I have a problem area under my maple tree (tree roots and shade). I want to plant flowering perennials with a maximum height of 6 inches that would provide blooms throughout the summer. Are there such plants?
The area under maple trees is deep shade with dry, root-filled soil and it presents a challenge, but is not impossible to garden. The trees absorb the moisture first, leaving plants underneath thirsty. The soil often lacks nutrients as the trees absorb them first as well. And, of course, there is the lack of light. Thinning the tree branches overhead allows more light to reach the ground.
Before planting anything, add copious amounts of good compost, aged manure, leaf mold and other organic matter to improve the soil structure, nutrients and water retention. Improving the soil will help the following plants do well under your maples.
You may want to consider a groundcover. This works whether you want a formal or a naturalized effect. Groundcovers tidy up the garden, hide the mulch and define the edges. Some groundcover choices are deadnettle (Lamium), pachysandra, myrtle (Vinca), and lily-of-the-valley. Lilyturf (Liriope) is a small, clumping grass-like plant that has small flowers on a central stem. There are some lovely perennials that will be happy in your location. Barrenworts (Epimedium) are known for their neat habits and undemanding requirements.
There are some nice choices for leaf and flower color as well. Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is a deciduous groundcover that will quickly develop huge mats of soft green stems that smell like vanilla. Early spring bulbs, corms, and tubers like crocus, Siberian squill (Scilla), and Cyclamen coum, which will bloom and then go dormant, seem to prefer dry summer conditions. All kinds of hardy geraniums will grow well and flower throughout the summer as long as you deadhead them in mid to late summer. Pigsqueak (Bergenia cordifolia) will take fairly deep shade, producing flowers in mid-spring.
Coral bells (Heuchera) are reliable plants in the shade and new cultivars are appearing every year that have many interesting leaf colors from burgundy to silver to bronze. Their small bellflowers on wiry stems show off all summer. Heucherella is a cross between Heuchera and foam flower (Tiarella) and is also a good selection. ‘Quicksilver’ is especially nice with silvery, metallic leaves that reverse to a rich, red purple. Hostas are also appropriate and make a pleasing picture when planted with coral bells and Heucherellas. Add Japanese painted fern and you have a lovely variety of color, size and texture.