Desperate for deep shade screen -- tough spot

shadey(z5 Chicago)April 13, 2009


I have a trouble spot that I've been trying to deal with for years ... making slow progress.

The Northwest corner of my yard involves a large Norway Maple. Although I'm not crazy about this tree, it performs important function of softening the corner of a very large yard and screening (for now anyhow) a busy street. To the east, I have a row of blue spruces. The spruce nearest to the Maple is, of course, getting skinny from shade and resource competition, but I did raise the canopy and thin the tree out last year to help with this.

Now that I've raised the canopy, I can see the cars (above the 6 foot fence) behind the tree. Ugh! The spruce will continue to loose the lower branches too.

So I need a cluster of shrubs on the south side of a 6 foot wooden fence, to the west of a spruce and near the edge of the canopy of the Norway Maple. This is deep shade, dry shade, with some salt from the road.

I think a Cranberry Bush Viburnum will grow here, but I understand that are recently susceptible to a bug in my area.

Is anyone familiar with Nanyberry Viburnum? The literature says it can take shade ... but so many things get "skinny" in the shade that they don't really provide screening.

Will yews really grow and thrive in deep shade? Do those tall (hicks) yews look naturally (I have a naturalistic yard/garden -- not formal) if left unpruned?

I know I've asked lots of questions.

Thank you in advance!


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Kalmia latifolia - mountain laurel can take the shade and is something I have grown successfully under BIG trees. Mahonia aquifolium Oregon Grape can also deal with shade, but I hear it suckers. It might behave better in a dry situation. I grew Mahonia x media 'Charity', a hybrid, with no problems. It also provides the berries you may be seeking in the viburnums.

But I don't know diddly about their salt tolerance, it's not something I have dealt with.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 9:35PM
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The cuspidata and baccata yews are deer candy. You could try Cephalotaxus harringtonia which are not usually eaten by deer.
I don't know about salt tolerance.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2009 at 10:25PM
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shadey(z5 Chicago)

I've been thinking cuspidata -- no deer in my yard! Just a hedge hog, rabbits, and squirrels :). Will they thrive in deep, dry shade?


    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 8:41AM
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Yes, they should, once established.

    Bookmark   April 14, 2009 at 5:11PM
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laceyvail(6A, WV)

You might also consider the native Rhododendron maximum. These are tough plants that get quite large, and they might tolerate the shade and salt.

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 6:17AM
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shadey(z5 Chicago)

The Rhododendron maximum sounds great -- I love rodos but frankly, have not had much luck with them and I never, ever see thick lush ones here (western burbs of Chicago) like I see on the east coast. My sister lives in upstate NY and her rodos are phenomenal. Nonetheless, I will inquire about the maximum at local nurseries -- if they would flourish under my maple, it would turn an eyesore into a lovely view!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 1:01PM
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prairiemoon2 z6 MA

I have the same kind of a corner but not the salt or traffic problem. Poked around the forums asking questions for quite awhile trying to figure out what to plant. I have experimented with different suggestions. That one corner is the worst though and so far I've tried a Ninebark and an Inkberry, neither of which did a thing but look worse the next year. I don't have enough room for a Rhod. maximum so I didn't try that one. All along my back border are silver maples in the next yard, so I have varying amounts of shade, all in a dry zone. So far what is working out the best for me, is Viburnum 'Wentworth', Viburnum maresii, and Cornus racemosa. Both the Viburnums do get a little bit of sun..maybe 2 hrs of direct sun and they haven't berried much but they are growing and filling out well. The Cornus also gets about the same amount of direct sun in the morning and that has grown so fast, I was shocked. It does sucker quite a bit, so take that into consideration.

Back to the deep dark corner of my yard...[g]. I am about to pull out the Inkberry I tried there in the Fall of 2007. Someone has suggested I try a Pieris which has done well for them in similar conditions. I've also thought of getting a Kerria but not sure if that would get large enough for you.

Not easy, I know... :-) Good luck!

    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 6:38PM
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shadey(z5 Chicago)

Yes, I have been wanting to put a Viburnum 'Wentworth' -- or a bunch of them -- in there. I have one in the front yard and it does great in the shade near a shallow rooted tree!

An arborist recently told me that the Viburnum Beetle, an invasive bug from Europe, loves the Wentworth and now I am afraid to plant it.

I love Blackhaw Viburnum and think that might perform well there, but they are very expensive around here and I don't know that I want to take a big risk on pricey plants!


    Bookmark   April 15, 2009 at 7:10PM
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I believe Rhododendrons are slow growing anyway, and I don't know if I'd try the Pieris in our climate. I think they're only hardy to zone 6...I recall reading a post from someone else here in zone 5 and their's only lasted a few years. I'm going on my second year in full shade, but I won't hold my breath.

I was thinking about the Lilac Shrub, since Lilacs typically are very hardy, suckering shrubs and long lived. I found a similar post about Lilacs, I've copied the link below.

