The Impatient Gardener: September 2017

28 September 2017


There is a school of thought, which I wholeheartedly subscribe to, that the activities we enjoy for a lifetime are those that are difficult to master and that constantly have us striving to know more, or perform better. There's no doubt in my mind that gardening falls under this category. But if I were so blazen as to start thinking I know it all, you can be sure that Mother Nature would put me firmly back in my place. 

No year in the garden is the same as another. And suddenly, almost out of the blue, I find myself facing a new garden menace that I've never found to be a threat before.

A little over a week ago, I posted this photo of my 'Serkan' dahlias looking great on Instagram. One commenter remarked on the cute bug and wanted to know if it was eating the dahlias. My reply was that there's clearly evidence of something munching, but I didn't think it was an issue.

Let me tell you: It's an issue. 

Here's another 'Serkan' just a few days later.

The bug is a spotted cucumber beetle and I've certainly seen them before, but I've never witnessed them either in such quantity or be so damaging.

When I walk near these dahlias—and it's odd because so far they've only done this kind of damage on these dahlias, not the dozen or so other varieties that grow nearby—hundreds, if not thousands, fly up as I interrupt their feeding frenzy.

Of course my first thought was, "What the heck are cucumber beetles doing eating my dahlias?" particularly when my cucumbers seem to be unaffected.

After doing a little digging, it appears that they don't have a problem eating flowers and can be found on the flowers of many ornamental plants. Why this picked this dahlia to harass, I have no idea.

There is some good news. Spotted cucumber beetles (unlike their trendy striped cousins) do not overwinter here. Apparently the adults fly up from the south in mid-summer, lay their eggs in weedy or grassy areas where the larvae hang out until it gets dry and then they fly off to terrorize gardens. We've had a very wet summer until the past very dry few weeks, so the timing seems to make sense.

They even seem to have settled in on a new bud, waiting to lay waste to my beautiful flowers.

In terms of controlling them, none of the options seem particularly useful or helpful. Handpicking is mentioned as an option, and I have no problem with that as I've been squishing sawfly larvae and handpicking Japanese beetles all summer, but I just don't get how that works when the things fly away as soon as I get close. Putting out sticky insect-catching tape by itself or lining the inside of a plastic cup (I knew Red Solo cups would make their way into gardens soon enough, as they seem to have infiltrated every other aspect of society) and perching it upside down on a stake are also said to be options for catching them.

Everything else involves pretty nasty non-selective insecticides that I'm not interested in using in my garden.

To be honest, there's not much chance of saving these dahlias at this point. I could cut them back and maybe get one more bloom out of them if I could get rid of the beetles, but so far that seems unlikely. Soon enough the beetles will either die or move on, and hopefully not in my yard, and the problem will solve itself.

Just one more new challenge in the garden.

More reading on managing spotted cucumber beetles:
University of Minnesota Extension
University of Maryland Extension


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26 September 2017


It's an unsettling time in the garden. Part of me looks around, thinks about all the tasks that must get done before it gets too cold out to want to do them and wants to just get on with it, and the other part of me realizes that the garden is still looking fantastic. 

And a walk around the garden shows that the best looking plants right now are also, in general, among the easiest to care for. In fact, with one exception, the most I have deal with any of these plants is once a year. That's it. One tiny little bit of attention paid to them once.

Anything that requires that little care and provides this much pleasure is surely an all-star.

Korean feather reed grass is full of the most lovely fluffy flowerheads right now. The only thing I do to it is cut it back in late winter or very early spring. I supposed some day I'll have to divide it, but that's a rarity.

It provides a great backdrop to the thick, ruffly leaves of Gingko biloba 'Gnome'. Or is it the other way around?

Hydrangeas are the gift that keeps on giving. I can't imagine a garden without them. The panicle hydrangeas in particular shine at this time of year. This is 'Bobo', which is now in its fourth month of bloom (seriously, it started in June) and is now showing almost neon pink coloring.

'Quickfire' hydrangea has been pink for at least a month (hence the name), and is still looking great.

Hakonechloa is a good-doer all around, but 'All Gold' in particular shines in autumn light. Again, all I do to it is cut it back in late winter and I only divide it when I want more of it, which it happily provides.

