Some gardeners are veering away from the usual manicured grass lawn bordered by flowers in favor of creating more natural-looking garden spaces. A great way to do this is by planting an understory garden.
The understory of a forest is the plant life that grows beneath the forest canopy. You can mimic the lush environment of a woodland forest floor by creating your own understory garden with plants we have here at Evergreen Nursery. An understory garden adds layers of visual interest and provides a cooler environment, resulting in a calming sight and a great spot to beat the heat.
Blossoms, berries, and interesting leaf textures are some attractive features you might add, depending on your choice of plants. Nandina and Oregon Grape Holly, for instance, are great choices that offer autumn leaf color, spring-summer flowers, and fall-winter berries.
Before you begin your garden, consider the trees you’ll be planting under. Deciduous trees like Crape Myrtle and Flowering Plum will allow more light in the winter when days are shorter, but will require some cleanup of fallen leaves in the fall. Evergreen trees like Wilson Olive and Carrotwood can still allow enough light in, depending on the position in your yard, the height of the canopy and the density of the branches. If necessary, thin tree branches to let in more light. Most shade plants do best with a few hours of sunlight per day, preferably in the morning.
The ideal time to plant an understory garden is when trees are young and haven’t yet developed large roots. If you’re planting under more mature trees, loosen soil carefully around tree roots so not to disturb them. Adding organic matter to existing soil will mimic the soil of a woodland floor, which has a constant supply of decaying plant materials that add nutrients. Choose younger, smaller sized plants that will fit between the existing tree roots and grow along with the trees.
For the best effect, be sure to choose a variety of plants of varying heights. Choose medium-sized shrubs like Viburnum, Euonymous, and Nandina. Integrate them with lower-growing shade plants like Bromeliads, Begonias, Coral Bells, Lily Turf, and Impatiens. Ferns like Lace Fern and Foxtail Fern also add a woodland feel. Choose plants with different leaf colors to add contrast. For the most natural look, plant multiples of each plant, but avoid spacing them too evenly. Some plants can also be kept in containers to control soil and light requirements and to avoid root disturbance.
Next time you’re out for a hike somewhere like Mission Trails or Los Peñasquitos Canyon, take some notes from the lush greenery you find growing under our California native trees. Then come visit us at Evergreen Nursery to begin creating your own understory – we have acres and acres of choices!