They probably won't bloom in shade, but my guess is with a little TLC (water the first year until they are established), they'll probably do fine on their own in future years if you are just going for the green. However, they might also be slow growing as well.

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 9:49PM
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If you do manage to find a Viburnum prunifolium (Blackhaw) for a good price , that will work. I have had one in pretty deep shade for 3 or 4 years now, it's now about 8' high, starting from a young whip. Hasn't flowered yet...hoping for some this year ;-/

    Bookmark   April 16, 2009 at 10:08PM
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Fledgeling_(4b SD)

I was just googling Black Jetbead, the plant that I was going to recommend for you, to find out how to spell it's scientific name (Rhodotypos scandens) and found out that it is now considered invasive! I did not know that... pity, as it is at its best in tough shady spots (that would explain it's success as well...)

    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 12:09AM
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tepelus(6a SW MI)

You can try Calycanthus floridus, Common Sweetshrub. I plan on trying these under the shade of silver maples as a border between my house and the neighbors. The flowers have a sweet smell and the foliage is scented too, when crushed.


    Bookmark   April 17, 2009 at 7:20AM
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weedlady(Central OH 6)

Came across this old thread while looking for suggestions for something I could plant in place of the lilacs under our front window facing NE. I believe these were planted about 5 years ago; we moved here 3 years ago. According to the previous owner, who kindly gave me labeled drawings of the foundation plantings and 2 other long flowerbeds (a nice perk, if accurate!), these SUPPOSEDLY are dwarf Korean lilacs ('Miss Kim')-- but they are obviously not. For one thing, I know 'Miss Kim' from our previous home, and also there definitely ARE 2 actual 'Miss Kims' on the SE side of the house that are doing pretty well, although they do get a fair bit of summer shade from the big silver maple about 20 feet opposite them. (More about this site in a minute!)
ANyway, this front-of-the-house NE site is heavily shaded by 2 big purple Norway maples--also planted by the previous owner -- that I have chosen to leave in place since they block a good deal of noise from the rather heavily-traveled county route we live on. I dislike Norway maple on general principles, but equally-detestable English ivy runs rampant under these 2 trees & is probably the only ground cover that will grow there, and anyway I cannot afford to pay to have these monstrosities removed.
So, I have pruned these 2 lilacs for the past 3 years (immediately after flowering) in an effort to maintain their size at about 5' since they are right in front of my dining room windows and I do not want them blocking the windows. They bear few flower clusters in the spring--due, I am guessing, to the heavy shade, definitely not due to my pruning technique since I do not touch them after the spring dead-heading and thinning, and so I know I am not cutting off potential buds. Rather than fight these (which already have once more outgrown my pruning, straining to find more sun, I should think!) I'd sooner dig them out & replace them with something more appropriate. It is dry shade, the worst kind, I know. The ground slopes away from the house there so rain scarcely has time to even sink in.
I also want these to be a native shrub. From what I have read here & there, it seems that oakleaf hydrangea is amenable to pruning and also will bloom in shade. However, I happen already to have 2 half-gallon pots of sweetshrub, Calycanthus floridus, purchased in the spring. They'd maybe be OK, except that at our previous house I had a sweetshrub in full shade and it was pretty leggy & sprawly. Same for a neighbor's specimen growing under the same conditions.
Now, I mentioned the 'Miss Kim' on the SE side of the house... in between them are planted 3 dwarf holly bushes that of course require a soil much more acid than the lilacs! Bad combination..and as one might expect, the hollies are not doing at all well. SO I expect I'll dig them out as well, but want only very low shrubs or perennials there. That area gets a little more sun than the NE site, so I am confident I can come up with something there.
SO: my question: oakleaf hydrangeas or calycanthus or has someone another suggestion?

    Bookmark   July 26, 2011 at 4:50PM
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I was going to suggest rhodotypus as well. before you eliminate it as a choice, see if it is invasive where you live. It really will grow in dark dry shade, the flowers are pretty, the foliage a decent green that in my experience no bugs want to eat. Won't win any awards for over form and beauty, but who needs Miss America when ordinary and sturdy will do?

    Bookmark   August 15, 2011 at 11:34PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Looked up rhodotypus and found this on Dave's:

"A native of Korea, Japan, and China; this plant is highly adaptable to drought, poor drainage, poor soils, shade, compaction, and a wide range of pH. It suckers like mad and the seed has a high germination rate.

"It is reported as being invasive in these states-
*Information from Swearingen, J. 2005. Alien Plant Invaders of Natural Areas. Plant Conservation Alliance, Alien Plant Working Group."

Sounds like one to avoid.

    Bookmark   August 16, 2011 at 12:08PM
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What about dogwoods? Aren't they understory/ shade trees that also grow quickly and fill out nicely? Not sure if you've considered that...

    Bookmark   September 15, 2011 at 4:59PM
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