facer shrubs

kimcocoDecember 26, 2010

I'm looking for suggestions for facer(?) shrubs to mask the base of my yews. I will border these facers with either hostas or impatiens.

The area is full shade, east facing wall on a mature tree lined street. I'd like something more formal in appearance meaning more compact and tidy. Deciduous is fine.

I was thinking Itea Little Henry as it has a nice "mounded" shape, but mine is in full sun next to a fountain where it gets a lot of moisture. I've read they do well in full shade though I've no experience with this. Blooming would be a plus, but I'm looking for more of an overall contrast to the backdrop of yews to give my foundation plantings more depth and interest. Right now it screams cookie cutter and I'm trying to change it up a bit.

Is there a compact spirea that might work well here?

Any other suggestions?

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

hey kim

never heard of the term facer ...

any chance at a picture.. i dont get the question ...

my gut says.. if you have overly mature ... read that UGLY yews ... get rid of them.. and put the money into a nice relandscaping .. rather than spending dough to hide the ugly ones ...

if they are blocking something.. then take out every other one .... and plant new.. and then in a few years.. as they start to fill.. get rid of the others ...


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 9:40AM
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Hi Ken, facer plants, from what I understand, are intended to disguise the base of larger shrubs or trees.

My yews are immature and haven't reached their intended size, but I do enjoy them for winter interest. I already have a lot of boxwood in my yard, so this was my next best choice for shade. They will probably reach a respectable height/width in my next lifetime. I've been trimming them annually as someone told me trimming tells them to "grow here"...but then I just came across the opposite last night perusing the web whereby it was stated that leaving them untrimmed until they reach the desired height allows them to grow at a faster rate. Too little, too late. In any case, the yews are here to stay.

My choices for shade are limited.

Spirea aren't my first choice..I don't know if I'd like the sparse habit in this much shade.

Itea Little Henry in shade? Not sure. (there is maybe an hour or two max of sunlight that peeks through to this area, but it's dappled at best), but I love this little guy in full sun.

I was also looking at Leucothoe fontanesiana 'Silver Run', but I question whether this will err on the ratty side with this much shade, or if it's going to have more of a "woodland-y" look than the formal appearance I'm going for. The fact that it's evergreen is a plus...if I could trim the tops to keep a more manicured look it may be ideal provided it has lush growth to the base. I also read this one suckers to form a colony??? Not sure if that would be ideal.

I've had Daphne here in the past and they did fine, but I don't care for the informal growth habit.

Ivory Halo Dogwood? Not sure if I can keep this to 3 feet or under in size, or how well it will perform, but the contrast would be a nice pop against the evergreen backdrop.

Comments on these or other choices, anyone?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 11:22AM
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I've never heard that term either, but guessed that it was a smaller shrub to layer in front of something larger, which I am assuming from your response is more or less correct :-)

I like the shrub dogwood alot for shade, especially the variegated forms like Ivory Halo. But it is not all that compact or formal in its habit or appearance - growth will be similar to that of the daphne. It does benefit from a routine cutting back - newest growth will have the most intense stem color - but how "well-groomed" looking it will be is a bit of a toss-up.

Leucothoe does well in full shade but is an arching, suckering shrub so again, not a very compact or formal looking plant. It can be pruned if desired but you might be removing flowering potential by doing much pruning. I'd also be concerned about full hardiness in your area - I doubt it will be fully evergreen at the very least.

A couple of others you could consider:
Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' - often sold as a groundcover or vine but can be trimmed/trained into a compact shrub. Other cultivars available. Does fine in shade.

Alpine currant, Ribes alpinum. Shade tolerant and very prunable. Often used as a hedging plant.

Clethra alnifolia, summersweet. An excellent flowering shade plant but likes moisture. '16 Candles' is a very compact form.

Dwarf fothergilla, Fothergilla gardenii. Like the Itea, more shade tolerant than a true shade lover. Flowering may be sparse in heavy shade and little fall color.

And there is always the possibility of a shorter growing yew. Something like Taxus cuspidata 'Dwarf Bright Gold', which would offset the similarity of textures with a bright golden color.

