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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hello gardening mamas!

This is my first time posting in this forum. I have no gardening experience and need all the help I can get! DH and I are renters, so there's never really been an opportunity for gardening before. However, we just rented out a privately-owned, ground level condo, so there is a bit of yard space that we can do something with.

It's not a very good space, I'm afraid. It's shady 80-100% of the time. There are several roof gutter drains in that area, along with the back of the AC units for us and the two condos above us, so there's a lot of damp areas and standing water. We're in the process of mulching along the walls to counteract some of the wetness.

As you can probably imagine, there are lots of mosquitos. Even more of an issue for me, there's a lot of ants. We've had problems with them trying to come inside, so we've been dealing with that.

This is what I'm looking for: some recommendations for plants (I'm thinking along the lines of shrubbery, but you all are the experienced ones, not me) that are-

A. shade tolerant

B. have large root systems to suck up the water

C. maybe repels mosquitos? I don't know if that exists...

D. repels ants!! or at the very least doesn't attract them

E. will work and look good kinda just lined up against the wall of the place. Other people in the neighborhood do have larger gardens that extend out from their actual unit, but it's quite obvious that they know what they're doing and it looks nice. Remember, I have NO gardening experience!

Thank you, thank you, thank you for any advice that anyone can give me!!
 

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What zone are you in?

I'm not sure about actual standing water and hope you can get that sorted out. And I have no idea about ants/mosquitoes. But for shade and fairly moist soil:

- hostas are very popular shade plants. Mostly people grow them for their foliage rather than flowers, but they do flower, and some of the flowers are quite pretty. I don't grow them, but they are supposed to be very easy to grow.

- I have bergenia growing in an area that only gets a couple hours of sun a day most of the year. It shoots up stalks of small clustered pink flowers in the spring, but the leaves are pretty even when not flowering. These are very easy to grow, I pretty much just leave mine alone.

- Astilbe has lovely plumes of flowers over a long flowering period. They are popular for shady gardens, but grow better if they get a few hours of sun at least.

- I like turtlehead and wanted to grow one, but ended up deciding not too pretty much because I didn't think I had a area that was wet enough naturally and didn't want to have to keep watering. The picture there does not show off the plant well, try these.

- Lilly-of-the-valley grows well in deep shade and moist soil, though not in standing water. They have beautiful teeny tiny white flowers in the spring that smell lovely, and they spread quickly for good ground cover, but are easy to pull up if they start getting into areas that you don't want. They are, however, very toxic, so be careful with young children. I'll grow them in a few years, but for now while I don't think my youngest (age 2) would eat them, I want to wait until he is for sure old enough to understand why they would not be a good thing to try.

- bleeding hearts are very popular for shady areas, and I love them. My favorites are the old fashioned ones which only bloom in spring, but there are other varieties with slightly different shaped flowers and ferny leaves (they are called fern leaf varieties, actually) that bloom all summer. They like moist soil, but not standing water.
 

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Very wet soil means that there is not enough oxygen for many plants, even shade lovers. You'll need to mention this at the nursery when you visit. Iris, such as Iris foetidus, can withstand both conditions.

Also, what is causing the shade? Big trees? Big, established trees have big established roots. To get anything going under there, buy the smallest plants you can find, like gallons, 6" or 4" pot-sizes. These with establish themselves more easily under any condition.

Talk to your local nursery. Good luck.
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Wow, two replies and I've already learned so much! This is great!

Pers, it looks like I'm in zone 6b or 7a. Kinda right on the borderline of those two. I can't wait to go to the nursery and see if they have any of the plants you recommended. The only one that is familar to me is the hosta.

Sweet silver, that it disappointing news about the oxygen in the soil. And the shade is caused by a stand of huge pine trees. So I'll definitely take that into consideration when looking into the plants recommended in the first post.

As for the standing water, the landlord talked about getting the condo association to move the gutter drains farther out. Is the mulch that we're putting down going to help things at all? What about a ground cover plant, like ivy?
 

