COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Look for native plants to survive in shade

By Marianne Binetti

The second week of April means mowing and weeding if you want to be dutiful and practical, but a visit to the nursery this week is the real way to celebrate spring and beautiful new life. Bring home and plant all the trees, shrubs, perennials and cool-season vegetable starts you want because the soil is warming and ready for planting. You still need to protect warm season annuals from cold nights so unless you have a greenhouse or sunny window wait another few weeks before investing in tomato, squash or frost-sensitive bedding plants.

You can see photos and videos of my own garden as it wakes up on my blog by Googling “Lowes Garden Grow Along” and I would love your comments about what I‘ve got growing. But first, here are some answer to the questions local gardeners are asking now:

Q. I need a list of plants that will survive under the shade of a big, old holly tree. I have this monster pruned every year but not much wants to grow in the dry shade around the roots. The entire bed gets full of prickly, brown, ugly, holly leaves and I am sick of raking them up. Thank you for any help. K.M., Tumwater

A. The answer to what to plant in this garden ghetto area is a natural. Our native sword ferns are evergreen, beautiful, inexpensive and even play winter host to the little tree frogs that help control insects in the garden. Sword ferns thrive in dry shade and the arching fronds will help hide the falling mess of old holy leaves. Fill in with low-growing lamiums, saxifrage “London Pride” and don’t overlook the color and texture of a few large boulders to add some lighter contrast to the bed. Another idea is to let your holly grow all the way to the ground and don’t plant beneath the wide skirt of foliage.

Q. We have an 18-year-old “Frost” peach tree that has produced large, juicy peaches in the past but for the last five years the peaches are large and juicy but have little flavor. Any suggestions? R.Y., Tacoma

A. Your peach tree needs more nitrogen. Over the years I suspect your soil has become depleted and a flower and vegetables plant food applied in a circle around the drip line of the tree and then covered with a compost mulch should improve the flavor of your peaches in time to make your mouth melt this summer. The “drip line” of a plant is the area right under the tips of the branches as they extend away from the trunk. Slow-release plant food are those made from organic products like manures, algae and greensand or those that are in little cases or pellets and break down gradually in your soil.

Q. Why are there never any berries on my holly tree? L.L., Cathlamet

A. Your holly could be lonely. Only female hollies have berries but holly needs some hand-holding from a male plant before she will bear fruit. To get a good crop of berries you should have two hollies, a male and a female. Take a branch of your barren holly to the nursery, then check out the male and female hollies on display. This will help you to identify if your holly is male, female or just as confused as you are about it’s gender. Purchase another holly plant that looks least like your own and hope your matchmaking is fruitful. Birds love holly berries in the winter but be careful what you wish for – volunteer holly plants can start popping up all over your garden from a fruitful holly tree.

Incredible Edibles: When planting fine seeds like lettuce or radish into the garden bed, add some sand to the seed packet and shake well. This will make it easier to sprinkle the seed onto the soil and see where you’ve planted. Don’t bury small seeds too deep. Press tiny seeds gently into the soil and then just barely top with a sifting of soil.

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Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

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