Discover how to nurture a spectacular low maintenance Zone 5 & 6 garden that attracts hummingbirds, butterflies, and bursts with vibrant color! Check out our useful article menu to your right … we suggest you start with the drop down list of categories. There are 11 planting zones on the USDA Plant Hardiness Map in the contiguous United States and southern Canada.
To put the definition in normal speak, the higher the numbers, the warmer the temperatures for gardening in those areas.
Zone 5, where I live, encompasses a large area…running through parts of Nevada, Utah, Idaho, Colorado, Nebraska, Iowa, southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois and Indiana, and a large portion of Michigan. When you purchase a plant, the plant tag generally will show the coldest plant hardiness zone in which the plant will survive through the winter.
Occasionally, zones are reclassified due to increasing minimum winter temperatures … which can slightly shift zones higher.
For a handy tool to check what zone you reside in go to Zone By Zip and plug in your zip code and the plant hardiness zone will pop up. Nodding flowers in rich hues of cream, white, pink, maroon, rose and green appear in early winter to early spring, depending on the variety. A colorful addition to the shade garden, this deciduous fern has glowing pewter-and-green fronds and red or purple stems. A fast-growing groundcover, ajuga has low-growing foliage and flower spikes in pink, white, blue or lavender. With evergreen foliage and long-blooming, late-spring flowers, this low-maintenance groundcover is ideal for a spot in part to deep shade where there's room to expand.
This low-maintenance perennial is a must for any shade garden that can supply moist, rich, well-drained soil. Known for its often colorful, heart-shaped leaves, brunnera is a carefree plant that thrives in partial shade.
The cascading golden and green foliage of variegated Japanese reed grass creates a bright splash for the shade garden. You must have JavaScript enabled in your browser to utilize the functionality of this website.
Find mixtures for your region, or for special uses such as dry areas, partial shade, attracting animals, low growing, and more. Over 110 choices for fast color, such as poppies, cosmos, sunflowers, zinnia, and many more. Step by step instructions on how to plant your bare root or potted perennials when they arrive. A COUPLE OF YOU COMMENTED when I posted a spring “walk in the garden” story years back, asking for help with the subject of underplanting trees and shrubs (including my oldest magnolia, below). My real education in underplanting began eight years ago, when (20-plus years into my gardening life) I learned the most important lesson of all: Ask for help, preferably early and often. Of course Charles had done exactly the right thing when the goal is underplanting large areas, such as beneath trees: You need more, more, more of a few key plants to make it all come together.
A spring or two later, Glenn and Charles, who curate the wonderful Dunn Gardens in Seattle and have a design business as well, visited again for two days.
I read the part about seeing your favorite plant in pieces and the yelling match in your book and it reminded me of a similar experience I had. In addition to the challenge of shade in the understory, I have the added challenge of deer browsing. I’ve tried and tried to underplant but every time I try to place a plant I run into tree roots. Hi Hilary, I will comment on the plants you have listed here from my personal experience and my master gardener classes. Hilary, my answer to your question about ivy, vinca and pachysandra is that (in addition to being boring and way over-used) all three of these non-native ground covers are potential thugs, if not downright invasive, especially English ivy.

I would love to under plant but have two large street maple trees and their roots come up into the yard everywhere…they are just matted and thick…how do I deal with that and would any massive dig hurt the trees? A long time friend dubbed me “Flower Chick” many years ago and the nickname kind of stuck! No matter what gardening zone you live in, having this knowledge is the first step to create your beautiful garden! Lean on our many years of experience to create your dream garden … without toiling constant long hours to do it. Countless beautiful and easy maintenance plants are available to you now … all you need to do is mix, match, plant, and enjoy!
Each category listing offers specific articles with Zone 5 & 6 plant recommendations and practical, no nonsense advice to put you on the right path. The regions are basically defined by a 10 degree Fahrenheit difference in the average annual minimum temperature (the coldest recorded temps in the winter). The Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a given location. I prefer to go by the original classification so the plants selected have a better chance of survival. To your right, there’s a list of helpful gardening articles on just about every topic imaginable! Hundreds of cultivars offer foliage variations in shades of green, from chartreuse to smoky green-blue, plus white and cream.
The ferny foliage is beautiful but short-lived; place bleeding heart where its yellowing foliage in midsummer won't be a design buster. In midspring, the graceful, feathery plumes in pink, red or white complement light green fern-like foliage. True confession: I have come very slowly and painfully to this lesson, dragged by some much more talented friends, Glenn Withey and Charles Price of Seattle. Still interested in learning how to “think mosaic,” as I now call underplanting (including in the little video above)?
So rather than remaining embarrassed that I wasn’t as confident in making complex and large mixtures of plants, despite all I knew about them individually, I asked Glenn and Charles to come and teach me. The lowpoint was Day 1: I came around the corner of the house to find Charles (below, in full Pacific Northwest-style rain gear) holding my most treasured plant—in pieces.
Being much bolder now and with years’ more practice, I uprooted precious things myself with abandon—trilliums (divide them like this) and yes, the Hylomecon and goldenseal and other shade-loving treasures. No polka-dots (except at first): Like I said, It’s all about learning to “think mosaic,” which doesn’t mean polkadots of onesies, but sweeps and drifts and deliberate repetition of said sweeps and drifts. Select a palette that relies on several key plants, with a few others as punctuation (the little gems to pop up from the carpet beneath them). Include ephemerals, early spring bulbs or perennials that come and take advantage of the sunshine before the canopy leafs out, then vanish underground or at least don’t take up much space. Include some “groundcover” types, meaning plants that form thick mats (but not English ivy or pachysandra or vinca!). I have owned your book ever since and a year ago found you on the website which brought me sheer joy!
I had a tree peony that pretty much looked like 3 dead twigs in the winter and our pug decided to use it as such. My old apples do bear fruit, but are more cherished as ornamentals at this stage in their lives. Once they escape into the landscape or, in the case of ivy, start climbing your trees, they are nearly impossible to eradicate. Moist, well-drained, rich soil in shade is a must; placing it in a wind-free area is good too. Rather than circling the dripline of trees or shrubs (or a group of trees and shrubs) with groundcovers and bulbs and such, you have to get all the way in there, even right up against the trunk (like this old apple’s above), to make it look UN-manmade…as if it just happened.

