As temperatures heat up, gardeners are always happy to have a spot of shade in the yard.
Shade gardening is a great way to have your garden and enjoy it all summer. While we can’t grow fruits and vegetables or many lawn grasses in the shade, there are plenty of plant options that offer color and interest all year.
When you start choosing plants for your shade garden, there are a few considerations. How deep is your shade? Is your shade from evergreen or deciduous trees? Do you have large magnolia trees that allow hardly any light to get through year- round, or do you have high-canopied airy pines that provide dappled sunlight? If your trees are deciduous, you will have more light in the winter and early spring when they are devoid of foliage. How many trees you have in the area will also make a difference. Morning sun and afternoon shade is an ideal situation for many plants, but some plants will take as much shade as you can
throw at them. You also need to think about soil drainage and root competition from large trees.
Once you have pinpointed your growing conditions, start choosing plants. I always encourage a diverse mix so that something blooms every season.
There are plenty of evergreen shrubs that serve as a constant presence in the garden, from boxwoods and hollies to shade-loving mahonia, leucothoe and Otto Luyken laurel. Sweet box sarcococca is a small evergreen with fragrant winter blooms. Mahonia also adds to the winter flowering mix, as do camellias — both sasanqua and japonica types. For late winter/early spring, consider perennial hellebores, Italian arum, columbine and crested iris. Spring ephemerals, including bloodroot, trilliums and trout lily, give great spring blooms and disappear until the following season.
As the season progresses, pieris, azaleas and kerria pop into bloom. If you are growing flowering plants, they typically need some sunlight to produce energy for blooms. But for shade gardens, morning or dappled sun is always preferred. Florida anise, or icillium will start blooming later and will take a lot more shade. Carolina allspice and itea bloom next, followed by summer-blooming hydrangeas and clethra.
Perennials, bulbs and annuals
Perennials that give color all growing season in the shade include ferns, hosta, heuchera, and tiarella. Flowering perennials include Bletilla (hardy orchid), bleeding heart, celandine poppy, foxglove and acanthus. Toad lily, turtle head (chelone) and Japanese anemones give fall color.
For some added color in the shade garden, don’t overlook annuals and bulbs. If your shade garden is mainly shaded by deciduous trees, you have plenty of early spring bulb options. They usually complete their sunlight needs before the trees have fully leafed out. Consider early- blooming daffodils and crocus, but also shade- loving snowdrops and summer snowflakes. For summer shade bulbs, annual caladiums come in a wide array of colors, and elephant ears run the gamut from small to huge plants in the shade garden.
The most popular annual flowers include common impatiens and newer types. There are many varieties of begonias to choose from, including those grown primarily for foliage to those with bright blooms. Torenia, or wishbone plant, comes in many colors, and browallia can give you blue or white flowers. There are so many kinds of coleus to choose from in a wide array of foliage color, and hypoestes (polka-dot plant) comes in shades of white, pink or red.