And a couple that may be borderline hardy for you - you may want to check with local suppliers to see if practical at all: Pieris japonica 'Little Heath' or Ilex crenata 'Lemon Gem'. Both are very prunable but are naturally small and compact. Maybe 2'x2'. Larger growing cultivars of both may also be available if that's not big enough to adequately disguise the base of the yews.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 1:28PM
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kimcoco~In my experience, itea do great in shade but don't color up well until after the leaves of deciduous trees fall. That may be a drawback. Mine did color up after the leaves fell from the trees, on the foliage that persists even now, it just wasn't the same effect as the blazing red I got in more sun.

How deep is the border? Your know, yews will fill in in time. You might like the contrast of grey-green catmint (Nepeta) with lilac flowers (or calamintha with white blooms) sheared into neat little mounds, along with hostas, daffodils and impatiens for color. The catmints look like miniature shrubs, and they attract pollinators. There are double impatiens that look like little roses that would look fab with them.

Do you get enough sun for a panicled hydrangea? They prefer afternoon shade. They do get quite large if left to their own devices, but have a compact rounded shape when young. I wonder if they can be kept in check with judicious pruning? I planted Quickfire in an east facing bed, and love how the dried flowers look against the snow. I have evergreen Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety' on the wall behind it, as I have no room for a yew lol. If there is room to add an ornamental grass, I think you might like Korean feather reed grass in place of the more common cultivar 'Karl Foerster', although they are both nice. Then you could add nicotiana, caladiums, coleus or wax begonias to fill in and add color in summer.

Please post a picture of the bed, tell us its depth, and try to estimate how many hours of sun it gets for more ideas. HTH! :)

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 8:42PM
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Great suggestions.

I have a Pieris 'Mountain Fire' on the north side of my house, and it does well, slow growth, but they are marginally hardy here. I provide winter protection, but once it gains in size I question how it will fare the cold temps. I recall reading there are other cultivars better suited for our zone. I lost one in full sun.

I like the look of Euonymus fortunei 'Emerald Gaiety', but I ditched all of mine after I discovered crown gall disease, though mine performed more like a ground creeper than an actual upright shrub. I have a couple Emerald N Gold cultivars and they are much fuller in habit.

I've had holly here years ago, but they grew really sparse either from my lack of watering at the time or minimal sunlight.

Hydrangea would do well, but I have plans to add them to a different planting bed in front. My husband and I are going back and forth on this one - he argues they're too cottagy for formal landscaping, but I'm in love with Annabelle's show stopping blooms, the whites add a nice touch to the landscape, and I like the contrast in textures with my boxwood.

And the winner is....Taxus cuspidata 'Nana Aurescens'. LOL. I think this would look fabulous in the fall with my burning bush nearby, and a nice contrast to the dark green yews.

Thanks for the recommendation, Gardengal. Hopefully I'll be able to locate it at a local nursery. Out of curiosity, what are your thoughts on Bush Honeysuckle, Diervilla Lonicera? It's hard to tell from internet pics the growth habit, though it appears more woodlandy than formal.

Prairiegirl, by any chance do you have a pic of the Itea in shade that you can post? Fall coloring aside, I'm curious if it's as lush in shade as it is for me in sun. And do you still get spring blooms in the shade?

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 10:22PM
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I'm sorry I don't have a pic handy tonight. Also, I have 'Henry's Garnet' and NOT 'Little Henry' planted in shade, and since I have both, I would bet that 'Little Henry' wouldn't be as lush since it is a smaller shrub to begin with. It does flower though, a nice surprise. However, your burning bush is so similar, I would scratch that idea.

Panicle hydrangeas are different from 'Annabelle', Hydrangea paniculata vs. H. arborescens, the blooms are lacecaps, not mopheads. But they probably wouldn't fit, even the dwarfs are 3-4' tall.

Taxus 'Nana Aurescens' would offer a nice color contrast and stay in a neat little bun. Fiesta Double Impatiens is the one I was thinking you might like.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 11:27PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i have a few hundred conifers ...

and no taxus in my z5 ... it might be all about your micro climate ...

i dont understand why .. but they dont seem to appreciate my garden ... zone is more than simply low winter temp ... so micro climate might rule ... winter shade might be the key ... of which i have none ... or winter wind ... or the sand.. or whatever ...

my point.. if i have one ... try a couple.. but i would not go buying 100 of them.. should failure be an option ...


