Shady Plants…Yes, There Are a Few

11/14/2012 | Ken Lain, mountain gardener Flowers, Landscaping, Trees, Uncategorized

It’s a real challenge to find plants that thrive in the cooler, shaded areas of our arid climate. New gardeners are surprised to find that the selection of shade loving plants is limited, but the trade-off is that these plants produce the brightest flower colors.

One spring bloomer that meets this challenge, the Songbird Columbine, is a favorite of mine and has just come into all its glory. This graceful beauty dances in the shade of the garden while holding its head higher than other varieties of columbine. Available in several different colors, few plants take so vividly bright a stand in our shady landscapes. This perennial comes back each spring with lacy green foliage promptly followed by an amazing two-tone flower. Deer and rabbit resistant, columbines make excellent cut flowers if picked when their buds are half open.

Foxglove is a tall perennial with blossoms of many colors that is in full bloom at garden centers now. The blooms seem to last weeks after other perennials have faded. The only negative problem is because of its height; you may need to stake the stems to keep them upright in the wind.

Bleeding heart is in full bloom in my raised beds. The name comes from its bloom that looks as though a single drop of blood is dripping from deep within each little heart-shaped blossom. This is an exceptional, uniquely beautiful flower. It is well worth a trip to your garden center just to have an up-close look at this unusual blossom.

Red-leafed trees are better suited to shady areas than the green leafed varieties that require more sun. Because of our mountain winds you want to stay away from lacy-leafed varieties. Focus on trees that have a classic maple leaf shape as their leaves are much less likely to be shredded by our harsh winds.

Whether used in a container or in the landscape a superior shade loving tree is the Japanese maple. However, I have to warn you that in mile high landscapes this maple is only for the avid gardener. Japanese maples tolerate little if any sun and even less wind. Factor in these two limitations and there are few places in our sunny, wind-plagued climate where a Japanese maple will thrive.

Two of the most desirable flowering shade shrubs are rhododendrons and azaleas. If you are planting either in the yard you must keep in mind that for this altitude there are hardy varieties and non-hardy varieties. The hardy varieties have natural antifreeze within the structure of the plant and are designed to look great even in the harshest cold. Non-hardy varieties are usually grown in greenhouses and need a constant, warm climate, so they’re not a good choice at this altitude. Ask for help to be sure you get the correct plant.

Two other shade loving evergreens that look especially classy at a house’s front door are yew and magic berry holly. They have fabulous rich green foliage and look great year round. Holly is famous for its classic holiday berries, but I think yew has the best red berries running up and down its long green stems. Both reach heights of 3-6 feet and are excellent choices to plant under a canopy of pines or on the north side of a building.

Hostas are the most well known of all shade loving plants. As with roses or African violets, there are so many varieties to choose from that many gardeners collect them. Personally, I prefer the varieties that have lime green foliage and those with silver and gold variegation because the foliage shows up better in the dark shaded spots of the garden.

Other good shade plants are abelia, dogwood, euonymous, ajuga, ferns, bishop’s weed, heavenly bamboo, strawberries, red tip photinia, and violets. If you need a shade loving vine your only choices are akebia and ivy.

If this will be your first attempt to plant in a shaded part of your garden, the best advice I can give you is to ask for help. Have a horticulturist at your favorite garden center help you in making the best plant choices for your shady landscape. Remember, easy gardening comes from choosing the correct plant and installing it in the right place. Making the wrong choice guarantees a gardening experience of continuous frustration and unlikely success.

More and more customers are decorating with container gardens on shaded decks, covered patios, as well as indoors. As semi-trucks loaded with fresh new containers arrive from the Orient, the question of which container plants will do best in low light is asked more often. That’s in keeping with my best advice, which is to ask for help.

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Had a stressful week? Stroll amongst the plants and feel your tensions lift. It just feels good to hang out with other gardeners and peruse the plants at your favorite garden center. Right now centers are jam-packed with big bold plants loaded with showy colors. This week I’ve helped more local gardeners who simply are on reconnaissance missions getting a feel for the season. They’ve had lots of questions about where and when to plant whatever catches their fancies.

Apples new I-Pad 3 is showing up at the garden center as well. Its amazing picture quality makes for easy plant identification and help in making proper landscape recommendations. No matter the photography type, feel free to bring in a picture of what you’d like to plant and where. It has been a few years since I last saw a Polaroid photo of a garden . . . . .

Until next week, I’ll see you in the garden center.