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English Ivy is a awful, catastrophic weed here. Yes, it could survive beautifully, that's the trouble where we are! So I hate hate hate ivy and am the wrong person to recommend it. Call your county extension agent to see how troublesome it is in your area.

Let the nursery folks know about the pine trees. They make soil acidic. So, pretty much, you are almost describing a bog! Just need a few feet of peat...... I'm kidding. Don't get peat.

Mulch. I love mulch, but I don't know if it would solve your problem. Dig down into the worst parts. Construction-site soil is commonly compacted and completely lacking in organic material. Wood chips, like what tree companies dump for free, or "hog fuel" from bark companies can eventually break down and add a humus-y layer that plants can breath in better before their roots hit that wet zone. You can mulch deeply if you do one of two things: wait a year before planting in it, or where you plant, dig down to expose the soil beneath and add "topsoil" into the hole you've dug in the chips, then plant in that. You will be amazed at how fast this will turn into good soil. But, no it won't necessarily solve the problem of the wet area, just make it more plantable and hopefully cut the mosquitoes off from open water.
 

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I totally agree with SweetSilver's suggestion to mulch heavily and plant in pockets of topsoil - it works very well while you are improving the soil.

But just how much water is coming from the gutters? We tend to get our rainfall in heavy bursts where I live, so in the areas around the gutters, the mulch just washes right away. If there is a lot of rain coming through the gutters at any time, you'll want to take care of that before you mulch. If you don't mind speding the money on it, a rain barrel might be a good idea (especially if you have plants in containers that would need the water). If you don't want to spend as much or just wouldn't have a use for the water, you can get gutter extenders at a home improvement store. Ours extend the gutters about 3 feet and cost $5 a piece. If that isn't long enough, I'm sure you could find longer ones or just make some from flexible drainage tubing. One final idea, which is probably too involved unless you plan to rent the place for a very long time, might be to ask the landlord about putting in a small pond to catch some of the extra water. Add a few fish or mosquito dunks and it won't add to any mosquito issues you have.

Beyond that, there are a few more plants I can think of that don't mind wet feet and should grow in your zone - Joe Pye Weed, Lilies, Day Lilies, Astilbe, Ferns, Bee Balm and Mallow,
 

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Houttunyia cordata or chameleon plant will grow anywhere in my experience. It's a low growing grondcover plant sort of like ivy but its a little less invasive. It will spread pretty significantly but does climb the wy ivy does. It loves a wet soil so you might be able to plant it as is without much soil amendment. You could also try Oakleaf hydrangea for a larger shrub. They do ok in full shade but you might need to amend the soil somewhat so that it's not so wet. Another shrub you could try is Itea or sweetspire. I think they do ok with wet soil and shade. GL!
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
I literally laughed out loud at the bog comment- it's sadly very true! Maybe if I could convince some frogs to move in, that would help with the mosquitos...

Can you please explain this quoted part in more detail? I'm thinking of spreading the mulch wider than originally planned, so I think that this would be useful information, as I think this will mean that I'm putting the actual plants into the mulch...but I don't completely understand the difference between the topsoil and the exposed soil beneath, and do the wood chips go into the hole?

Quote:
Originally Posted by SweetSilver View Post

or where you plant, dig down to expose the soil beneath and add "topsoil" into the hole you've dug in the chips, then plant in that.
I'm really getting some great ideas for plants from all of you, thank you so much!! Day lilies are actually my favorite flower, so that's really exciting to think that I might be able to grow some out there. And I also like hydrangeas, my parents have them on the south side of their house...I wonder if that's one of those plants I could get started from a clipping from them?

I won't do the ivy if it's so pest-like. I'd hate to do something like that, and then whoever moves in next would spend forever trying to pull it out.

There are already rain gutter extenders there...I guess the problem is that it all still goes in the general area, and then since it's so shady, it just never dries up. I need to charge the batteries in my camera, but I'll try to take a picture and post it tomorrow.
 

