Gardening in Carderock Springs


This article was written in 1990 by long time resident and community activist Jay Stedman. As many of you know, the garden circle on Hamilton Spring Court  was dedicated to Jay. This article was one in a series of articles for the Your Carderock Springs booklet produced by the CSCA in 1990. Others include the History, Development of the Community, Origin of Street Names, Architecture, and Trees of Carderock.

I am indebted to Jay for the wealth of information she passed on to the community. Gardening in Carderock has new challenges with invasive wildlife and plants as well as hotter summers and more frequent droughts. 

From Jay:  One must make decisions with any garden-what to plant, where, and when. If possible, plant deciduous trees to shade the house in the summer and to allow the sun to warm it in the winter. Use evergreen trees and shrubs in the perimeter of the property for privacy and as a backdrop for flowering shrubs and plants. Avoid blocking windows so that light and air may enter. The police recommend avoiding high dense shrubs near the house because criminals seek such hiding places in order to accost homeowners.

When planting trees and shrubs, call “Miss Utility” at 1.800.257.7777 first to be sure you won’t hit electric, telephone, gas or cable lines. Hitting a line could be dangerous, even fatal. Most of us have underground utility lines; however, a few Carderock homes are on roads with overhead wires. So, when planting, look up. The tree you plant may reach those wires in a few years and the utility people are at liberty to cut off the top. It is important to learn not only how high a tree or shrub will be at maturity, but also how wide. It’s hard to believe that the small tree you planted will grow up and out, but it will all too quickly, if in the wrong place.

If your home is surrounded by mature trees and there is shade everywhere, that can be an advantage. To lessen the shade, remove lower branches from most tress. However, magnolias and other trees whose beauty and form are enhanced by limbs touching the ground should be left alone. Some trees are considered “weed trees” and should be removed. Silver maples and wild cherries are examples. Other trees may be removed to give specimen trees more room to grow. All dead and diseased branches should be cut off.

There are degrees of shade. Densely shaded areas receive no sun and few plants will grow. In medium shade areas there would be only a few hours of sun. Light shade areas receive morning sun only or perhaps only filtered light all day. However, there are bulbs, flowers, shrubs and ground covers that will tolerate shade and some will bloom even in dense shade.

Narcissus and tulips are the better known bulbs but there are many other kinds of spring bulbs. These may be planted under deciduous trees because they will bloom after the trees leaf out.

Azaleas and rhododendrons are wonderful plants. They like shade and acid soil and do better when planted away from the house. In full sun, azaleas tend to develop spider mites, a real problem. Rhododendrons appreciate even heavier shade than azaleas. There are other evergreen shrubs that thrive in shade that may be planted by the house- mahonia, leucothoe, pieris, aucuba and nandinas to name a few. These lend themselves to pruning when necessary.

Evergreen trees that prefer shade are yews and hemlocks. Yews come in various forms-spreading, upright and dwarf. Hemlocks can be pruned into hedges or left as specimen trees. Hollies-and there are many kinds-tolerate light shade. Almost all are unisexual and for the female tree to produce berries a male tree must be near. Osmanthus resembles holly. It has small but fragrant flowers in October.

Other kinds of evergreens like sun-pines, spruces, cedars, junipers-and they too have many varieties. Arborvitae is another sun-loving evergreen. They and junipers tend to develop bagworms which can be controlled by hand picking and destroying. Leland cypress has the advantage of being pest-free and although it matures at around 75-feet high, it remains narrow, less than 12 feet in spread. It, too, needs sun.

Among shade-loving deciduous shrubs are vibernums which bloom in the spring and hydrangeas which bloom in the summer. There are many varieties of both. Viburnum caricephalum has a spicy fragrance. Hydrangea macrophylla “Nikko Blue” is especially colorful. Hydrangea Qeurcifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) has large white flower head and its leaves turn dark red. Fothergila is another shrub recommended for our area. Clethra ainifolia (sweet pepper bush) is a summer bloomer.

Cornus florida (dogwood) is native to our area. However a virus called “anthracnose” is attacking them and so far is unable to be controlled. Cornus kousa seems resistant. It has the same kind of flowers but they are on the top of the branches and it blooms after the native dogwoods. These are “understory trees” and should not be planted in full sun although the kousas bloom more heavily with about four to six hours of sun.

Shade-loving flowering perennials are numerous. Of course most do even better with sun. Hemerocallis (daylilies) are fine in light shade. The period of bloom can be extended for weeks by careful selection. Two that are repeat bloomers and bloom into fall are “Stella D’Oro” and “Bitsy”. Hostas thrive though they must be protected against slugs which love them. A later summer-early fall one is “Royal Standard” which has white fragrant blossoms and seems far more resistant to slugs. Helleborus orientalis (Lenten Rose) is another and is easier to grow. Brunnera macrophylla whose flowers resemble forget-me-nots has large attractive leaves as well. Anemones hupehensis (Japanese anemone) are fall bloomers. Sedum “Autumn Joy” which will stand some shade is delightful and long-lasting in the fall. Another fall flower is aconitum (Monkshood). Lobelia cardinalis has brilliant red flowers but is relatively short lived. Its blooms should not be picked but if the plant is happy it will self sow. It likes moisture and light shade. Another spectacular plant is Iris kaempferi (Japanese Iris). It thrives in acid soil and loves wet feet. Monarda (beebalm) takes light shade, is an early summer bloomer and attracts hummingbirds as does Lobelia cardinalis. Aquilegia Canadensis (Canadian columbine), Astilbe Primula (primrose), Heuchera (coral bells) all do well in shade as do Cimicifuga (Snakeroot), Chelone (turtle head), Dicentra spectabilis (large bleeding heart), Dicentra eximia which is smaller but blooms off and on all summer, and Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower). Arisaema triphyllum (jack in the pulpit) has an interesting bloom but its main attraction is a stalk of flaming red berries in the fall. It will grow in medium to dense shade. Begonia grandis is a shade-loving begonia that is a perennial.

As for ground covers and edgings, there are many. Ajuga (bugleweed), Ceratostigma (leadwort) a fall bloomer, Convallaria (lily of the valley) Epimendium-a delight as an edgingn, Hedera heliz (English ivy), Pachasandra where all else fails is well behaved. Liriope muscari (lily turf) and Asperula odorata (sweet woodruff) all do well. Phlox divaricata (woodland phlox) although rabbit’s favorite food, is lovely in the spring.

The ubiquitous Impatiens with its many colors is the best annual for shade. It self sows frequently, is colorful, and doesn’t require care. Begonia semperflorous (wax begonia) is not quite as colorful but also may be ignored. Coleus is a reliable, primarily a foliage plant, but its foliage comes in many color combinations.

The above trees, shrubs, and flowers are only a partial sampling of plant materials useful in shade gardens and represent some of the ones I have in our garden and find desirable.

Mulching is the greatest favor one can give a garden. Mulch makes for more consistent temperatures. It preserves moisture and coolness in the summer and helps prevent weeds. By adding more mulch once there is a heavy freeze one helps offset the alternating freezing and thawing that can occur in our winters. In early spring, the mulch can be worked into the soil loosening and enriching it. Once summer starts, a layer of mulch should be added and the procedure started anew. Christmas trees cut up and placed over perennials protect them over the winter as do fallen leaves. However, both evergreen branches and dead leaves should be removed gradually in March as insects and diseases may thrive beneath them. HAPPY GARDENING!

Long & Foster Real Estate, Inc.

Mary Lou Shannon

4650 East West HighwayBethesdaMD20814
Cell:(301) 509-5800
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