Growing Concerns 457: Shaded pond, cut viburnum, vinca beats crocus, kids

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Smart plant selection, successful shady water garden

Hello Janet,

Everything I read says water gardens must be in a location that gets about six hours of sun each day. I want to add one to my landscaping. However, there is no place in my shaded yard that gets even close to that much sunlight. There must be some aquatic plants (flowering or not) that would thrive in less than six hours of sun.

I accept the fact that having a pond in an area with trees would require more maintenance than if it were in an open space. (Removing any of my beautiful shade trees is not an option.)

Any suggestions? Also, can you recommend resources that provide information about plants and the special care required for a water garden placed in the shade? - B.L. -


Dear B.L.,

Most authorities recommend siting a pond in the full sun because those experts assume you want to see water lilies blooming and have a minimum of leaf clean-up.

Scott Bates at Grass Roots Nursery in New Boston is more understanding. Bates has built and stocked water gardens for 30 years and feels you should start digging. "You can put it in the shade. Just pick your plant material more carefully, for more shade-tolerant plants. Plants like pickerel rush, variegated sweet flag and water lettuce will give you different forms and colors of foliage to look at. Shade-tolerant water lily varieties like 'Chromatella' and 'Pygmy Rubra' are worth a try, too. If it's so dark that even those won't bloom, then just enjoy the look of the greenery and sound of the water. Also, invest in some leaf netting for the fall."

Grass Roots can help you plan a pond and provide the plants for sun or shade. Call or go there with specific questions (734-753-9200, 24765 Bell Road, just south off I-275's exit 11B) or attend one of their regular, free classes on pond construction, planting or maintenance.

Water garden supply catalogs offer good information about plants' varying needs for light. One such is free from William Tricker, Inc. (216-524-3491, 7125 Tanglewood Drive, Independence, Ohio, 44131).

Viburnum pruning conundrum

I have a cranberry viburnum that was probably planted in the wrong place, in front of a west-facing window that only receives sun late in the day. It has grown so tall that it blocks the view and light from the living room. I have cut it back in the last couple of years but only to the lowest bud. This isn't low enough. Can I cut back beyond the buds? Is it best to cut back each branch individually with pruning shears? - J.G. -

Dear J.G.,

Cut it back to a foot or two below the window, which may require a saw or loppers. Viburnums, like most deciduous shrubs, have dormant buds on leafless wood so even if they are cut to the ground they will sprout within a few weeks. By the end of the year those branch tips will probably be back up at your windowsill.

On a spring-flowering shrub like this one (Viburnum opulus and V. trilobum are both called cranberrybush viburnum, and many experts believe the two are actually the same species), cutting off all visible buds now does mean losing a year's bloom. Yet it's better to cut now rather than later, so the plant can grow back during spring while temperatures are cool and water abundant.

There is always the chance that a shrub will die if cut back drastically. However, when this happens to a deciduous shrub it usually means that hidden issues were sapping the plant's reserves. Often, those issues can be traced to poor growing conditions. So when such a plant dies, it's not really a loss but an opportunity to replace it with a species better suited to that site and your needs.



Short report:

Don't expect crocus to survive under myrtle, B.M.
Crocus will persist under only the very lowest, ground-hugging evergreens. Myrtle (Vinca minor) and other evergreens that can mound up to more than a few inches deep will eventually smother spring wildflowers and bulbs. Early spring ephemerals such as crocus and our native spring beauty (Claytonia virginica) evolved to capitalize on a "window" of sunlight, growing while neighboring are yet leafless. They'll fail if an evergreen closes that window.

Even trillium, tall enough to emerge through most stands of myrtle, weakens over time. Eventually the trilliums disappear, since they can't reproduce themselves in that situation -- even if their seed can germinate the seedlings are too short to co-exist with an evergreen groundcover.

For this reason, myrtle, English ivy and pachysandra should not be planted adjacent to a woods, where they will spread and eliminate native woodland wildflowers.



Green thumbs up: to floral themes in baby room decor and captivating garden tools for preschoolers. The imprint of the garden will be upon those kids. Have no fear if they evade horticultural chores or shun plants as teens -- as adults they'll be drawn back to the garden to continue growing.


Green thumbs down: to "Michigan palms," the name certified arborist Ben Veling of Harbor Springs gives to limbed-up spruces and pines. Veling points out that taking off all the lower branches radically changes the weight load and wind stress so the tree is more likely to fall in a storm.















first published 3/30/02

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