Monday, September 24, 2007

What to grow in a front lawn with only 2 hours of sun?

From In the Garden

Hi there clks ant. You asked a question in storychat and the editor forwarded it me. I hope this answer reaches you. You said you get about two hours of sun in your front yard as the house is blocking the yard and what can you grow there for color? An easy and obvious choice for the green color to replace the grass is Lirope spicata also known as Creeping Lilyturf. (A picture of mine is above) You can buy creeping lilyturf at any nursery though I don't think it is commonly available in big box stores. You must be sure to buy liriope spicata and NOT liriope muscari if you want it to spread and replace the grass. Liriope is typically known as monkey grass and does extremely well in shade, dry or wet. The muscari type will not move around and forms a clump whereas the spicata type spreads fairly quickly and is an excellent substitute for grass. It will bloom with small purple flowers and usually forms small black berries and grows only about 6-8 inches tall. If you do not want to replace the grass and do not want the liriope to spread then by all means buy the muscari. Spicata should be mowed only one time per year in the spring BEFORE new growth is tall enough to be mowed off. Spicata and muscari are evergreen and no maintenance once they are established. I have both spicata and muscari growing in my garden. I planted the spicata under a silver maple tree where the maple roots prevented mowing of the weeds since no grass would grow there. I put only one sprout every foot or so apart and it completely filled in within two years. It does spread but not like ivy or vinca. If you dig edging in at least 3 inches where you do not want it to grow then you should be fine. That takes care of the grass substitute.

As far as color it is hard to beat hostas, heucheras and pulmonarias-all of which I grow in my garden. There is a tremendous variety of hostas and therefore, no shortage of color. Some of my favorites are: Sun Power (gold in color), Sum and Substance (Lime green and the bloom is fragrant), and Albo-Marginata (a variagated variety). Hostas look best grouped together.

Heucheras, also known as coral bells are commonly available. Heucheras are evergreen and come in a variety of colors. I grow about a dozen varieties in my garden and have found some do better than others. Peach Melba is a peachy colored coral bell but did not do well in my garden. The purple heucheras do much better. Purple varieties include: Palace Purple, Cathedral Bells and Silver Haze. I purchased all of these at a big box store. Heucheras can be divided in the fall but it is best to always start with at least three of any one variety for the most impact. Heucheras do great in shade and are not too picky about soil moisture requiring only the regular moisture rain would provide. Heucheras bloom in the spring by holding dainty flowers well above the foiliage. They do make a big impact and my favorite blooming heuchera is the plain old red one.

You did not say what type of moisture other than the soil is on brick and clay. If the moisture content is average and not too dry then pulmonaria is a great plant. This plant is evergreen and I grow the variety 'Trevi Fountain' which is silver leaved with spots on the leaves. In February or March it will bloom with a multitude of small pink, purple and blue flowers. It is a show stopper and everyone who sees mine loves it. I purchased it mail order about three years ago where it is not too expensive and readily available.

If your soil is dry then Epimediums are supposed to be great. I do not personally grow them but am looking to find some! Epimediums do bloom and are supposed to be versatile. Another plant to try for dry soil which is a green with white varigation low ground cover is Aegopodium podagraria also known as Bishops Weed. I do grow this in my garden. Sometimes people have a terrible time with it spreading but I have not had this problem. It would prefer a moist soil but I have it in dry soil and it does well-sometimes dies back in a drought but always reappears after a rain. I am hesitant to recommend it because it is not always present but does work out well if you don't mind missing it sometimes. It is not evergreen.

Hope these suggestions help with the shady front yard. Some shrubs that do well in the shade are azaleas and hollies. There is a wide variety of hollies and one will surely suit your needs if you are looking for shrubs. I especially like the Helleri Holly. It is low growing, does well in the shade and never needs to be trimmed-my kind of shrub. Azaleas can be picky and I would not recommend them for you if your soil is brick and clay, stick with the hollies.

Please let me know if these work out and I loved it when you said, "Please do not suggest silk flowers!" Too cute and brought a smile to my face. Silk flowers have their place but in a garden in Tennessee is probably not one of them!

in the garden......


  1. Hi Tina! Welcome to the land of bloggers here at the Leaf-Chronicle.

    I will definately be asking you questions! I live in the country but don't have time to mess with gardening as much as I like to, so I'm trying to go over to simple shrubs and perinnnels, but I am planning on lots of container gardening, as I have a huge south-facing deck with both sun and shade.

    I want to get some large containers and have small trees or shrubs I can leave out during the winter, so maybe you can give me some advice on what kinds would be best.

    Also, I've grown vegetables in containers and plan to do a bigger area next spring on the deck. I find it easier when you don't have much time--no weeding! Just have to water a lot more!

  2. Hi Sandy and thanks for busting my comment cherry! You are the first to comment and I appreciate it. I also enjoy reading your weekly columns and your blog is lots of fun-nice pictures and stories and I like the "message" you received from the cats you posted today. Too funny. I too love pets and have several sharing my garden with me. (Three dogs, one cat-she is my pest control, 9 fish, a bird, and a rabbit-for the fertilizer) Everything has a purpose somehow:)

    As far as gardening, so many people tell me they don't have the time and that is really too bad. Gardening does take time but not as much as people think. I have learned all kinds of tips over the years which save me a lot of time. Your idea to container garden is right on. Containers are convenient and sometimes easier to manage (if you don't have to move them). It is great you are growing vegetables in containers. They must stay really really nice. Paul James (The Gardener Guy on HGTV) also grows vegetables in containers and they do very well.

