Plants for the shade!
From the Davis Enterprise, May 25, 2006
Gardening in the shade
presents more challenges than gardening in partial to full sun. There are
simply fewer plants to choose from that give showy flowers or fragrance and are
suitable for shady areas.
There's shade, and then there's deep shade! The north side of your house will be in the
shadow of the building, but may be bright enough in the summer for many plants.
The dappled shade under many deciduous trees is suitable for many flowers and
ground covers. But some trees—Fruitless mulberry, for example, cast such
deep shade that only a few plants will persevere. And larger trees may have
roots competing for water and nutrients, so special care may be needed.
on the following list can tolerate light to moderate shade. Deep shade is
especially difficult! But there are choices. See the individual notes for deep
(Fibrous begonia) The star of the shade garden! Available in white,
pink, and red. Bronze-leafed types can also tolerate full sun. Grown as annuals
because the tops freeze off in winter, but they do usually resprout.
(Impatiens; Busy Lizzie) America's favorite bedding plant due to the
abundant bloom in a range of strong, hot colors. Not as shade tolerant as
Begonias, but not good in full sun either. Stunning in light shade or morning
(Lobelia) The vivid blue flowers make this
a popular companion to the others.
(Nasturtium) Even if it's too shady for them to bloom, Nasturtiums have
lush attractive foliage, and are very easy to grow. Great for kids to plant:
many are unhappy about our low humidity
during the summer here. But the following can tolerate it as long as they are
watered regularly. Always amend the soil for ferns with good quality compost,
and they love to be fertilized.
(Holly fern). Adaptable, with large fronds
that make a great contrast to leafier plants. More 'typical': looking ferns suitable here include:
(Southern sword fern)
(Western sword fern)
(Soft shield fern)
(Leatherleaf fern) One of the best. Very tough.
Foliage lasts for many days in flower arrangements. Spreads slowly by runners.
(Western chain fern) Big, dramatic,
Perennial ground covers
(Serbian bellflower) Sky blue flowers,
soft green foliage.
(Ground ivy, also available in a
variegated form.) Rampant spreading plant used as a lawn substitute.
(Baby's tears) Mossy looking spreader for
(Mondo grass) Very slow growing
lawn-looking plant. Tolerates deep shade, root competition.
(dwarf Periwinkle) and V. major
(Periwinkle) Classic ground covers for shady, fairly dry areas. Periwinkle blue
flowers in spring.
violas: V. hederacea
(Australian violet) and V. labradorica
(Labrador violet) are pretty, woodsy
looking plants, better mannered than their rampant cousin V. odorata.
Easy care plants that flower year after
year, or have attractive foliage in the shade include:
(Bears breech) has big jagged shiny leaves
and tall spikes of white flowers. Incredibly tough plant which spreads slowly
by underground runners. Gives a tropical look without any fuss.
(Japanese anemone), which flowers in late
Columbines are important spring bloomers
for partial shade, attract hummingbirds, and reseed freely. Foliage gets mites
and mildew in summer--just cut it to the ground and it resprouts nicely.
(Cast iron plant). This plant will grow in
very, very low light and can take incredible abuse. Shiny green leaves (there
is a striped form available). Flowers are at ground level, beetle-pollinated,
and not showy. But you can't kill Aspidistra!
and B. crassifolia
have pink flowers in winter, large shiny
leaves all year.
and C. lutea
: underused perennials with yellow flowers,
foliage like bleeding heart, very easy to grow (will reseed).
species: H. argutifolius
(Corsican hellebore), and H. orientalis
(Lenten rose) have attractive, shiny
foliage and beautiful flowers. Will tolerate deep shade.
: Coral bells are classic shade perennials
with graceful little nodding pink, red, or white flowers. Nice plantings can be
seen under the redwoods in the UC Davis Arboretum.
'Chameleon' (Chameleon plant) is a
moderately invasive plant with leaves splotched with pink and white. Tough.
Will tolerate deep shade.
(Spotted nettle) has forms with silvery
leaves and pink or white flowers. A mint-looking plant which spreads steadily
but not rampantly.
species (Turf lilies) are tough,
grassy-looking perennials. Look for L. gigantea, L. muscari
(several varieties), and L. spicata
('Silver Dragon' is a nice striped
variety). Will tolerate deep shade.