At first, though (as above in a newly laid-out bed under an unseen smokebush) no matter how many plants you buy or what you feed them, the new underplanting will look like hell (well, like polka-dots).
Winter aconites, or trilliums, or hylomecon, or Dutchman’s breeches, or bloodroot, or Virginia bluebells…the list goes on. I am partial to epimediums, European ginger, Hackonechola macra ‘All Gold,’ hellebores (above, in bloom), perennial geraniums of a semi-evergreen nature (like ‘Biokovo’ or macrorrhizum), among many. Plan on a mix of textures and colors, coming mostly from foliage (as the leaves will be there all season or even all year, and the flowers just come briefly).
Not just in the first area you underplant, but (if it works) in another area in need of some extra interest, where it may be all mulch right now, or a sea of a single groundcover. The names are all linked for more info in the story; click the underlined green links for details.
At that time a small group of friend and I started a garden club and find your blog an amazing source of inspiration and information. I do prune (in late winter before the perennials are up), I do rake in fall and pick up fruit and fruit-tree debris (and rake again in early spring), I do tend the perennials through the season (deadhead etc.). Most of the other plants Margaret is suggesting can do a good job suppressing weeds once they are established and spreading to cover the ground. Best site: plant them on a shady slope where their flowers can best be appreciated from below.
This perennial spreads quickly in a moist, well-drained soil that's high in organic matter. Give brunnera a well-drained soil that's consistently moist; this perennial won't tolerate occasional drought. Think of the color range of heucheras alone you could employ, or hostas—foliage is hardly boring. I cannot imagine “mosaics” working without some linear things (grasses like Hackonechloa, or sedges), contrasted against some ferny things (like, well, ferns; those are the autumn fern and the Japanese painted, above) and against some large-textured things (like bigger hostas, or perhaps mayapple, or its cousin Diphylleia cymosa, below).
Soon your first mosaic will fill in and afford you some divisions, and on to making the next beautiful carpet you will go (maybe with help from a great teacher like Charles or Glenn, below, having at it under another apple a few years back).
My question is…how is it possible to underplant successfully under an old apple tree (which still produces), maintain the beauty of the understory plantings, keep the tree pruned, and clean up leaves and debris in the fall. I only have 5 old trees but Ihave intensive plantings under them all, and three still produce apples. After the fourth year you can start harvesting divisions of some plants to repeat your success elsewhere.
I get about six extra-early weeks of color from my underplantings, before my mainstay plants fill in, by using ephemerals lavishly.
We will be discussing underplantings since all of us have acreage with lots of trees and I was wandering if the ephemeral plants you suggest are deer resistant like ferns, hellebores, trillium and ginger are.
Then the following year I gained 3 new branches which not only gave the plant more buds, but shaped it more into a gorgeous and full tree.
I also have pachysandra in the north side of the house which is shady and it was put in when we were very first landscaping. If you could share this information with me I will be able to include it in our next meeting as we discuss your blog. A hard lesson at first but it taught me to accept things I cannot control and not to be so quick to assess the damage.
Although your place is very far from us, I have great hopes to be able to visit with our garden group as you are among the top 5 gardens on my bucket list.
Your blog makes me happy every time I see A Way to Garden in my inbox, even before I click on it!

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