Shady areas under trees and shrubs can be a problem, but by selecting the right plants and arranging them in the correct way you can turn a bare patch into a colorful feature. The secret is to “think mosaic” according to Margaret Roach who has drawn up this list of ten tips for underplanting trees and shrubs. The tips come from her article which I found on her A Way to Garden website.
1. No ring-around-the-rosey, thanks anyway. Rather than circling the dripline of trees or shrubs (or a group of trees and shrubs) with groundcovers and bulbs and such, you have to get all the way in there, even right up against the trunk (like this old apple?s above), to make it look UN-manmade?as if it just happened.
2. No polka-dots (except at first): Like I said, It?s all about learning to ?think mosaic,? which doesn?t mean polkadots of onesies, but sweeps and drifts and deliberate repetition of said sweeps and drifts. At first, though (as above in a newly laid-out bed under an unseen smokebush) no matter how many plants you buy or what you feed them, the new underplanting will look like hell (well, like polka-dots). Which leads to the next lesson:
3. Patience is required. (If you did not know that already, I suspect you have not started a single seed, let alone planted a young tree.) This gardening nonsense is all about patience?frankly I think it?s a patience-building practice more than anything else. Your bed will look better next year, and almost great two or three years after planting. After the fourth year you can start harvesting divisions of some plants to repeat your success elsewhere.
3a. Notice I say ?divisions,? because when working in the root zone of trees and even established shrubs, you want to work with a small trowel or a hori-hori, and plant small things. I use divisions made from older plants, or order ?liners? from my nursery (the baby plants they get wholesale in late winter, then grow on in their greenhouses to sell to you). No digging with a shovel (or tiller, heaven forbid) in root zones. Again, patience is required, and a gentle hand, too.
See more at A Way to Garden