July Meeting Recap – Made for the Shade

| Monthly Meeting Recaps


Our July 11 chapter meeting program Made for the Shade was co-presented by Charlotte Adelman and Monica Buckley. Charlotte is the author of, The Midwestern Native Garden and the companion book, Midwest Native Shrubs and Trees. Monica is the owner of Red Stem Native Landscapes, a Chicago based company that creates landscapes using our regions native plant species.

Charlotte began the program talking about the harmonious relationships between woodland native plants and pollinators. Woody species host more moths and butterflies than herbaceous plants. Many of these woody natives are shade loving. 

 Some examples she provided of this pollinator-to-woodland native plant connection were:

  • The ruby-throated humming bird migrating north following the blooming of native Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) .
  • The spring azure butterfly and Eastern Tiger swallowtail are provided nectar by woodland Wild Geranium(Geranium maculatum) which blooms early and long. These butterflies then lay their eggs on the neighboring viburnums, dogwoods, and a variety of fruit trees.
  • Fritillary butterfly caterpillars can feed only on violets including several shade loving species such as the Downy Yellow and Birdfoot violets.

Our native species can work well in even the most difficult, hard-to-plant shady areas. Monica offered examples of some of these urban dead spots.

She first discussed this once sad looking residential front yard with water always pooling on the main walkway.  It was transformed when the Red Stem Native Landscapes team redirected the water by installing a swale and
adding an array of moisture-loving native shade plants under the Serviceberry.



Monica then went on to talk of this parkway, originally ugly and barren where foot traffic had erased the lawn. This landscape solution involved several steps.   


  • First the area under the tree was temporarily fenced off.
  • A 3 inch deep mulch made up of leaf compost was laid down for a few weeks (this works better than ordinary mulch as leaf mulch  encourages the growth of necessary bacterial and fungal components).
  • Finally gorgeous but tough shade-loving native plants were added that handled the stresses of the location just fine, while being pleasing to passersby. 




Charlotte & Monica?s suggestions on creating woodland gardens include: 

Put sedges to work in your landscape. Their roots hold water and break through heavy soils. They provide support for other taller plants. Since one-third die every year, they replenish the soil. Although they are cool season plants, you can use them in varying places, wet or dry, sun or shade, spreading or contained. Choose with care from the 114 native species. Some favorites mentioned were Plantain sedge (Carex plantaginea), Star sedge (Carex radii) which grow to 8 inches high. Long- beaked sedge (Carex springle) that grows up to 18 inches tall, and Gray?s sedge (Carex grayi) .  


When adding or replacing a tree, choose from our native oak, hickory, sugar maple or white pine. They advise against planting Norway maples which take up a lot of the water around them. If you cannot remove them, remediate the understory with leaf compost as mentioned above and plant sedges or woodland plants that can co-exist with them. Perhaps ferns and Virginia bluebells in combination. Under pines, you might succeed with, jack-in-the-pulpit, native hydrangea, Bellwort and Star sedge.


 On the subject of ground covers, both speakers strongly suggest that we avoid all cultivars which are defined as “plant species?clones altered for our esthetic”. These include vinca minor, English ivy and winter creeper. Their colored or variegated leaves, minimal fragrance and lack of fruit provide little nutrition for insects & birds. Some can strangle yourtree. In their place experiment with a slate of shade loving native plants such as Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense), Big Leaf Aster (Aster macrophyllus), Wild Stonecrop (Sedum ternatum)   orPennsylvania sedge (Carex pensylvanica). These add color plus wildlife food and residences fromearly spring to late fall.