Perfect Plants for Problem Places

By Cynthia Bee, Conservation Garden Park

We all have at least a few spots in our landscapes where plants struggle to survive. Gardening is all about experimentation and every great gardener has killed their fair share of plants- it’s how we learn. However, the cost of those lessons can add up quickly! We’ll save you some time and money by sharing a few of our favorite Utah-happy plants for problem places.

Problem: Dry shade under mature trees. As our trees mature, formerly sunny yards become shadier. As a result, many sun-loving, understory plants need to be exchanged for shade-happy counterparts. Dark green or burgundy foliage plants will visually disappear in shade while light foliage, think yellow or green and white variegated, will brighten up the space. Pairing the two together enables the dark foliage to create a backdrop that allows the brighter plants to “pop” making shady landscapes more colorful and vibrant. White, yellow, light pink or soft purple flowers will have a similar effect.


  • ‘Snow Fairy’ Caryopteris
  • English Yew


  • Wild Geranium
  • Coral Bells
  • Lamium/ Dead Nettle
  • Lungwort

Problem: Boggy soil. In many areas in the valley and in areas near bodies of water, the water table can be high. This creates an issue for most trees and many shrubs as it limits the livable soil depth. Even if the water table is deeper in your area, low spots in the landscape can direct water a specific spot in the yard, creating a boggy situation at the surface. Luckily, there are some plants which will thrive without getting waterlogged in this circumstance, here are a few to consider:


  • Catalpa
  • Bald Cypress


  • ‘Ivory Halo’ Dogwood
  • ‘Black Lace’ or ‘Lemony Lace’ Elderberry


  • Bee Balm
  • Daylily
  • ‘Chocolate’ Joe-Pye Weed

Problem: Steep, sunny hillside. Many Utahns, especially those in the foothills, live with sloped yards or portions of their yard which are not suitable for lawn. Some slopes are so steep that it’s best to avoid walking on or maintaining that section of the landscape. The key in this circumstance is to fill the space with low-growing, dense shrubs or groundcovers to keep weeds down and while holding the soil in place.


  • Rocky Mountain Maple
  • Staghorn Sumac


  • Horizontal Juniper
  • Bearberry Cotoneaster
  • Grow Lo Sumac


  • Desert 4 o’Clock
  • Plumbago
  • Kinnikinnick

More information about these and other Utah-happy plants is available on our website, While you’re there, visit our blog for practical ways to achieve a beautiful, Utah landscape.