Blog: Gardening in the Woods

May 17, 2016
Woodland Garden
Photo by Pixabay


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Gardening in the woods can be a challenge, especially when you love plants and flowers. But the forest is where I choose to live; it provides great shelter for many birds and critters that we love to watch, so I don’t intend to clear the property of a lot of trees just to have a huge garden.

Instead, my ultimate goal is to create a series of smaller gardens that blend with the existing landscape, which is full of ferns, mosses, and evergreens, and to use this natural growth to enhance some of my favorite plants. My husband has cut trees selectively so that we have a few spots of 6-hour sunlight, and we have grabbed these spaces for a large patch of grass and an assortment of perennials, such as roses and daylilies and some flowering shrubs.

We had to study the landscape surrounding our house for an entire season to discover the best spaces for planting sun-lovers. Then we chose other, semishaded, areas for planting sedums, heucheras, hostas, astilbes, lamiums, fern-leaf bleeding hearts, hydrangeas, columbines, and a variety of other plants.

An instant garden was impossible. We had to bring in loam and spread it 8 to 10 inches deep, as the woodland “soil” was much too compact, but all of the work was worth it. In my 28 years’ worth of gardening efforts at this house, I have learned a lot about plant needs; my plants are doing well, earthworms are creating very nice soil for us, and we have discovered blueberry and raspberry bushes growing wild at the edge of the woods.

Overcrowding is something I hadn’t planned on, but my long-delayed project for this gardening season will be to find some new spaces for plants that are now squeezed and to relocate others that are once again in too much shade, not forgetting to leave space for toad houses, dahlias, and pots of colorful annuals.

My husband will be busy clearing crowded and overgrown areas, as we try to reclaim some lost space and that disappearing sunlight. The gardens are constantly moving and changing, and I love to watch it all.

It would be wonderful to hear about your garden—your goals, challenges, and experiences. Whether you garden in the woods or garden in containers, please share. Happy gardening to all of you.

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Your Old Farmer's Almanac editors occasionally share our reflections, advice, and musings—and welcome your comments.

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I also live in a wooded,

I also live in a wooded, hilly, rather hot area. Not enough sun to grow much but the trees keep animals visiting or living here. Rabbits, deer, even coyotes and all kinds of birds visit regularly which annoys some neighbors but each has its role in nature. Keeping excessive volunteer plants away is a problem and cultivating others that are supposed to be shade loving is another. I am lucky to live in a neighborhood where people are not competitive about the "best grass" and just try to enjoy their own and others' gardening efforts.
I enjoyed looking at your pictures posted several years ago and am encouraged that my wooded area will als be as beautiful as yours. Thanks.

