I had heard that partridgeberry was "slow-growing", but this is ridiculous.
In zone 6b, on the Blue Ridge, I put in a dozen plants a year ago. The soil
is typical woodland, acidic (from the oaks) clay. The plants were tiny when
received from a reputable supplier. All last summer, they seemed OK, added
an inch or two, grew a few new leaves. Now, after a cold winter, only half
of them are still alive, and those seem to have fewer leaves than last year.
I can see this is never going to be a "ground cover", but does anybody know
what I can do to keep these plants alive and encourage them?
We have found Mitchella to be a good groundcover in NY and NJ, but it
terribly slow to establish. The establishment period is sensitive to
excessive leaf cover in the fall - leaves to be kept off. The stalling of
establishment you describe seems normal as does the dieback after the first
year. I would say to keep at it.
Mike LaMana, MS
Heartwood Consulting Services, LLC
To answer Ann's question, no I didn't put them on bare ground. We live in a
hardwood forest clearing. Some of the plants are under oak trees where years
worth of leaf mold has accumulated, and are in deep shade. Half of them are
6-10 feet away from the edge of the forest, but in similar soil; the nearest
oaks there were cut down within the past 5 years and what passes for the
"lawn" (mixture of grass, clover, weeds, and wildflowers including wonderful
Claytonia virginica) has begun to encroach. I cleared, but did not deeply
till, the two areas where I planted them, put the plants in about 6 feet
apart, then mulched around them - but not closer than 6 inches from each
plant - with wood-chip mulch from when the power company trimmed these woods
two years earlier. I pull weeds that pop up right around the plants and
those that came up through the mulch this spring.
If I poke down under the mulch, the soil seems fine. There are worms. At the
moment there are also dime-sized cicada holes!
I dusted away the "excessive leaf cover" last fall.
If "stalling of establishment" is normal, I'll not change what I'm doing,
but there's dieback and dieback, isn't there? In 4 out of my 13 little
patches where there was a partridgeberry plant, it's gone (two of the
deep-shade ones, two of the "edge of the lawn" group). Or, the stem is lying
there, but it no longer has leaves and is no longer rooted in the ground.
That's how they were after the snow and ice melted. But no new stems have
come up, so I tend to think those 4 have died totally. Everything else is
booming (asarums, hellebores, rhododendrons, Sweet Woodruff, Virginia
Bluebells; not to mention a great show this year, after all last year's
rain, by Cutleaf Toothwort, wild geraniums and the Spring Beauty - despite
rampant garlic mustard that I'm trying to root out of at least a section of
the woods), but those little partridgeberry plants are lying there as if
they'll die if you so much as look at them. They were terribly tiny when I
got them, each just a single stem 5 or 6 inches long.
They should be rock-hardy for you, however, I've got to ask, do you
have them on bare ground with no leaf mould or mulch for them to crawl
through? They are forest floor dwellers, they need shade an a rich
leafy mulch in order to be happy.
Ann, Gardening in zone 6a
Just south of Boston, MA
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