Planting question: reco for Asian grass or simple shrub?

Asked April 29, 2020, 4:10 AM EDT

I have a bed of soil (held in by a stone wall) that needs a big Asian grass or some sort of tree/shrub. I'd like to plant something native that or that thrives easily here and doesn't need watering after the first season after planting. We've tried roses, lilac and a Japanese maple tree in the past (all gifts from friends), but none of them have flourished. The garden bed faces East and gets morning light, but can often be shadowed by a large pine that hovers just above the garage/house. Attached are two pictures where you can see the bed I'm referring to: it is just to the left of our garage (which faces East). In the second photo you can see the bed just above our heads, and you can see that the plant which is currently there is not thriving and looks rather weak. Can you give me any suggestions? I'm open to other ideas as well. Thank you so much! Wendy

Lane County Oregon

1 Response

Hi, Wendy,
The first thing you need to do it to determine why so many other plants, of several different genera, have not grown well in this site. Planting something new without doing this work first pretty much guarantees another failure.
Lilacs and roses like lots of sun, so it may have been too shady for them, and that could have been a problem for the Japanese maple too, but all of them should have responded by stretching for the sun, if shade is the only problem.
They also need supplemental water every summer to thrive, so if you didn't water them that could be the reason they failed.
It is also possible you may have a problem with the soil in that site. I strongly urge you to get your soil tested to see if it is lacking essential nutrients, or has some contamination. If you haven't done so already, dig in it to see what consistency it is; clay, perhaps?
After that, if you determine that the soil is OK, or amend it if it is not, you'll be looking for a shade-tolerant native shrub that can take minimal summer watering after it is established. It may need some supplemental water if there is root competition from the pine tree. (Large grasses all need plenty of sun, so that wouldn't be a good choice). Some of the most likely plants to thrive in these conditions would be Mahonia (Berberis) aquifolium, or Oregon grape; Rosa gymnocarpa (bald hip rose); Rosa nutkana (nootka rose); Gaultheria shallon (Salal); Oemleria cerasiformis (Osoberry); and Symphoricarpos albus (Snowbery).