Reader Comments: Comment from

Reader Comments:
Comment from jackie siddons-range on February 10, 2009
I read your gardening approach with great interest and found it most inspirational. This merits further exploration indeed. Please keep us posted with your progress.
Comment from Pauline Strench on February 10, 2009
They look so wonderful! Can you post some pictures when you have flowers blooming and flower pots set out?
Comment from Eleanor Holderman on February 10, 2009
We also live in a wooded area - East Texas Piney Woods to be exact. After two MAJOR hurricanes in three years, our home site is much less wooded than before. Much to our surprise, having larger open spaces turns out to be "a good thing." Our creek bank is now opened up and we also have space for a pool (grandchildren's haven).
With the help of professional landscapers, my hobbyist-landscaper husband has created a delightfully blended effect with a collection of plants that add color year round. In wintertime, we enjoy red leaves & berries on red-tip photinia, nandina, holly, and yaupon along with various camelia blossoms and pansies for added sparks. Springtime in East Texas is notoriously gorgeous: dogwood, redbud, jasmine, and azaleas. In the summer we add caladiums to a backdrop of grasses and ferns in shaded areas. Crepe myrtles, an antique rose bush, bushy yellow jasmine and lantana are planted on a street-side mound to help screen the pool area from passers-by. Oleanders and yellow jasmine vines on the wrought iron fence frame the pool and provide more privacy. Blossoms on our ancient magnolias, plus a few newly planted ones, scent the air in late spring and throughout the summer. Honeysuckle adds another layer of perfume. The fall season brings out beautiful reds, oranges and yellows on the maple, dogwood, and beech trees. Our project for the coming spring & summer is to create a combination in-the-ground and potted herb and vegetable garden in our scattered pockets of sunshine. Thus, we registered on the almanac site to gain knowledge & insights that will lead us to a successful project. We're also getting some help from local high school students who are studying horticulture. This adventure is going to be fun.
Comment from Mike Szyszka on February 10, 2009
I also live in a wooded area, The Catskills of NY. I wish I could take a flame thrower to melt all the snow... What do you do about the mountain rats, aka deer?
Comment from Carolyn Elam on February 10, 2009
I am thoroughly convinced that the extinction of the dinosaurs was due to Oak leaves, and them not being able to find food. I have such an abundance of oak leaves with 21/4 acres of trees, mostly oaks with acorns and added treat, lol. We have a pool(in-ground) with concrete decking and a medium sized circular flower bed that I have fought and lost the weed battle for over 10 yrs. We have put down weed-block cloth, didn't work, sprayed weed-killers, didn't work, last year we cleaned it all out, put down roofing shingles in layers and 60 lbs. of pine straw mulch, didn't work either. This year I am contemplating rocks! Something has to work! Any suggestions, within reason, will be appreciated. Thank you, and God Bless all weed-haters!
Comment from Nan Hepner on February 11, 2009
Our house had been abandon when we bought it. The deer kept the weeds down then. Later we got goats that kept the weeds down. Now we have chickens that love weeds and any they miss I feed to my rabbits. :)
Comment from margaret on February 11, 2009
We too live in a wooded area when we bought the land to build our house the undergrowth was so thick you could not walk through we had to push out a space for the house and yard, take out alot of trees,we have deer, they are not a probable, we like to see them run and play in the lower back yard. squirrels are every where.i put some vines at some trees to climb that was a mistake,squirrels killed them. and oh the raccoons they are so cute, and so distrustful, when i plant something in the ground or in pots for the porch they will dig it up or dig it out of my pots. now we have moles. and the little voles and they have eat all my bulbs we have a cat that will sit and wait for them to move under the ground and she will try and catch it now and then she does but all an all we love it here.
Comment from Old Farmer's Almanac on February 11, 2009
The human smell from old sneakers and dirty t-shirts may keep the deer out of your garden. See the deer page:
Comment from Margo Letourneau on February 13, 2009
There are probably as many deer-repellent potions as there are stars in the sky, but here?s one that works for me in my southern NH woodland garden. I have small-scale problem areas, primarily with hostas. To browsing deer, they are a delicacy. Fill a 2-gallon watering can with water. Add about a cup of highly-scented liquid soap, a generous sprinkling of garlic salt or garlic powder, and about 1/3 cup of tabasco sauce. (I never measure, but these are the approximate amounts). Stir thoroughly and sprinkle the mixture over the leaves of the plants. A light, even coat will do. It doesn't hurt the plants (or the deer), but they hate the taste. Repeat after every two or three rain storms. Hope this helps!
Comment from CYNTHIA BELL on February 14, 2009
My boyfriend recently purchased a beautiful home and his backyard is a state park. What do you suggest that he do this spring when planting a vegetable garden and preventing groundhogs from destroying it? Thank you in advance.
Comment from Milford Dawson on February 18, 2009
I live in the Black Hills of South Dakota. The first week in Feb we had Canadian Geese and Turkey Buzzards flying north. Maybe spring is under way!
Comment from Sue Mills on February 18, 2009
Last fall I thought the squirrels bug up my bulbs & rhizomes; maybe it was a raccoon. Something is still eating my daffodil bulbs. Hair clippings from a barber shop might discourage deer. A guest speaker to my local Iris Society suggested layers of wet newspapers to kill weeds. I haven't tried it yet. Also in summer clear plastic in the sun might bake them. In the winter it just protects weeds. Be careful if planting non-native plants as they can take over; depending on water & sun. Here in Calif. I have a schifelera that's as big as my house. It was in a pot on the ground 8 years ago but the roots quickly left the pot for 5 feet around. Even winter frosts haven't killed it.
Comment from john hackler on February 18, 2009
I bought our property about 31 years ago in Ipswich MA which had an old chicken coop and apple orchard on it. I found a rhubarb plant which I transplanted to another location. I also built a small garden nearby which due to kids coming along and an addition to the house which was close to the rhubarb left it in the low priority, however the rhubarb has never had a problem and grows every year. We have sandy/loam soil which dries out but the barb keeps coming. We use some of it sometimes for strawberry/rhubarb pie but can't figure out what to do with the rest. Does anyone have any suggestions? I'm not sure many people like it that much.
Comment from Sue Fediuk on February 21, 2009
Hello from Brown Hill, Canada ( swampy little village in Ontario) We also have alota shade on our property and I have toiled for years to grow annuals in my wooded areas. The good thing is I know when I'm beat, so (now some of you very passionate gardeners may cringe at what I'm about to say) I go to the local Dollerama and pick up some brilliantly colored SILK flower arrangements and in the dark of night (so I don't make the Fairies mad) I apologize to Mother Earth also for sticking these cheap, happy little bouquets all around the places where the sun shines through. It looks amazing all season long (and no deadheading) and I've fooled friends and relatives alike about their authenticity.The only tricky thing is to get them pulled out before it snows! I also realize they aren't compostable or recyclable either so when they loose their color I reinvent them by spray painting them gold, red or silver and use them in my outdoor Christmas planters!
Comment from June D Stevenson on March 15, 2009
I am using a lot of gravel in a garden I'm doing for my daughter. Will the plants I am using require as much water? The area is quite shady.
Comment from Margo Letourneau on March 21, 2009
Our property was filled with gravel when we moved in; the house had just been built, and no landscaping was done. We brought in loam to spread for a lawn and gardens, and spread it about 8 to 10 inches thick on top of the gravel. In the shade, my plants don't require as much water because they don't lose it quickly due to evaporation from the hot sun. The real benefit of a gravel base is that it provides good drainage. Whether or not plants do well with a lot of gravel may depend on the plants. I found that tuberous begonias grow well in a shady environment with soil that has been amended with plenty of sand or gravel, and they don't require much water. I think this is probably true for other plants that grow from tubers or bulbs. Good luck with your new garden, June.
Comment from Charles Quinn on May 18, 2009
We had to and are still performing a lot of landscaping to our wooded area that we moved into a year ago. We leveled off land for the house, leveled trees to provide a view, and had to haul in rock for a road due to the mud. But I was wondering if anyone knows when a good time to cut trees to make fence posts out of? Due you wait til the sap is low or does it really matter? CQuinn


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