I have a ravine type back yard. Three levels. The third level is very shady and dry. There is one very big tree, probably over 50 years and one pine tree. It grows lots of weeds. What should I do with it? Ground cover? wood chips? I want it to look pretty but not spend so much time cleaning it up. I would sort of like it maintenance free. Any suggestions would be very much appreciated.
Thank you for your question for Toronto Master Gardeners
Dry shade is a topic of great interest to many Toronto gardeners, so you might want to cruise our website to see what other people have been advised to do: https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca Just scroll down and on the right you’ll see categories of our most frequently asked questions.
Basically, you can change the conditions or live with them, and I can see you would like to live with them. A simple and beautiful way to solve your problem is to plant groups of perennial groundcover so you will have swaths of colour all season long. In the fall, all you need to do is add two inches of compost without disturbing the soil or the crowns of the plants. Low maintenance rule: let the worms do the work of making the soil.
My favourite tried and true plants for dry shade are : Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum biflorum), perennial Geranium, especially big-root geranium (G. macrorrhizum) Wild ginger (Asarum canadense), bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis), Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis) and Hosta (bright varieties look best in shade). These are just a few suggestions. A mix of foliage size and shapes will give the best effect. You can use many of the flowers and leaves for indoor bouquets. Place three stems of Solomon’s Seal in a tall vase and your friends will think you have a degree in design.
Please avoid invasive plants. To see the excellent garden guide – Grow me instead – which lists invasive species as well as the preferred alternatives, click here.
Periwinkle (Vinca minor) and goutweed (Aegopodium podagraria) can take over from and choke out our native plants. We realize that many invasive plants are available for purchase at local nurseries (Go figure!) so you may want to keep this list when you go shopping for groundcover.
Best of luck and let us know how it looks next June!