Small garden area, huge tree

(Question)

I am so sorry. I can’t localize your answer to my question (email) about what to plant in a small garden, facing south, with a huge tree.
My apologies.
Fatima

(Answer)

Hi – In order to make plant recommendations, we need to understand the conditions of your garden bed (sun, shade, dry, moist, windy, sandy, clay) as well as the hardiness zone of your location. In terms of hardiness zone, Toronto is generally considered a zone 6.  (If you’d like to read more on plant hardiness zones, I’ve included a link below to a good post on our web site on this topic.) So plants hardy in zone 6 or lower should survive a Toronto winter although other conditions will also affect their survival.

In terms of your growing conditions, what I can tell from your photo is that the large tree is shading the garden. As you are south facing, plants at the front of the garden may receive full sun.  Any plants in your bed are competing with the roots of your tree for moisture so this is likely a dry shade bed.  If you’re not sure about the type of soil in your bed (sand, clay etc.) look for plants that thrive in a variety of soil conditions.

In the case of your chrysanthemums, there are a wide variety of chrysanthemums available. Some are hardy but many are intended to be grown as annuals.  ‘Mums’ require full sun, well drained soil and with their shallow root system they can’t tolerate prolonged drought – so not good candidates for a dry shade situation.

The link below will take you to our gardening guide on plants for shade.  You’ll see that there are lots to choose from.  I have dry shade in my garden and one plant that does particularly well for me is Epimedium (commonly called Barrenwort). I grow both a red/pink barrenwort (Epimedium x rubrum) and a yellow one (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’). The delicate flowers bloom in the spring but the heart shaped leaves are interesting all season. They emerge red tinged in the spring, mature to green and turn red in the fall.  Epimedium spreads slowly to create a ground cover and is particularly effective under trees.

https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/perennials-for-shade-in-dry-or-moist-areas-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/

I’m also including a link to our gardening guide on perennials for full sun in case the front of your bed does get six or more hours of direct sunlight each day.  A sun loving plant I particularly like is Sedum, commonly called Stonecrop.  There are many sedums available, both low growing ground cover types and larger specimen varieties.  The larger varieties are typically fall blooming and the dried blooms continue to look attractive into the winter.

https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/gardeningguides/perennials-for-full-sun-a-toronto-master-gardeners-guide/

Both Epimediums and Sedums should be readily available in any garden centre with a good perennial selection.  Have a great gardening season!

https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/askagardener/plant-hardiness-zones/