    Shrubs will also do well. If you have a large deck with sun and shade and want to add some interest then small shrubs and trees are ideal. Japanese maples do excellent in containers and do well in the shade. There are basically two forms, the dissected Japanese maple and palmate Japanese maple. The major difference is the shape and cut of the leaf and the tree form. Generally, dissected Japanese maples grow in a cascading form and have a deeply cut leaf, whereas the palmatum type maples grow into upright trees and the leaf looks somewhat like your hand. For the exact requirements you want let me know what you like as far as colors and the size it can grow. Japanese maples have excellent spring and fall color, look nice in the summer and have a great archetectual form for winter. It is nice to hang bird feeders off of the branches in winter.

    Crepe myrtles would be perfect for your sunny areas and would provide shade in the summer while letting the sun shine through in the winter. Crepe myrtles also have four seasons of interest in that they have a mottled bark year round, lovely flowers in the summer in a rainbow of colors, and the seedpods will stay on the tree for additional interest. Crepe myrtles and Japanese maples are my favorite two small trees and you will not be sorry you planted them.

    Containers would probably need to be at least four feet by four feet and filled with good soil with organic amendments added. These trees can be left outside year round. You already know you have to water much more often so it might be worthwhile to invest in a simple watering system you can set up easily. At the base you can fill in with seasonal color (annuals) or with year round variety in the form of perennials such as coral bells, hostas, dianthus, or even brown eyed susans and coreopsis.

    Take care of those pets and the "Boss"!:)

  3. Yes, those are the exact types of plants I want. I am familiar with both. Maybe an evergreen for some color in winter which looks nice with snow? Then I guess around the trees I could plant annuals in spring.

    I want nice-looking planters, since I want to keep them put (and they'll be heavy). What type do you suggest? I know terra cotta dries out too easily, right? Maybe some of those fiberglass ones or a good-quality plastic?

    I also wondered about whether or not I should water in winter and how much. Some will be out in the elements, but some under the covered area, which wouldn't get rain.

    what I'd LOVE to do under the deck roof is plant some climbing plants in pots so the could climb up the posts and cover underneath the roof.

    Is fall a good time to plant container tress and shrubs the same as it is a good time to plant trees in your yard?

    You must tell me more about your pets sometime!

  4. Hey Tina, I am a Pet Nut too as Sandy can attest to, but my flowers, plants and nature come in second place with me.

    Don’t forget Nandina bushes! They are great in sunny areas. Here is Georgia you find them in most landscapes. They are evergreens that seem to be drought tolerant which is great during summers such as this one. They have a beautiful red color in the fall too!

    The monkey grass blooms have become a favorite for our deer and rabbits this year as did the Hostas. This was the first year ever we had a problem but we think it may be due to the late frost at Easter taking away some of their natural foods. So we just let them have the monkey grass blooms. I did fight them on the hosta though. I found a spray and powder at Tractor Supply that seems to work but it is pricey and also must be used after each heavy rain but it does work. The major thing that has happened to our hosta... I think a mole or vole got the root balls during the winter as they did not come up as full and some not at all..

    I was smart with planting my garden. I have several must when picking my flowers, drought tolerant, attract butterflies or hummingbirds or bees, perennials and long bloomers... One of my favorites is Lantana! Not sure they would return up in TN but they sure do here in GA and they are beautiful, wish you could see my now!

    Tina, you must post pictures with your Blogs! If you need some, I have plenty as I am a picture hound.

  5. Thank you for the information and good for you fighting off the deer. I don't have a deer problem here as I have a BIG fence and some big dogs. I do have a vole and mole problem. I adopted a stray cat for the vole, chipmunk and mole problem. My neighbor had named her Orkin for pest control and I can attest she is very good at-worth her weight in gold. She doesn't completely do in the rodents and sometimes takes out the birds but she is a super cat.

    You sound like me when picking flowers. Long bloom is my most important then easy care which leads to drought tolerant. You know I have never grown lantana but while I was at a lawn show in Jackson I smipped a clipping of 'Miss Huff' and that clipping has rewarded me with a few blooms in only two months. I have always done begonias and impatiens but next month it has to be lantana. I had no idea lantana was so drought tolerant and so easy to care for. You should send me a picture of yours and I will post it. I am looking for a low grower as I plan to put it in the front of my house in front of established perennials. Of friend of mine has lantana come back every year for the past four years and I am hoping once I plant mine next year it will also come back. Do you think it needs special care to return? I don't care if it dies back as long as it returns. It seems to grow fast. Send me a picture of your lantana and I will post it. It is a wonderful plant and even if it doesn't come back it is a worthy annual here because of its drought tolerance.

  6. I will need your email address. Get Sandy to forward it to me. I am a “Pet People” and she knows my address.... I am not sure the lantana will come back in TN but it has here the past three years for me. I leave it in a state of what I call the "dead look" during the winter to give the birds and other critters a place for shelter but in the spring I cut it back to the ground. I have never tried to see if it takes off from where it left off as I am limited on space and it grows like a weed in the summer months. I have two colors and I think they are different types too as the yellow spreads out low to the ground while the yellow/redish-orange colored ones seem to grow with some height. I may leave one this year to see if it does come back from the "dead look" I don’t know the proper terms with gardening, I am such a novice but seem to have a natural talent at growing things....

  7. I asked Alane to forward my email to Sandy to then forward it to you. I haven't actually met Sandy but love her newspaper column and have talked to her on here. I am sure we will meet sometime. I did see you all correspond on her blog. I am a pet person but I have to say I will plead the fifth on my priorities! My family has their view and I am sure the animals do too but the plants could care less.
    Send me the picture when you can and I will post it. I want the yellow Lantana that is low growing. I am excited to try it. You know how we gardeners are-always looking to the next season for bigger and better things.

  8. Okay, I will be looking for the email from Sandy...