Hakonechloa macra 'Stripe it Rich' gets great seed heads this time of year.

While all the plants around it are starting to look tattered, especially the slug-damaged hostas and the deer-munched 'Incrediball' hydrangeas, the groundcover Lamium maculatum 'Pink Chablis', seems to always look fresh and lively.

It wouldn't be early fall in the garden without Rudbeckia. It's the standard by which all fall-blooming perennials should be measured. I cut it back in spring, leaving the stems standing for the birds and winter interest.

Sedums just sit back as the unnoticed wallflowers all summer, but come early fall, they are stars. I also leave the standing over winter and I try to cut them back in about June to keep them a little stockier and prevent flopping.

Not all that is beautiful in the early fall garden is foliage or flower. These berries on Viburnun x juddii are so bright and shiny. I will enjoy them until the birds find them. I literally do nothing to this shrub other than admire it. What more can you ask for?

Roses hardly fall under the "low maintenance" category that the rest of these plants fall under, but it would be remiss of me to ignore them in a listing of the best plants in the garden in early fall. Here in zone 5, now is the time when most roses get a stunning second flush of flowers, so long as the gardener has been diligent about deadheading earlier in the year. This is 'The Alnwick Rose', which I planted in late spring.

Nature has a way of reminding us to enjoy every day and not rush to what's coming next. Plants like this are proof.


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22 September 2017


I used to dig in my garden, unearth a worm and be delighted. I took it as a pat on the back for my hard work in making good soil that earthworms would want to be in doing their good work. But for the past year or so that delight has been gone. It has been replaced with dread. Dread that one of those worms would be unlike any other worm I'd encountered in my garden before.

A few years ago the first so-called jumping worms (aka Amynthas agrestis) were spotted in Wisconsin. They'd made their way here originally from Asia with stops in many northeastern and Midwest states and now at least Oregon in the Northwest. Call them crazy worms, Alabama jumpers, Jersey wigglers, snake worms or some variation of those, but I'll tell you what I call them: Bad news.

Wisconsin DNR graphic

These worms, which hang out on the upper layers of soil, are massive digesters of soil. This is not a good thing. What they leave behind is loose soil resembling coffee grounds and largely devoid of nutrients. Give them a little time and they destroy the composition of the soil to the point where plants are no longer anchored.

They reproduce without mating, laying impossible-to-find cocoons in the soil that overwinter even in cold areas, and oh, by the way, they mature so quickly that two generations can be produced in one season. They do their damage quickly.

Earlier this year, Jeff Epping, director of horticulture at Madison, Wisconsin's Olbrich Botanical Garden, where the worms were found a couple years ago, reported that a 5-year-old stand of Arborvitaes in the garden were all leaning to the east after a strong storm with west winds. These trees, which should have been well rooted, appeared to have been rocked because they aren't properly anchored in the loose soil. And Epping has dealt with them in his own garden. In May he reported on the damage he's noticed.

"I am also living with them in my home garden and have noticed very significant changes in my soil in parts of my garden," he wrote. "My soil structure has changed from typical silt loam soil to a granular, almost sandlike loose structure. The granules are so loose that I can easily scoop my hand into the top 3 to 5 inches of soil with minimal effort. The soil granules also seem to be a bit hydrophobic and certainly not moisture retentive. During periods of drought in the summer the plants in the worst jumping worm areas suffer from lack of moisture, way more than the areas where the worms are less concentrated."

In other words, no way in hell do I want these things in my garden. The odds, however, are not my favor. In fact, it's probably more of a matter of delaying the inevitable, because the worms are close. I knew they had been found in our county, but last week as I was working in a garden maintained by our master gardener group, I found a very suspicious worm. My master gardener training suggests that what I should have done was carefully collect the worm, study it to see if it matched the description of a jumping worm, photograph it, then put it in a Ziploc bag for further identification if needed and to solarize it before disposal (yeah, that means what you think it means: Cook it in a plastic bag in the sun). Instead what I did was scream, jump around, flip it onto the sidewalk, poke it to see how it moved, take a couple videos of it, squish it and throw it in the busy street. Because I'll be honest, I'm grossed out and I'm freaked out.