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Wood chips-- especially the kind you get from tree trimming companies-- are absolutely the best way to heal severely compromised soils. I like that kind of tree chips over other kinds because a fair amount of green matter is mixed in to help speed up transformation into usable soil. Hog fuel, coarser and cheap but not free, is the next best. Any tree chips will do, but not shredded bark.

Mulching is far faster and easier if there is nothing to mulch around. Get the guy who dumps the mulch to make the pile as tall as he can. Then you can lean your wheel barrow against the pile and pull in large amounts of mulch into the barrow with one fell swoop. This method works most of the way down the pile. Use a hay fork ("pitch fork" with long, curved slender tines), not a spading fork or a shovel (a flat-edged shovel is useful to clean up at the end). Mulch as deeply as you can, depending on terrain. Mulch should not be pushed up against siding, fencing (except posts) or tree trunks. Use a newspaper sheet mulch in those places where the mulch will be thin if you have something like wiregrass to contend with. If not, skip it. Once the mulch is in place you can leave it until next spring, or you can pull aside the mulch to plant.

Pull aside mulch to make a pit a bit larger than the rootball (or pot). This pit should expose the original soil level under the mulch layer, no matter how deep that is. The top of the rootball or the soil line of the potted plant should end up no more than one inch or so below the top level of the mulch. So, you might need to add topsoil to the bottom if the mulch is thick, or even dig down a bit. I don't recommend digging into the soil in your situation. Buy smaller plants and you won't have to. Place the plant in the pit, add topsoil to the sides and tamp into place just as you would if you had dug a hole. For most plants, you can pull a small amount of mulch over the soil. Water in to pack the soil around further.

Tell us about your zone and we can help you further with plant selection.
 

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I have nothing but shade. It sucks. My hastas are doing beautifully..even the ones in the downpour zone. Seriously...it is practically a water feature. My gutters are shot and that is the spot where all the water comes down. As is my sedum. Both are cheap and easy (find someone who will share. There is really no reason to pay money for these. Ask on craigs list or freecycle.) I also have some bleeding hearts, clorabella (?), colmbine, day lillies (these are not multiplying but are holding their own) and lily of the valley. and a big snowball something or another.

Could you plant in containers? This would solve soil and moisture problems and may even let them get some more sun.

You said your neighbors had some nice stuff. Maybe it is time to get to know them.
 

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Shade comes in a couple of types. Deep, dark shade made by buildings and big thick trees, and lighter shade that receives no direct light but isn't particularly dark, either. This kind of shade increases your options. I even grow a rudebeckia in the shade on the north side of the house. If your winters are mild, hart's tongue fern or maidenhair fern can thrive in dark, sodden shade.
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
OP here. I finally had a chance today to get some work done out there! I planted 2 hydrangeas, and spread mulch all around them/between them/up to the outside wall. I think it looks nice, but I'm going to wait and see how they do before planting anything else. I do like the idea of ferns, though- I've always loved ferns
smile.gif


While digging my holes for the hydrangeas, I realized that the soil is REALLY rocky. It doesn't seem natural- there were little rocks that might have naturally belonged there, but I also found lots of big chunks of bricks and like concrete pieces. I have no idea what that is all about.

Thanks again for all the ideas, hopefully I will get to choose some more of the suggested plants soon!! Wish me luck with the hydrangeas!
 

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Quote:
Originally Posted by petey44 View Post

While digging my holes for the hydrangeas, I realized that the soil is REALLY rocky. It doesn't seem natural- there were little rocks that might have naturally belonged there, but I also found lots of big chunks of bricks and like concrete pieces. I have no idea what that is all about.
Almost always around houses when you start digging you will find evidence of the construction zone. The topsoil is scraped off, big machinery drives on it repeatedly. Workers park their cars there, put up a dumpster, a port-a-potty, materials. If they need to fill an area, they use subsoil excavated either from the site or from other areas. This can include a fair amount of rocks, chunks, and bits of trash. Unscrupulous builders will bury materials or pour out paint thinners, etc. onto the site, too. It almost doesn't matter how old the house is.
 
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