|THE NATIVE PLANT CENTER AT WCC|
Cultural Directions for Woodland Plants
Siting: You don’t need a woodland to grow woodlanders. You can grow the easier kinds in foundation plantings and garden beds as long as you meet their cultural requirements. We’ve seen bloodroot and trillium thriving in beds of Japanese pachysandra!
Light: Many are early spring bloomers and want full sun then but light to full shade later. Planting near deciduous trees works perfectly. By the time the plants have finished blooming, the leaves are out and the site is shady, suiting them perfectly. Avoid planting near maples whose shallow roots suck the moisture out of every soil particle.
Soil: Woodland plants want soil that is humus-rich, made up of millennia of decayed leaves and twigs. You should have at least a few inches. If not, dig in compost or leaf mold (decomposed leaves). You can also dig in some peat moss if it’s well moistened beforehand and well mixed in. Do not add manures unless extremely well-composted.
Mulch: Use leaves as mulch, mimicking the natural woodland. Oak leaves and the needles of most conifers are acid and help acidify the soil while leaves from birches and maples are more neutral in pH. Wood chips are also fine, especially any from oaks or evergreens (a fine use for that Christmas tree). Never use peat moss as mulch since it absorbs too much moisture from rains and leaves the soil below bone dry.
Drainage: Always check drainage. Dig a hole 12" deep, fill with water and see how long it takes to drain. If it takes more than 30 minutes to drain away, your drainage is not very good and probably not suitable for woodlanders. The blue and red lobelia would be happy or shrubs with names like swamp azalea.
pH: It is hard to change soil acidity by very much. The northeast tends to be mildly acid by nature. Digging and amending large areas works better than digging and amending small holes which quickly revert back to their original pH. Stick to the easy woodlanders which adapt to varied soil conditions.
Watering: Remember to water well in dry periods the first year. Watering deeply but infrequently is better than frequent light waterings. A good layer of leaf litter or other mulch should keep the roots cool and reduce evaporation.
PLANTS TO CONSIDER:
White Baneberry (Actaea pachypoda) The white baneberry is easy to grow and prefers slightly acid, humus-rich soil. (The red baneberry requires a more acid soil). The dryer the soil in summer, the sooner the plant will go dormant. Needs light to medium shade or the foliage will burn. Mulch well.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) Easy to grow in any humus-rich soil, mildly acid if possible but not fussy about pH. Prefers a little moisture in spring. Will grow in light to deep shade. Corms need to be 2" under soil since feeder roots appear on the upper side of the corms.
Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense) Easy to establish. Not fussy about soil acidity. Grows well on the north side of houses. Mulch lightly.
Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) easy to grow if its requirements are met. Wants a cool, damp, humus-rich soil with a very acid pH of 4.5 in part to full shade. Needs frequent watering until well-established. Mulch with pine needles or oak leaves to increase soil acidity. Excellent under pines, broadleaf evergreens and other acid-requiring plants like azaleas and blueberries.
Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens): Usually found in acid to slightly acid (5.0-6.5), humus-rich soil, often with some sand for good drainage. The soil can be on the dry side. Does well in sun or light shade all season and is often found under the open shade of oaks and pines. Set potted plants exactly at soil level and mulch lightly with pine needles or leaves. Keep well watered the first few seasons as it is very slow to establish.
Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens): Not fussy about pH but wants good drainage. Grows in light to deep shade, often seen in dryish woods, creeping along decaying white birch and aspen logs or under pines or hemlocks. Plant at soil level and mulch lightly. To encourage rooting along the stems, pin down bare stems on earth with ˝" of soil or small rocks.
Allegheny Pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens): Easy to grow once established. Prefers light to full shade in moist, acidic soil. Spreads slowly by rhizomes. Avoid heavy clay soils with poor drainage. Not fussy about pH.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum) In the wild, it usually appears in moist woodlands in deep shade in humus-rich soil. Often found in rock crevices where mulch has accumulated in pockets! Prefers slightly acid, humus-rich soil. Plant 1" deeper than soil level in pot.
Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis): Not fussy about pH but prefers a humus-rich soil and moisture. Grows best in a sheltered area where the early spring sun filters through leafless trees and warms the ground, but where the ground is later protected from sun by tree leaves. Plant 1" deeper than soil level in pot and mulch well.
Spigelia marilandica: Like most woodlanders, it is breathtaking if planted in groups. Prefers moist but well drained, neutral to slightly acid soil (6.0-7.0) in full sun or light shade. Takes a year or two to establish. Mulch well.
Trilliums These are the easiest trilliums to grow. Neutral to slightly acid soil with plenty of humus. Add leaf mold or peat moss to the soil if needed. Choose a site where the sun filters through leafless trees in early spring but has dappled light later on, though it will thrive in light shade all season. Plant 2" deeper than soil level in pot and mulch well (prevents rodent damage). Deer and slugs like trilliums