I'm waiting for positive confirmation from the DNR, but I have no doubt it's a jumping worm. When I went back later I found the distinctive coffee-ground soil and four more worms without looking hard. With my wits about me (and, um, another gardener with gloves) we bagged these.

Sidenote: Literally in the middle of writing this I received a call from my sister-in-law, who lives a couple miles from the garden I was working in and about 10 miles from my house, that she found several jumping worms.

Here's a really gross video from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Right now, my focus is on crossing my fingers that I can keep them out of my garden a bit longer and that means that I'm taking a lot of precautions.

Here's what I'm doing:

  1. No more passalong plants (probably). This is sad because this is how I get a lot of plants from family and friends. If I have to get a plant from someone I will root wash it at its garden of origin and then either pot it up in potting mix or take it home and immediately plant it. 
  2. No more plant sales. A lot of plant sales in the area were cancelled last year in order to slow the spread of jumping worms. They don't hatch until about mid-June here, which is after many sales happen, so it would not be difficult to take some eggs home in a pot with a new plant.
  3. Practicing OCD levels of garden cleanliness. When I work at the garden where I believe I spotted the worms I scrub all my tools, removing every speck of dirty. Same for my shoes and I have a pair of gloves I will only use there. All material collected there (weeds, deadheaded flowers, other detritus) is bagged for disposal. This as far as the DNR instructions go, but I'm taking the extra step of sterilizing everything with Lysol as well. I told you: OCD.
  4. I won't bring any commercial mulch onto my property. I'll still use so-called arborist chips from  trees we cut down here, but that's it. It is believed that the worms cannot withstand extreme heat, meaning that most commercial mulch should be OK, but it is believed they are still being transported this way (and I suspect that's how we got them at the garden downtown).
Jumping worms are shiny, even iridescent, and have a white or light collar that is flush with their body. In other words, really gross.

So what do you need to be on the lookout for if you live in an area where jumping worms have been found? Here's how you can identify them:
  • Look for the grainy, coffee-ground like soil at the surface. 
  • The worms will be in the top layer of soil just hanging out waiting to ruin some gardener's day. 
  • When you disturb one, they will behave unlike other worms, thrashing and writhing.
  • There will often be clusters of them.
  • They slither like snakes.
  • (This one is perhaps the most horrifying.) Sometimes when you pick one up their tails will break off and keep wriggling in your hand. You will know if this happens to me if I disappear for several days, having passed out and probably gotten a head injury.
  • They are shiny and almost iridescent. 
  • The band around them (called the clitellum) is white or light and smooth, whereas it is raised on other worms. It also encircles the body of a jumping worm where it is incomplete on other worms.
What to do if you find them:
  • Collect them for positive identification in a sealable plastic bag. Take a picture if need be, then repot them to your state DNR or extension master gardener service.When you're done with the worms, put the bag in the sun to kill the worms, then throw it away intact.
  • Repeat this as you find more. Anything you can do to slow the spread is important.
  • Be vigilant about cleaning your tools, even among areas in your garden if possible. 
  • Don't share plants from your garden. If you must, root wash them and remove all soil before repotting them or passing them on.
  • Try not to scream and freak out like a certain blogger may have.
Invasive species (both flora and fauna) happen, unfortunately. Rarely do we want to deal with them, but they are a fact of life. This one is particularly scary because it can do such serious damage (which goes well beyond the impact on gardeners; it could be catastrophic for agriculture) and as of now, there's no real method of control. 

I'll do my best to delay their arrival in my garden, look suspiciously upon every worm I encounter and yes, I'll probably scream, swear and generally freak out when the day comes that I find them. Some days that's just how it goes in the garden.

More information on jumping worms:


19 September 2017


Longtime readers will know that I'm not one to rush the seasons (other than winter, which I'm happy to mentally check out of sometime around January 5), but we need to talk about autumn. And maybe a little bit about spring. Because even though my garden is currently enjoying a very summerlike couple of weeks, the autumnal equinox is Friday, which means it's time to get serious about fall garden jobs.
daffodil study
Some of my favorite daffodils that I grew last year, including three split corona varieties and one multi-flowered variety.

And among all the less-than-pleasant jobs (endless raking, anyone?) is one that I guarantee will bring you more satisfaction than any other: bulb planting. OK, so you'll have to wait a few months for the real satisfaction but I promise that there is nothing better seeing the first flowers pop up in spring when the rest of the world is gray.

