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Friday - July 03, 2009

From: Mclean, VA
Region: Mid-Atlantic
Topic: Invasive Plants
Title: Understory planting in Virginia
Answered by: Anne Bossart


We have some 10 mature tulip and sycamore trees in our No. VA property. The previous home owners were fond of English Ivy and Japanese pachysandra. We are working hard at replacing these invasives to encourage amphibians and birds to be permanent residents. Can you please provide understory trees and/or shrubs as well as perenial companions to these trees? I would also be interested in information about how to remove the pachysandra.


As you already know, the only way to eradicate tenacious vines and groundcovers is to be persistent.  As far as the pachysandra goes, there are three methods:  kill it chemically (not the Green Guru's recommended method!), covering it with black plastic to starve it of light and water (time consuming and unsightly) and digging it up (just plain hard work).  It has been suggested that the best way to achieve removal by digging is to post on the web that it is available for free to those who will dig it!

We applaud your efforts to welcome nature back to your property.  Visit the National Wildlife Federation's website at www.nwf.org/gardenforwildlife for tips on creating a wildlife habitat garden.  You will also find two books particularly helpful:  Rick Darke's "The American Woodland Garden" and Ken Druse's "The Natural Habitat Garden".  

You don't mention the size of your property, conditions (soil, moisture, light) or what type of neighbourhood you are in, but going on the assumption that conditions will be fairly shady and dry, here are some plant recommendations for Virginia.  If you visit our Plant Database and do a combination search for your area and conditions or search Recommended Species for Virginia you will find many more choices.  In the end, your choices will be limited by what is available in the nurseries in your area.

Understory trees:

Acer pensylvanicum (striped maple)

Aesculus pavia (red buckeye)

Amelanchier canadensis (Canadian serviceberry)

Cercis canadensis (eastern redbud)

Hamamelis virginiana (American witchhazel)


Arctostaphylos uva-ursi (kinnikinnick)

Comptonia peregrina (sweet fern)

Lindera benzoin (northern spicebush)

Rhus aromatica (fragrant sumac)

Rhododendron canescens (mountain azalea)

Vaccinium corymbosum (highbush blueberry)

Viburnum acerifolium (mapleleaf viburnum)


Anemone virginiana (tall thimbleweed)

Aquilegia canadensis (red columbine)

Arisaema triphyllum (Jack in the pulpit)

Erythronium albidum (white fawnlily)

Iris verna (dwarf violet iris)

Polygonatum biflorum (smooth Solomon's seal)

Polypodium virginianum (rock polypody)

Acer pensylvanicum

Aesculus pavia

Amelanchier canadensis

Cercis canadensis

Hamamelis virginiana

Ilex verticillata

Arctostaphylos uva-ursi

Comptonia peregrina

Lindera benzoin

Rhus aromatica

Rhododendron canescens

Vaccinium corymbosum

Viburnum acerifolium

Anemone virginiana

Aquilegia canadensis

Arisaema triphyllum

Erythronium albidum

Iris verna

Polygonatum biflorum

Polypodium virginianum






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