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 9:04AM
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Ken...the Conifer King who has a taste for scotch. LOL. I remember my reading material. What state are you in? I've seen pics of your landscaping....nice. I'm on a measley 1/8 acre trying to cram everything I can into it. With every passing year my lawn gets smaller and smaller. My neighbors called my back yard the botanical gardens last year. LOL.

Prairiegirl, 2011 will be my first year with bedding impatiens. Are there varieties that hug the ground better than others? I'll be planting them with my hostas, or as a low border in front of my hostas, so I don't want them to compete height wise. More an impatiens forum question I suppose.

I'm also considering a Pee Gee Hydrangea for my back yard -do these naturally grow into a tree form, or do you have to trim them as such, purchase on a standard, etc. ? How big do they actually get? The area I was thinking would be morning shade, full blazing mid-day and afternoon sun. Not sure if this would work here.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 11:55AM
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No, PeeGee's do not naturally grow as a tree form. These are often trained into that habit over a period of several years. You can do so yourself if you find one young enough to start with and that has an existing growth habit that lends itself to that form. It's not an easy or fast process, so most gardeners just buy them already trained as a standard or tree form. Ultimate height is generally determined by how long one encourages the vertical growth, but they usually allow the branching to fill out somewhere around 4-6'. The branching topgrowth will extend that height somewhat, but can be pruned as desired.

Ken, not at all sure why Taxus cuspidata shouldn't grow well for you. Certainly hardy enough to tolerate your climate and very adaptable to a range of soil and light conditions. I am becoming increasingly attracted to yews for a variety of landscaping needs.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 12:10PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

it might have to do with 25 years of having to shear mom and dads overgrown.. planted too close to the foundation ... 10 foot tall yews ... and i somehow.. subliminally.. kill them .. lol .. abject neglect ...

i think i was playing with the other taxus [capitata and media crosses].. rather than cuspidata ... which are borderline z5 ...

regardless.. there are a lot better things out there than taxus.. but that might be the bias again ...

scotch.. hmmm.. that is a long memory ... i gave it up.. made me too stupid the next morning .... lol

there are a slew of MINI conifers.. that grow about one inch or less per year .... but that sun issue might be hard ...

below is a pic with about 14 minis in a 4 foot wide ... 10 foot long bed ... so many options.. so little time ... and a variegated ginko and a tricolor beech ... it looks like it was a rainy day.. that is not shade ... [duh .. the wet cement ]


    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 1:54PM
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Ken, what an impressive border, lots of winter interest. That has become increasingly important to me. I love your stone paths and adirondack chair. My lawn will never look so lush. Well done my friend.

Like gardengal, I'm taking a second look at yews. The meatballs and cubes of the past turned a lot of us off, but they do lend themselves to shearing so well. Many also now appreciate their natural growth habits, and their tolerance to shade and urban soils. I also heart my little arborvitae, "Mr. Bowling Bowl", it stays in a little round shape that is so adorable.

kimcoco, this is off topic yes, but, I used Fiesta Double Impatiens this last summer and was so impressed by how full they were with zero deadheading or pinching, no extra care. Just watering. They flowered all summer, into fall. Lots of color, very easy. They come in several colors, look like miniature roses, thrive in part shade. I plant clumps between things like hostas, rather than a formal border edge. Wax begonias are better for edging, they stay lower. I suppose it all depends on how big the hostas are. You can always use both, and mix and match.

In my experience, Pee Gee hydrangeas are very large, they will be the size of a small tree, or at least six to eight feet wide. Think of a serviceberry or small crabapple to get an idea of how big that is. I have a named cultivar ('Quickfire') and I just know I have it planted too close to the deck. It is still small, and so very pretty in winter with it's dried flowers. I enjoy pruning, and am pretty fearless, but if you don't then you might want to start with a standard (if you want a tree). Since our summers are so hot and sometimes dry, remember they will appreciate a drink if it gets too dry. Otherwise, they're pretty easy. Prune early for shape because they bloom on new wood, if you wait you'll be cutting off the flower buds. Having said that, I have been known to prune when it suits my schedule, who will know the difference?

    Bookmark   December 29, 2010 at 1:51AM
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I'm having a hard time finding Taxus Cuspidata 'Nana Aurescens' locally. Most nurseries have 'Nana'. The closest I can find is the 'Dwarf Bright Gold' which is listed as a broad upright. Not sure if this is similar.

