One corner of my property, which borders two of my neighbors, is the home of about a dozen old, very tall Douglas fir trees. The trees are spaced out somewhat evenly in this space where our borders meet, and was likely a combined wood years ago before progress dictated that the original homestead be divided into several smaller lots. My portion of this property is an odd shape and consists of approximately 2200 square feet of dry, shady ground that up until a year or two ago was so dark and thick with low, branches it was of little practical use.
I decided to limb up a few of the long overhanging branches and cleaned out years of tinder dry dead branches as far as I could reach with my ladder, and those that had been accumulating on the ground. Once I cleared out the fire hazard I was left with a very thick layer of dry fir needles which had been accumulating for years and were in various stages of decomposition creating a wonderful floor of humus. There are three or four large Rhododendrons growing at the edge of the wood and prior to my opening up the space to receive more sunlight, little else could grow in such dense shade.
Since that time I have pulled the occasional weed that has germinated, but I’ve been having a difficult time trying to decide ultimately how I wanted to utilize this space. I love the natural woodsy feel, so I am leaning toward planting Pacific Northwest native understory plants that will attract and provide food and shelter for the local birds, but I definitely want to include a few conifers into this space. I could choose native species conifers, but they will become very large at a much faster rate than I might prefer. Although I will likely transplant a Tsuga heterophylla seedling or two that have volunteered to come up in another shady space, I have been trying to decide on a few other, slower growing conifers to include in this space and complement the other plants I have already chosen.
One new conifer that has caught my attention, and definitely has what it takes to live happily in this dry, shady space is Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Hedgehog’. This is a new introduction discovered by Iseli Nursery and looks to have just the characteristics I am looking for. Cephalotaxus do thrive in dry-shade conditions — especially in locations outside of the Pacific Northwest since we can only be considered dry during a short two or three-month period in late summer and into autumn. Fortunately, the ground stays fairly dry under my huge Douglas fir trees, and the deep humus soil there is very well-drained, which is also a plus for Cephalotaxus. Now that I have opened up this space to receive more actual sunlight, I can plant my new ‘Hedgehog’ where it will be shaded most of the day and only receive direct summer sun in the late afternoon.
Being a shade-loving plant, this could be the perfect place for this low, mounding, dark green, flat-needled conifer. It is rated as an Intermediate grower, so it may require some pruning to prevent it from becoming too large, but that won’t present a problem with Cephalotaxus since they respond beautifully to pruning.
I am excited to begin my search for the other native plants for this new space now that I have chosen at least one new conifer specimen for the project!