Homegrown: Shady red flowers

I have an 8-foot wide by 3-foot deep rectangular-shaped indentation on the north side of my house, with two evenly spaced bubblers.

This space is shady most of the day and has a row of spreading juniper bushes running in front of it. The ground is a top soil mixed with the ever present silty clay.

I would like to plant something that has red flowers all summer. Would any of the following work: Jacob Cline monarda, cardinal flower, red columbine, red astilbes, shamrock hydrangea, Texas scarlet quince, nova zembla rhododendron, or rugosa rose? Or would you suggest something else?

I also have an older Austrian pine in the front yard with a ring of cement curbing around it. Can I plant some type of perennial flowers beneath it? I was told the pine needles would kill anything growing underneath.

— Laurie

There are several things on your list that would work. Monarda, cardinal flower, columbine, astilbe and rhododendron all do great in the shade. In fact, they need it to grow well here.

You also could consider coral bells, “brilliant” pinks, bleeding heart, “lipstick” strawberry, lupine, Maltese cross and “beauty of Livermore” oriental poppy.

There are a number of others that would grow in the shade as long as they got good bright light.

The problem I think you’re going to run into is maintaining bloom all summer long. Most of these plants bloom in the spring.

Most years, by the first of July, they’re done, and there’s really nothing happening from then on.

You might consider supplementing the bed with a patch or two of annual flowers that ought to keep the flowers coming. Some choices would be begonias, bedding dianthus, impatiens and lobelia.

If there’s enough light you could even do petunia, pentas, salvia, snapdragon and geranium.

Growing something directly under your pine is next to impossible.

As you mentioned, the needles will leach chemicals that make the soil very acidic and are antagonistic to other plants. The roots of the pine also secrete these chemicals.

The biggest problem for most people is that it’s just so dark under that pine. The branches are low to the ground and they cast a very dense shade.

The competition from the pine combined with those soil chemicals make it tough.

Doing this can sometimes be bad for the pine as well. You may end up overwatering the pine just keeping the flowers going.

I’ve seen fungal rots attack the base of the trunk because of the moist environment under the flowers or groundcover next to the bark.

I’d put some bark chips there and call it good.

I am interested in the weeping Norway spruce. Can it take our full sun here?

— Carolyn

I’m afraid we haven’t had very good luck growing them in full sun, hot exposures. They tend to burn quite often.

I’d try to put it in a spot that gets at least afternoon shade. The cooler morning sun doesn’t bother them as much.

But don’t put them in dark shade. Weeping Norway spruce needs a good level of light, just not that scorching sun we get in the afternoons.

When is the best time to prune ornamental pear trees?

— Alex

I don’t think it makes all that much difference when you prune them. My personal preference is to do it in early spring before new growth appears.

I like that because there are no leaves on the tree to block my view. I can see the whole branch structure and perhaps make better decisions on what branches to take off and what to leave.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, http://www.bookcliffgardens.com. Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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