(Lemon balm) has crinkly leaves and a
fragrance of lemon mint. The tea is said to be relaxing, and the plant is
pretty all year around.
(Chinese foxglove): underused perennial flower
which blooms most of the summer in light shade.
(Butcher's broom) is a plant grown for
tough foliage. Botanically interesting (look up 'cladodes' for more info), and
will tolerate deep, deep shade.
and other species (Meadow rue) have
foliage resembling Columbine, interesting flowers.
Tradescantia x andersoniana
(Spiderwort) has grassy foliage, pretty flowers in blue, pink, or white.
(white Calla lily). The callas with colorful flowers are incredibly
fussy and easy to kill. But not the old-fashioned white Calla! Tall plants to
3' plus, with clean white flowers in April – June. The foliage dies down
briefly after the flowers, then resprouts and looks clean all year long.
evergreen shrubs for shady areas are a whole separate article. a sampling of
low-growing shrubs includes:
(Flowering maple): always in flower, and
available in a whole range of warm colors, these vary from low, spreading
plants to some which reach 8' or more! Hummingbirds love the flowers, which
resemble little nodding hibiscus.
(Wintercreeper). Very tough, tolerant
shrub with a naturally spreading habit. Can be trimmed as a shrub, or even
trained as a vine. 'There are
forms with green, white variegated, and gold variegated leaves -- 'Emerald
Gaiety' is one of the nicest.
(Creeping mahonia) is a spreading shrub with yellow flowers in late
winter, followed by blue berries popular with the birds.
'Filamentosa', 'Firepower', and 'Harbour Dwarf' are nice low-growing
(Evergreen currant) is one of my favorites for dry shade. This
California native has shiny leaves, pink flowers in mid-winter, and red berries
for the birds.
(Sweet Victorian box) has clean dark green foliage, and powerfully
fragrant blossoms in January.
Most vines won't give much
bloom in shady areas. The following will grow and provide nice foliage, and will
bloom to varying degrees depending on how dense the shade is.
(Japanese akebia) has tidy leaves and grows moderately fast to 15' or
so. May even set an edible fruit.
(Carolina jessamine) is a well-mannered
grower with yellow flowers in spring.
'Happy Wanderer' (Lilac vine) has purple flowers in winter. Pretty rampant!
Cut it back hard after the bloom to control the overgrowth.
species (Honeysuckles) L. japonica
is a rampant, invasive vine. The deciduous
vining species are more manageable but have less fragrant flowers; Gold Flame
has showy flowers which attract hummingbirds
(Yellow cat's claw) will grow vigorously in sun or shade, clings to any
surface without rooting in, and rewards us with bright buttery-yellow flowers
for 2 – 3 weeks in April.
species. Most are evergreen vines with big
showy pink, red, or white flowers--but are much too tender to grow here. M.
Chilean jasmine, is different: hardy, deciduous, with large fragrant white
flowers in the summer.
(Bower vines) Clean, well-mannered vines, bloom all summer. Recovered even
from the hard freezes of '90 and '98. Bloom on last year's growth, so prune
after they bloom if at all.
: P. quinquefolia
is Virginia creeper, and P. tricuspidata
Boston ivy. These clean-looking vines have attractive foliage, nice fall color.
But beware! The suction disks on tendrils root into structures, damaging wood
(White Potato vine). A reliable producer of white blossoms all season
(Australian bluebell creeper). Very slow-growing vine with nodding blue
bell-shaped flowers, usable as a low vine or ground cover.
(Cape honeysuckle). Bright orange flowers start in fall, last until
frost. Sprawling woody vine to 8' or so.
: T. asiaticum
is Asian jasmine, and T. jasminoides
is the familiar Star jasmine. Widely used
in sunny areas, but both will grow in shade and have nice clean foliage. Asian
jasmine hardly ever blooms; Star jasmine's powerfully fragrant blossoms are
much less abundant in shade. Some people may consider that a good thing'.
We love our shady parts of
the garden in the hot summer months! Try some of the foregoing to brighten the
darker corners of your yard.
© 2008 Don Shor, Redwood Barn Nursery, Inc., 1607 Fifth Street, Davis, Ca 95616
Feel free to copy and distribute this article with attribution to this author.
Click here for Don's other Davis Enterprise articles