then they will be controlable and easily pulled up. I have these plants already in my grassy area to help limit grass: Eastern Hemlock, 2 Highbush Blueberries, 2 Rusty Blackhaws, a 40 ft White oak, baby Black Cherries, Yaupon Holly, Red Mulberry and 1 woodland strawberry. Are there any plants and/or tips I need to help accomplish this? The way I am doing this now will take years! And we don't want to let the non-native plants get too established. And Second, I am making a rain garden. All the rain from my gutter is flowing and watering a whole bunch o' plants. The problem is, it is a fairly deep SHADE. It only gets almost 1 hour of sun in the summer. I want plants that will soak up a good bit of water and plants that like shade. Again in this area too, i wish to plant Indian Wood Oats. I have many native plants in this area too already: Yellow Wood Sorrel, violets, Blueflag Iris, Cinnamon Fern, Beech, Hornbeam and woodland strawberry. Are there any (water- and shade-loving) plants and/or tips i need to make this rain garden better? Most importantly, the water doesn't flow all the time, just as long as it is raining or i let my rain barrel water it. Here's some important info about the conditions. Soil: Clay/medium Loam, well drained moist. Habitat: Mostly Oak, some Hickory on a slightly North facing slope near a stream. A wild woodland is just over my fence. And my yard isn't as "wild", or should I say native, as it should and is going to be. My Backyard is on the northern side of my house, so I need Part-shade to full shade plants. And, as if i needed to say it, ALL NATIVES PLEASE!!!

ANSWER:

Native plant knowledge is not so difficult to master; remote garden design is a different matter altogether.  Because so many variables come into play in designing a garden, Mr. Smarty Plants has learned that trying to make specific recommendations without seeing a garden site is a largely fruitless effort.  However, we have some tools to help you make your own choices and some general suggestions to help you, too.

The NPIN Native Plant Database has two tools which you should find valuable in selecting species for your garden.  The first is the Recommended Species search tool.  Just click on your state on the interactive map and the database will produce a list of species native to South Carolina.  For a more refined search, use the Combination Search tool.  Select "Shade" in the Light Requirement section and "Wet" in the Soil Moisture section to narrow your search to just those species with the sun and water requirements you desire.

It is natural for grasses and other herbaceous plants to quickly sprout up in a clearing left by a falling tree.  The more you disturb the soil, the more likely non-native and unwanted species are to appear in the new clearing.  Plant natives like your Indian Wood Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium wherever you want them and heavily mulch the rest of the area to suppress the offending grass and weeds.

For your rain garden, visit natural landscapes in your area with conditions similar to your garden.  Pond and streamside environments are probably going to have habitat most like that in your rain garden.  Note the native plants growing in those natural settings.  Those are the species you'll want to use in your own garden.  Species needing more moisture can be sited in the more depressed (thus, wetter) parts of the garden, while those liking drier feet can be planted on higher terrain or even on slightly mounded soil.  It's just that simple.

 

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