Q&A: Ground cover for shade, a spring bulbs Hail Mary
Garden writer Ciscoe Morris answers letters from readers looking for ground cover for shade under conifers, and wondering if it’s too late to plant spring blooming bulbs.
Special to The Seattle Times
Northwest Flower & Garden Show Opening-Night Party: 5-9 p.m. Feb. 4. Buffet dinner, wine bar, live music, auction and an early peak at the display gardens. Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Seattle; $145 members, $165 nonmembers, benefit for the Washington Park Arboretum (www.arboretumfoundation.org).
Northwest Flower & Garden Show: 9 a.m.-8 p.m. Feb. 5-8, 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Feb. 9. Display gardens, marketplace and seminars. Ciscoe Morris speaks Feb. 6 and 8. Washington State Convention Center, 800 Convention Place, Seattle; $22 general admission, various discounts on website, age 12 and under free (www.gardenshow.com).
In the Garden
Q: Is there a ground cover that will grow in the dry shade under a stand of conifers?
A: Between the shady conditions and the tendency of the roots to absorb every bit of moisture and nutrition, it’s extremely difficult to grow anything under a stand of conifers. Aegopodium (bishop’s weed) Lamium (deadnettle) and Euphorbia robbiae are typical ground covers recommended for such tough conditions, but these aggressive growers often take over in areas where they aren’t desired, and can be quite difficult to eradicate. A much better choice is Epimedium (bishop’s cap). Although it resembles a perennial, Epimedium is actually a flowering shrub in the barberry family. Once established, this tough shrub performs beautifully under conifers, forming slowly spreading clumps of attractive foliage. Epimedium comes in a wide variety of sizes, textures and leaf and flower colors, but not all of them are drought tolerant. A good choices for under a stand of conifers includes one of the evergreen varieties of E. rubrum. These typically form 16-inch-tall clumps with leaves that turn gorgeous shades of red in winter. Equally drought tolerant are varieties of the rare but spectacular E. x cantabrigiense reaching approximately the same height and also turning lovely shades of red in the cold season. Once you try Epimedium, don’t be surprised if you start collecting them. Aficionados hunt for rare varieties with spectacularly textural leaves such as E. ‘Spine Tingler’ or E. wushanense. An added bonus of all Epimediums is the early spring flowers. They come in a wide variety of colors and have unique spurs that give them the look of little bishop’s hats. To keep the foliage on your Epimedium looking fresh as well as to allow the flowers to show up better, cut the stems down to the ground in mid-February before the new flowers begin to grow. The fresh new leaves will emerge bronzy pink before turning green in summer.
Q: I just discovered a substantial number of spring blooming bulbs sitting in a box in my garage. Is it too late to plant them now?
A: It’s probably worth planting them, especially if they’re rare bulbs or have special meaning to you, but plant them right away and hope for a cold spring. Typical spring blooming bulbs need to be in the ground for a 16 to 18 week chilling period with temperatures ranging in the 30-50 degree range in order for the flower inside to fully develop. If the chilling time is cut short, the flowers will still emerge, but they won’t be fully formed. Even if the flowers are deformed, all is not lost. The plants will grow, and if you feed heavily, and give them the best care possible this spring, the bulbs may store enough energy to bloom the following year. A lot will depend on the spring weather. As we all know, summer doesn’t even begin until the Fourth of July around here, so it’s possible the bulbs may get a long enough chill period to put on a great display this spring. One thing is for sure: The bulbs won’t survive left in the garage, and the only way to find out if they’ll bloom is to go out and plant them.
Ciscoe Morris: email@example.com “Gardening With Ciscoe” airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.
About Ciscoe Morris
Ciscoe Morris' column runs Thursdays. His show "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. on Saturdays on King 5.