Because I live in an area with a lot of deer and, more recently, a healthy rabbit population as well, I only plant bulbs that are critter resistant. I can protect my garden in summer from animal browsing by using animal repellents, but I'm not going to pull on my parka in late winter or early spring to go out and spray flowers. That means that my go-to fall-planted bulbs are daffodils and alliums, both of which I can all but guarantee won't be eaten by anything.

naturalizing daffodils
A naturalizing daffodil mix I planted in a wooded area last fall bloomed for months in spring, starting with these yellow trumpet daffodils before they gave way to all sort of other varieties.

When planting almost any bulb, my advice is the same: think drifts, not dots. There is something so spectacular about swaths of flowers in spring. Some bulbs naturalize better than others, so last fall I planted a naturalizing mix in the woodsy area along the driveway. They were fabulous last spring, but I anticipate they will get even better as they multiple in future years.

An exotic and unusual double with orange accents.
Daffodils are tough buggers, as this one that seemed intent on blooming through a nest of mayapples proved. 

There are "fancier" daffodils out there as well, and those I like to save for areas closer to the house where their finer details can be admired. The doubles look like roses, the miniatures are charming and sweet and those with reflex petals are downright intriguing. But last year I discovered a group of daffodils that really stole my heart: the split coronas. I can't explain why I had never paid much attention to this before, but last spring they were the real standouts for me.

mount everest allium
'Mount Everest' allium was a lovely addition to this part of the garden in early summer. 

purple sensation
'Purple Sensation' alliums looked great from afar and up close. 

If daffodils are the good-doers of spring, alliums are the statement pieces of early summer. Although they come in myriad forms and a handful of colors from deep purple to blue and snow white to pale pink (with the occasional yellow and maroon thrown in), all alliums do one thing better than any other flower: draw your eye. Be they tall like 'Globemaster' or 'Gladiator' or shorter in stature like 'Ivory Queen', just the form of alliums is an attention-getter. I let them stand in the garden long after their flowers have faded as even the dried flowers add important texture.

Quick aside: Here's the how-to on my favorite way to plant bulbs. When you buy them in massive quantities as I tend to do, you have to find an efficient way to get them in the ground and this is fast!

OK, you're sold (as you should be!). But if you're expecting me to tell you to get out there and start planting, you're going to be disappointed. Because in most places in the U.S., it's still too early. You want your bulbs to have time to settle in, but you don't want them thinking, "Hey, it's go time!" I wait until there is a decided nip in the air, usually before a frost. That puts my personal bulb planting time around mid-October, although you can plant them right up until the ground is frozen if you really have to. So why the rush on talking about bulbs now? Because if you don't buy them now, all the good stuff will be gone by the time you do.

So here's me, telling you to shop. Seriously ... go for it, and I promise you will thank me come spring.

To help get you started, Longfield Gardens has agreed to give a selection of daffodils and alliums to two lucky readers. I'll be giving away one Naturalizing Daffodil Mix with 100 bulbs, perfect for creating a swath of gorgeous blooms that should multiple over the years, and one Amazing Allium Mix with 63 bulbs of four varieties of alliums, including 'Christophii', which is a favorite of mine.

Enter using the widget below. There are a lot of ways to enter to maximize your chances, but if you're short on time all you have to do is log in and click and you're in!

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15 September 2017


It's been a busy late summer so I haven't spent as much time on the internet as I might have otherwise and therefore there wasn't a lot of finds to share with you, but this week there's some can't miss stuff I want to share.

First off, don't miss the most charming little garden and plant show in Belgium, compliments of Rob from Detroit Garden Works. He's on a buying trip which means soon there will be pictures of all his amazing finds. What I wouldn't give to tagalong on that trip!

Nick at Thinking Outside the Boxwood shared some amazing containers he came across recently in Boston. Lots of good container inspiration to be had.

