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Ask Dr Phipps: Plant Recommendations
May 19

Ask Dr Phipps: Plant Recommendations

By Phipps Master Gardener

Q. I have two questions. 1. What shrubs or bushes do you recommend for a privacy screen? 2. I’d like to populate the back of the yard, under the trees, with some bushes and flowers.  I have a good sense of choices for a shady yard from the Phipps yearly sustainable plant lists.  But it’s been pretty bare for a couple of years, so is there a wildflower mix or ground cover you recommend to get it covered for the time being?

A: You had two questions, answers to both are included below.

eastern red shrub

1. Shrubs for Privacy - In general evergreen shrubs are the best for privacy because they retain their leaves/needles all year long. Try Canadian hemlock (Tsuga canadensis), or small cultivars of eastern red cedar (Juniperus virginiana).

2. Shade Tolerant Shrubs and Ground covers - We have updated our Top 10 Sustainable Plants so that they are searchable. You can select “shrubs or ground cover” under Plant Type and “part shade or full shade” under Sunlight and it will generate a nice list of plants for you. Try it here.

In the meantime, here are some excellent shade tolerant plants:

bleeding hearts

Perennials: bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis), lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), hostas, brunnera, heuchera and columbine (Aquilegia spp).

lily of the valley

Ground covers: wild strawberry (Fragaria virginiana), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum), geraniums, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis), and bugleweed (Ajuga spp).


I have a 12 year old Japanese Red Maple in my backyard, and it’s leaves appear to be dying and shrivelling up. Is there a disease this year that I should treat? Fungus or insect?

By Bonnie Frear on May 24, 2020

There was a late freeze/frost in western Pennsylvania in May of this year. Many Japanese maples had already leafed out. The cold temperature caused the leaves to freeze. Frost damage is probably what you are seeing on your plant. It is important to buy plants that are within the area’s hardiness zone. Most Acer palmatum sold in this area are hardy to USDA hardiness zone 5. Allegheny County covers zones 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, and 7a. So there is always the possibility of frost/freeze damage.
The damage to the leaves is already done, but the good news is that the plant may send out a second set of leaves. The damaged leaves will fall off, so there is no need to prune. In the future, covering the plant (if it is small enough) on nights when a freeze/frost is predicted will control this type of damage.

By Phipps Master Gardener on May 26, 2020