Connecticut Audbon Society

Homegrown Habitat mail: planting advice


September 28, 2023 — Two Homegrown Habitat readers who live on opposite sides of the Connecticir River—Old Lyme and Old Saybrook—wrote this week seeking practical advice on what and where to plant. We thought you might find Sarah Middeleer’s advice to be useful.

Dear Sarah,
40 years ago, we built our energy efficient house facing due south. On the north side we planted a wind break recommended and designed by the National Wildlife Federation, composed of white pine, red spruce and tamarack. In the intervening years, the trees have grown and have begun to lose their lower branches. This sets up a situation where the wind blows with increasing velocity under the trees, rendering the wind break next to useless.
I am looking for a native shrub to use as an understory plant to fill the gap. The shrub must be shade tolerant and able to grow in sandy soil.  Any suggestions?

Old Lyme

Thank you for writing to Homegrown Habitat. My first response is to think of the shrubs I’ve seen on Block Island, such as serviceberry, summersweet clethra, beach plum, bayberry, inkberry (evergreen), highbush blueberry, and northern arrowwood viburnum. In fact, depending on how long a stretch you have here, a mix of some of these shrubs could be quite attractive and would provide excellent habitat for birds. Some naturally form thickets by suckering, which will add to their wind break functionality and wildlife value. All are fairly shade tolerant, particularly inkberry (Ilex glabra).

I hope this helps – I’d love to hear back about what you end up using and how the plants do.

Sarah Middeleer

We live near the marsh in Fenwood [in Old Saybrook] and sadly, our butterfly bushes keep dying. One area is too shady, another area seems to be too sunny. 

I’d like to better plant these two zones for next year. I’ve sort of given up right now. The rain took away time I was going to work outside on them. 

Look forward to your newsletter!

Hi Cara,
Thanks for writing. This was a difficult year for anyone trying to grow plants! My tomatoes were hit hard by disease from all the rain.

When your energy is renewed, think in terms of “right plant, right place.” There’s a bit of learning to do, but once you understand your different garden locations in terms of sun/shade, soil moisture and how well the soil drains (especially in winter), and exposure to wind/salt/pollution, you will be on your way to success. From there you can select plants that will hopefully thrive in each location.

I’m so glad you like the blog. Write anytime!






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