Speaking of containers, I shared some out-of-the-box ideas for fall containers on the Proven Beauty blog last weekend. Don't tell anyone, but I'm a little sick of mums and kale with a pumpkin jammed in. One never knows what the weather will bring but last year we didn't get a killing frost until mid-November. If that were to happen again, I'd get two and a half months out of new fall-planted containers and that's well worth it to me.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is always fun to see, and I urge you to check out Lisa's contribution at Greenbow Gardens. Her 'Fireworks' Solidago (aka goldenrod) is outstanding. I wish more people would appreciate that plant. Check out all the linked gardens at host May Dreams Gardens.

I haven't said anything about the impact of the hurricanes on The Impatient Gardener blog or social media channels, not because I don't care, but because I like to think of this as a place people can escape the worst of what is going on in the world. The devastation from both Harvey and Irma is terrible to see, and I'm particularly heartbroken to see what happened in parts of the Caribbean, which have far fewer resources helping than in the U.S. But this story about the damage to the Naples Botanical Garden is sad. I go there almost every year when I'm in Naples visiting family (who are fine, thankfully) so I'm sad to see what happened there.

But I don't want to leave on a sad note. Tanya at Lovely Greens (that's her above) has a great post chock-a-block with fall gardening tips and inspiration, so do check it out.

The weather here is for summer this weekend you know I'm excited about that! I'll be soaking up the sun on land and water, with some time in my garden and maybe a few others. What are you up to this weekend?

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Two things happened on the same day earlier this week that once again reinforced my "garden for yourself" school of thought.

First, I read Garden Media Group's analysis of the gardening trends they see for 2018. One of the things it seems to show is that the trend toward a less cultivated style of gardening is growing. I think we have Piet Oudolf and the new perennial garden movement to thank for that. A few weeds are OK, leave some things standing for the birds and keep nature in mind.

Then, as I was walking out the door on a very foggy morning, I snapped a quick picture of the patio garden, which is looking quite nice for this time of year. Like a lot of gardeners, I take a lot of closeup photos, often at the expense of the larger view (a forest for the trees, situation, if you will). So it was sort of nice to force myself to see this area in a photo and be generally pleased with what I saw.

So I started thinking about the garden trends I had just read about. Granted, this report is created with the garden industry in mind. It's meant to help people in the business better target their customers wants and needs and to help garden media understand what kinds of things consumers are interested in. Still, I can't imagine a major change in my overall gardening style happening at this point.

This was the first garden I "developed" when we bought the house and I've shared a lot of the failures and successes in it on this blog. I'd say there have been a lot more disappointments than pleasant surprises in this garden, a factor of my inexperience in its original creation and an unwillingness to start from scratch.

There are still challenges, but I think this is as good as this part of the garden has looked. I'm onto something—finally—and no amount of trend following is going to change that.

Of course I could always use that report to feel a little better about the fact that there is always a weed lurking in there. And there is, perhaps, one other advantage to embracing that report, as it relates to my garden. Earlier this year, when I shared a less flattering photo of this garden on Facebook, one reader told me, "Sorry, it just looks like a bunch of weeds." If I had known then what I know now, I could have told her I was just embracing a trend.

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12 September 2017


You know how annuals at nurseries can look when things start getting picked over? Generally sad. It's hard for nurseries to keep up on the watering, it's getting hotter out making that even more difficult, and they might all be bunched up growing together. 

That's how you get plants like this Supertunia Indigo Charm. It's a favorite of mine (in my opinion all the "Charm" series of Supertunias are better performers than Superbells but look similar), but when I got around to picking it up toward the end of June the plants weren't looking their best.

It was a little leggy and the leaves were not as green as they probably should have been. In short, it was stressed. 

Here's what it looked like from above.

Sometimes when a plant is already looking a bit straggly, the best thing to do is cut it back right away, and that's exactly what I did with this one. Here's what it looked like after its haircut.

Then I potted it up by itself in a 10-inch (or so) pot, gave it some water, fertilized it every so often (whenever I fertilized my other container plants, which is whenever I thought of it) and just sat back and let it do its thing.

And did it ever. Here's what it looked like last week. I put the original pot next to it for scale.

I love how the flowers fade out a little so the overall effect is a two-tone plant.

So don't be afraid to pick up a less-than-perfect annual at the nursery. It might just turn out to be a stunner.

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06 September 2017


Like most gardeners, for me this time of year is as much about late season chores like dividing and moving as it is about making notes of what worked and what didn't. It's always amazing to me how different the garden looks in September compared to what it looked like in June.

