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Woodland plants for sun?

ThankthecatThankthecat Posts: 421
edited July 2021 in Garden design
Last winter I ripped out most of my old veg patch to turn into a mini woodland copse garden. So far I've laid out three main beds, with paths winding through, and have planted some tiny baby hazels, rowan, holly, spindle, cherry plum and my centrepiece a wild service tree (currently about 3ft tall. I'm seriously wondering if it's going to be too enormous for the space but probably not in my lifetime...). I have plans to add more saplings this autumn, including crab apples, but haven't given much more thought to that. 

My big problem at the moment is it's all bare soil and being constantly colonised by weeds so I need to get the underplanting in place to cover the ground. However, although eventually I will want naturalistic woodland planting in this area, until the trees grow a lot more it's in full sun. I really can't afford to plant it with sun lovers now and then rip it all out and replant once the trees are giving shade so I need ideas for something that will look natural in a woodland setting, but not mind a bit of sun for the first few years. Everything has to be done on quite a tight budget. Temporarily, I'm thinking of lifting and dividing a lot of my geraniums and alchemilla mollis to dot about, as they are such happy spreaders and good ground cover, along with cuttings from a friend's dogwood, simply because it's free. I'm also thinking of putting all my spent muscari bulbs in there.

The total space is roughly 9m x 6m and bordered by an 8ft hornbeam hedge on the southern border and woven chestnut hurdles on the northern and western edges. To the east is my little baby orchard, also underdevelopment - currently just semi-dwarf apple tree - but will eventually have a cherry, gage and a pear. The cherry plums in the woodland have been planted nearest this, to blend from the fruity bit into the woodland. 

Any advice / suggestions would be very welcome. 


  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,840
    In that space I suspect you already have too many trees so don't plant any more.  You have to space them according to their eventual width to make sure they have enough space to thrive.   I would only have planted one or two in that space especially with a  hornbeam hedge providing competition for moisture and nutrients.

    For now you need to concentrate on ground cover and the geraniums and alchemilla mollis will be fine for a few years yet so not a strain on your budget.  You can sow other plants from seed to save money and, in the mean time, use a thick mulch of chipped bark to suppress weed seed germination but make sure that you only lay it on thoroughly damp ground or it will lock in dryness.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • ThankthecatThankthecat Posts: 421
    Thanks Obelixx - there are three hazels in a corner together. They're going to be coppiced for bean poles. Two spindles right on the outer edge, two cherry plums, one rowan. The hollies are actually going to be cut to a hedge along the western border. The wild service tree smack in the middle. Do you think I should remove some? 
  • A few options come to mind. As Obelixx said, a mulch is a good bet. I usually put cardboard down first and chuck woodchips on top.
    Or you could broadcast some seeds for annuals and accept they'll slowly disappear as the shade sets in (bit of a choose your own weeds approach). Though you might have missed that for this year.
    Or use more of a cover crop type plant, like clover.
    There's also plants that are fairly happy in sun or shade like gooseberries, currants and some hostas. Honeyberry I think is another one.
  • ObelixxObelixx Posts: 29,840
    It depends on your age and how long you plan to be there and the spread of your trees. 

    Even coppiced hazels need a good space to grow new stems that get big enough for coppicing altho growing the hollies a s a hedge will limit the spread and draw of their roots.   Personally, I like to give plants the space they need and nt have to cut them down when they start to be crammed.

    Your service tree is a wild rowan that will spread to 8m eventually.   It's a very ordinary form whereas other forms will be less imposing in size but give more impact in berry colour and still be beneficial to wildlife so I would get rid of the service tree and keep the rest.
    Vendée - 20kms from Atlantic coast.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • FairygirlFairygirl Posts: 54,353
    I'd agree with everything that's been said.
    @jonathan.cole's suggestion if chucking in some seed is probably the best approach. Clover is also great. It will colonise quite happily, and is great for pollinators. It'll be there for a long time while the trees spread. 
    Your geraniums and alchemilla will also be excellent, and they'll happily carry on even as it gets shadier. They also won't compete with the trees for the valuable moisture they'll need. You could put  in some spring bulbs soon - plenty of those will be fine, and if you wait until you have them, and plant them with the perennials you have, that will work best. Also saves extra hole digging  ;) Those will spread and will also be happy when it's shadier, because they'll get enough light before the trees get their foliage, and will die back no problem under the canopy. Avoid any later flowering ones so that you get the best result for your money. Your muscari will certainly be fine too. 
    If you wait until spring, you can get snowdrops in the green. They're quite cheap, but they'll spread and will remain happy once the trees grow. You should get enough rainfall into the area from autumn into spring, so everything you put in in the next couple of months will be well established.  It should be lovely :)
    It's a place where beautiful isn't enough of a word....

    I live in west central Scotland - not where that photo is...
  • Have followed most of your recommendations. The wild service tree has found a new home, @Obelixx and the rowans have also gone, sadly, as they caught fireblight from a tree in another area of my garden. I didn't realise how that would travel, so that's my bad :( I now have tons of geraniums, alchemilla and spring bulbs in there, some clover and I've chucked some vetch seeds down as that grows wild all over my garden anyway, just to help cover the ground for now. Will try to remember to take photos in the spring to share. I didn't want to use bark chips on the beds as that's what the paths are going to be, I think. 
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