Any mail order nurseries you can recommend? Though, they may be too small for what I'm looking for.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 1:04PM
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I have a Taxus 'Nana Aurescens' and it showed much promise when I got it. I wanted to add a little structure to a perennial garden that needs to convert to shrubs in time.

I don't know where I got it, but my tag says that it originated from Iseli Nursery so I would think it should be somewhat available at a top notch garden center. (I'm really surprised at me that I don't have it marked where I got it. I have an index card for every plant (100's and 100's) and they all have the source, except this one. )

In any case, the deer munched on it its first tiny year (2008). It is slowly trying to recover, but it is nothing to write home about yet.

Regarding Pieris 'Little Heath', I was really afraid that it would not be hardy enough here. It was marked as a Z5, but my research showed it was a Z6 plant. I am definitely a 5A here, but I have 3 of them and they are all great. They are at the northwest corner of my foundation shrubs. They don't bloom. Are they supposed to? LOL

They definitely would make good "facers".

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 9:00PM
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Lucky for me I don't have to worry about deer. I don't know what I'd do! LOL.

My Pieris I've had for maybe 3 years now...depending on where you look it can be listed as z6 or z5. I don't know that I've ever seen blooms on mine as of yet, but I suspect that may be either because it's in deep shade or not mature enough. It does get really fabulous bright red new growth each spring, but by fall it's greened up. Still, pretty shrub. Too bad they don't grow faster.

    Bookmark   December 30, 2010 at 9:11PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

what an impressive border, lots of winter interest.


not under a foot of snow.. lol ... and that lush lawn you refer to.. is former horse pasture which is near brown from mid july thru mid sept.. just a perfectly timed pic.. lol ...

plants with complicated all latin names... can have newer names ... you might want to check in the conifer forum ...

now.. WHY can you post a pic elsewhere.. your retaining wall.. but cant post one here.. so we have a better idea of what you are trying to accomplish??? .. or is that some other kim???

happy new year


    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 10:45AM
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another shade front of the border plant is a dwarf rhodie like 'Purple Gem'. Mine sprawls a bit, but it can probably be maintained to be mounded and neat.

I would think something variegated or gold for contrast with the dark yews would look best, but that might be tough for shade. Unless, you want to get into perennials... like Hakonechloa Aurela would be awesome. There is even another taller and faster growing Hakonechloa 'alba striata' that does well in shade. More texture, less mounded.

    Bookmark   December 31, 2010 at 2:54PM
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Kim, I think either of the gold yews could work for you - they should be pretty similar in habit, although the Dwarf Bright Gold can get somewhat taller - it is definitely more of a spreading form than an upright one. And being yews, they take pruning very well :-)

Re: Pieris 'Little Heath', even in my mild and very pieris-suited climate, these guys seldom ever bloom. But I'm not sure that's much of a lack - that variegated foliage and bright coral new growth more than makes up for it, IMO.

    Bookmark   January 1, 2011 at 12:55PM
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What about Ferns?
They come in colors too right?
They are different.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 3:56PM
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What kind of ferns would be hardy in my zone 5? I have some that were here when I purchased the home...they do well provided they have enough moisture, and they are about 12-18 inches in height.

I wouldn't know what ferns to look for, though I've seen plenty of them at a local nursery.

    Bookmark   January 2, 2011 at 9:13PM
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tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Many ferns do well here. Japanese Painted Fern come to mind. I also have the Lady Fern 'Dre's Dagger' (Athyrium filix-femina) which is a nice texture.

Could you define your yew's "intended size" as that would help determine what plants would go in front of them. Perhaps even some of the taller hosta like montana 'Aureomarginata', Blue Angel or Sagae might work.


    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 10:10PM
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I have to say, I'm not really a fan of ornamental grasses in the residential landscape, BUT I have always admired Hakonechloa Aurela, especially combined with hostas. If I used it, though, it would probably be in a different area of my yard. The color, at least in pics I've seen, is fantastic.

There are a lot of great suggestions here, and it's giving me more ideas for my landscape plans... Ken, that was my retaining wall I've posted in the past - I will post pics in the spring so we can see what I'm working with. I have areas I'm rearranging, and with a couple new shrubs I plan on adding, I'll have a better idea of how much space I have to work with. The amount of space I envision usually ends up being smaller than I have to work with... I need a larger lot!

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 4:19PM
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