Back in June I wouldn't have noticed this spot in the garden because it was nothing special. But now it is an area worth noting. To me, this combination has all the best aspects of texture, color and structure.

This is the end of the path by the garage, on the four feet or so of garden that borders that part of the path. On the edge is a fluffy, finely textured grass similar to Mexican feather grass (Nassella tenuissima). Mexican feather grass is a lovely annual in my zone 5 garden, but in many other places it is highly invasive and should not be planted. Unfortunately I can't tell you what grass this is because, um, I lost the tag (seriously ... every time!). I know it's not hardy here though, and that's fine because this is a tough spot for a plant to live, what with snow being piled on it from clearing the path.

The specific grass doesn't much matter because there are probably a dozen that could offer the same look. Beyond it is a grouping of sedums, both 'Autumn Joy', the darker of the two, and 'Neon'. All of them were planted from cuttings, which is to say I pruned some in another area and stuck the prunings in the ground. With sedums like this, it's just that simple. The paler florets are areas where I cut the plant back in June to give me a longer period of blooming and keep the plants from flopping.

Short of watering the grasses in when I planted them and cutting back some of the sedums once, I've not done anything more than walk past this area all summer.

I just don't know how you can get better than that: a beautiful moment in the garden for basically no effort. It's one worth noting.

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05 September 2017


I've been considering the entrance to our house lately. It's not pretty. We have a longish driveway so landscaping the areas that we don't regularly look at ourselves has not been high on the priority list. We also live on a private road shared with our neighbors so curb appeal is not a high priority.

But not making the entrance to the property look pretty because few people see it is a little like not having a nice bedroom because only you see it. At some point pride of ownership comes into play.

We're currently considering removing a few trees that are within a couple feet of the power lines. These are very large spruces that are generally unhealthy and not that good looking because they've been sheared on one side by the power company. It's not pretty, but it's better than weeds. What would be even better is a low-maintenance, deer-resistant garden that would look nice from the road and provide some screening so we don't have to see the cars drive by.

The area on the right side of the picture is where we are considering removing the tree with the yellow tape and planting some screening to make the entrance look nicer and the block to the view to (and from) the house a bit.

But this area is part sun, at best. And therein lies the problem. Because almost anyone can suggest evergreen screening plants for full sun, but when you get to shadier spots, the options decrease. And if you add in another requirement, like deer resistance, then you're really limited. And when you get to a situation like very dry shade, perhaps under a large tree, you're probably better off thinking about a fence or containers.

This is the view as you enter our driveway. Not exactly the most welcoming. The shed belongs to our neighbors and right now it's the focal point of the entrance (along with the scrubby looking tree). Removing the tree would allow us to make a small garden area with screening plants and a few other deer-resistant perennials to make it look a little more welcoming.

The other problem with choosing evergreens is that they never really stop growing, it's just a matter of how fast they grow. Most tags on evergreens list the size as "X feet in 10 years." Which means you can probably expect it to be double that in 20 years. And if you're looking for screening, you're looking for rapid growth, but it might not take long before your screen is too tall and you have to start from scratch.

In some cases, optimal conditions for a shrub or tree might not be possible, but you might still be able to grow it, so long as you understand it won't fully live up to its potential.

Here are a few evergreen trees and shrubs that can work for that most challenging of spots:


When it comes to screening, boxwoods have so many attributes in the "pro" column. Their dense, finely-texture foliage is beautiful and will provide a total block of whatever is behind it. They are also distasteful to even to hungriest and dumbest deer, and they are happy in part shade to full sun.

Sadly, though, the "con" list is equally long. In areas where very hardy varieties are required, even the largest varieties—'Green Mountain' and 'Winter Gem' to name a couple—only get to about 5 or 6 feet tall, so for screening they only work for unpleasantness that's lower to the ground (unless you plant them on a berm). Gardeners in warmer zones in which the B. sempervirens varieties will thrive can grow others that are said to get to 10 feet tall in 25 years, which is great but that's a long wait! They are also challenging on the budget, particularly if you choose large specimens, which isn't a bad idea because they aren't the fastest growers. To get a mature, tall boxwood, you're probably looking at spending hundreds of dollars. And there's one more issue with boxwoods: boxwood blight. This fungal disease is spreading through the U.S. (after decimating hedges across England) and how far it will spread is unknown.

