Problem spot? Check your soil before planting

I have a strip of dirt about 4 feet wide on the southeast side of my deck. Grass doesn’t do well there (I’ve replanted twice). The strip is shaded most of the day by plum and pecan trees, but gets two to three hours of blistering midday sun. Is there a perennial plant that I can fill in with that will take the shade and heat?

— Jan

I think there are quite a few things you could plant successfully there. I suspect that your problem isn’t so much to do with the sun or shade but with the soil and perhaps some competition from the nearby trees.

Before planting, do a good job digging up the area and mixing in a good amount of a low salt organic amendment such as Soil Pep or Peat Moss.

Try to dig down as deeply as you can, 6 feet at a minimum, 12 feet would be wonderful.

I’d add one part amendment to every three or four parts soil. Loosening up the soil and mixing in the organic material will really improve the soil, giving your new plants the best head-start you can.

There are probably dozens of choices in perennials that would work there, but let me give you a “few” of my favorites to consider:

Bee balm, “Marshall’s Delight,” 2–3 feet tall: ornamental perennial with green aromatic foliage and pink tubular flowers in round whorls in late spring. Attracts bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Grows best in rich, moist, well-drained soil. Mildew resistant. Sun to part shade. Hardy to minus 25 degrees.

Blanketflower, “Goblin,” 12 inches tall: vigorous plants with daisy-like flowers that are red with yellow tips. Blooms over a very long season from late spring through summer. Tolerates heat and drought. Sun. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Coneflower, Purple, 18–30 inches tall: large purple-pink daisy-like flowers in late spring into summer that have a dark copper-brown cone shaped center. Prefers well-drained soil. Tolerates heat and wind. Sun. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Coral Bells, 15 inches tall: bright crimson bell-like flowers on branched spikes in mid- to late spring. Green rounded leaves with scalloped edges. Prefers rich, well-drained soil. Sun to shade. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Coreopsis, “Zagreb,” 14–18 inches tall: compact, upright plants. Single yellow flowers. Fern-like foliage. Drought tolerant once established. Best in well-drained soil. Sun to part shade. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Daisy, Gloriosa, 18–24 inches tall: daisy-like flowers that have bright orange-yellow petals and dark, high central cones. Compact plant and free flowering throughout the summer. Sun to partial shade. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Daylily, 15–30 inches tall: attractive green grass-like foliage with very showy, lily-like flowers ranging in shades of yellow, orange, and red in late spring. Sun to part shade. Hardy to minus 35 degrees.

Gaura, Whirling Butterflies, 30 inches tall: willow-like red stems bear spikes of bright white flowers that seem to float and dance above the plant resembling butterflies. Blooms July to October. Prefers well-drained soil. Drought tolerant after established. Sun to part shade. Hardy to minus 15 degrees.

I’m out of space to include full descriptions, but other good choices include: perennial geraniums, germander, hyssop, bearded iris, lavender, lilyturf, moneywort, garden mums, penstemons, pincushion flower, creeping potentilla, rock soapwort, thrift, twinspur and veronica, among many others.

Once I started going through the list, I just had a tough time stopping.

In fact, it’s gotten me thinking about some things I may want to add to my perennial bed.

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 email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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