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Monday - September 27, 2010

From: Carmel, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Compost and Mulch, Groundcovers, Privacy Screening, Shade Tolerant, Trees
Title: Need evergreen hedge and groundcover for shade in Carmel, Indiana
Answered by: Marilyn Kircus


Our property is bounded by a fencerow that is wooded and mostly shaded by mulberry and hackberry trees during the growing months. We'd like to create a 5'+ tall evergreen barrier on the property line but the shading from the trees has made it difficult. We're trying some thuja green giant evergreen trees, but they aren't doing all that well because of the shade. We'd also like to plant some attractive groundcover in the fencerow to keep the weeds down. Do you have any recommendations?


First  lets work on the hedge.  You want it tall, evergreen and successful in shade.  You don’t have many such natives in Indiana but I think Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel)  might work for you.  It is evergreen and flowering  and is a really beautiful plant.  In nature it grows as an understory shrub or small tree.  I found an article which talks about using it as a hedge, especially in the shade.  Be sure you work in plenty of compost in the soil and mulch it as it will be competing with the trees for water and nutrients. If you already have woodsy soil, you won't need to do this.

All the other shrubs I found in the recommended plants for Indiana, that I narrowed to shrubs for part-shade to shade, are either not evergreen or too short or too rounded to work as a hedge.

Now for the fence row problem.  I am assuming that it also is in the shade so am looking for plants that are short and do well in part to full shade.  After you plant a groundcover, you will still have weeds for maybe three years.  It helps to be sure to have the ground as weed free as possible.  If you grow a ground cover that spreads by runners that root or underground roots, you may not be able to use a landscape cloth but can use mulch.  (You might have to clear a little place and put the runners on bare soil and cover them again to help them spread.) But if you are just planting a series of small plants, that will grow together as they age, you can get your soil as weed free as possible, then lay down landscape cloth.  Cut an “X” where you want to put each plant. Make it largee enough to be able to dig the hole.

After you finish planting and watering the plants in, add a few inches of mulch.  Then, in the spring, visit your plants at least several times a week and pinch out the weeds while they are very small.  (I do this on a morning stroll , coffee cup in hand.) But aggressive weeding the first two years, while your little plants are growing together, is very important to eventually having a almost weed free groundcover.  And each spring, you will have to weed once to get out all the new sprouts.

Mahonia repens (creeping barberry) is evergreen and has yellow flowers.

Merry Lea Environmental Center has put out a list of great natives for Indiana.  They list the following plants as good for groundcorers:

Canada Anemone - Anemone canadensis

Wild Ginger - Asarum canadense

Palm Sedge – This is introduced from China

Common Oak Sedge - Carex pensylvanica

Running Strawberry Bush - Euonymus obovatus

Dwarf Crested Iris - Iris cristata

Creeping Phlox - Phlox stolonifera

Strawberry - Waldsteinia fragarioides Appalachian barren strawberry

Virginia Creeper - Parthenocissus quinquefolia  This is a vine that will also function as a groundcover.

Think about what you want from your groundcover.  It can have interest at different times of the year, have berries for birds, nectar for hummingbirds and butterflies, and serve as a host plant for butterflies. So be sure to check out the descriptions of each of these species to make sure it will grow in your soils and light and water conditions while also serving other purposes.

And remember, the more dense your shade, the slower and thinner will your groundcover grow.  You may have to thin your trees and understory plants a little to be sure all areas get dappled light.

Kalmia latifolia

Mahonia repens

Anemone canadensis

Asarum canadense

Carex pensylvanica

Euonymus obovatus

Phlox stolonifera

Waldsteinia fragarioides

Parthenocissus quinquefolia



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