There are many varieties, with varying characteristics, but they can be found hardy from zone 4 to 8.


'Viridis' yew

Yews have a bad reputation for turning into giant green blobs that eat houses, but don't hold them all accountable for that bad behavior. There are many yews available that can provide screening without becoming shapeless behemoths and a bit of pruning certainly helps as well.

Taxus x media 'Hicksii' (zone 4-7) is a columnar form of yew that can reach about 20 feet tall in 20 years, which is a nice height for screening without blocking too much light. More typically you'll see them in the 9- to 12-foot range. Although can grow happily in low-light conditions, they won't tolerate wet soil, so good drainage is a must.

Taxus x media 'Viridis' is very columnar, getting about 10 feet tall but only two feet wide, which can work for some partial screening, or screening as part of a larger planting.

Yews are generally not tasty to deer (and in fact some parts are said to be toxic), but don't count on that being a certainty. I've seen plenty of yews in our area chewed to nubs during winter when there's less food available for our local, hungry herd of deer.

'Geneva' hemlock

Hemlocks will be much happier in cooler climates, so those in zone 7 or warmer may want to consider something else. They are happy without afternoon sun beating on them, so a partly shaded spot is perfect. Tsuga canadensis can get enormous, so unless you're looking for that, a better option is some of the smaller-growing cultivars, including 'Geneva', which gets 8 to 15 feet high and wide. It does have a center leader but can often end up a bit more blobbish, which might be just fine.

This is another one that is said to be deer resistant, but take that with a grain of salt.


You won't find a lot of Arborvitaes that claim to grow in part shade, but they will. Now, that doesn't mean they'll grow as quickly (one of the main reasons people like them) as they might in sun, but they do grow.

The main problem with them, as far as I'm concerned, is that they are irresistible to deer. Although some varieties like 'Green Giant' claim to be deer resistant no one has informed the deer of that and within a few days I've seen them turn nicely shaped trees into lollipops. That might not be so bad. You could always plant some truly deer resistant low shrubs and perennials to cover the bare legs of an Arborvitae and just plan on having the tree's foliage start at about the 6- or 7-foot mark, and there's plenty of this going on in my neighborhood. I've also seen people ressurect trees that have been decimated by deer browsing by protecting them with fencing in winter and giving them a few years to recover.

If there's a knock against Arborvitae other than the deer, it may be that it grows too fast. They can quickly shoot up to 40 feet, and then you may be back where you started from.


Some fir trees will do well in part shade, including Abies concolor. I've never grown this tree but in reading about it, it sounds finicky to me. Here's some information about conditions it prefers from the Missouri Botanical Garden: "Best grown in rich, medium moisture, slightly acidic, sandy/gravelly, well-drained soils in full sun to part shade." Oh, is that all? I thought maybe it would like me to bring it a cup of coffee every morning precisely at 7 a.m. too.

Still, they are beautiful trees, hardy in zones 4 to 7, and slowly growing to quite a large size, so it might be a consideration. Said to be deer resistant in most cases as well.

picea glauca conica
Picea glauca 'Conica'

Many spruces will not tolerate anything less than full sun, but white spruce, Picea glauca (zone 3 to 6, generally), is more tolerant of less than full sun. I rate spruces high on the list of good trees to grow in my zone 5 because my property is full of them (one sure way to know that something will grow where you live is to look around and see what's been there for a long time) and I know the deer don't touch them.

But some spruces have that problem that is particularly challenging for an impatient gardener like myself: They tend to grow slowly (some only 2 to 4 inches a year). That means that you have to buy a pretty big specimen to get the screening you desire, and of course that's expensive, more challenging for the tree to get established and, frankly, a bigger hole to dig. These are another tree that will grow better in cooler locations and won't be happy in hot summers.

There are many great cultivars available, too many to list here.

There just isn't a perfect plant for this kind of tricky spot. That's why I like the idea of a mixed hedge of sorts, incorporating evergreen screening, with tough shrubs and perennials. Working with a variety of plant types can help make up for the shortcomings of less-than-perfect options.

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