Morning Shade/Afternoon Sun - what should I plant?

dtownjbrown(6a-CintiOH)August 12, 2007

I'm a "fairly" new homeowner and want to finally get started on my garden. I planted some spring bulbs in a small portion of my front yard last fall and I really loved the results (although I was too enthusiastic and everything was overcrowded, but still very pretty). Now, I want to expand my horizons and start planting summer & fall blooms too.

The area on the west wall of my house is just screaming for some plants (its 4ft x 50ft). My Problem: the area is shaded by the house next door for most of the day except for the three hours of direct, unobstructed sun it gets during late afternoon (usually from 2pm-5pm). But then, right back into the shade as the sun keeps moving.

Since I'm looking for summer & fall color I'm hoping that the intensity of the sun during these months will make up for the short duration of direct sunlight. I live in the Midwest where it gets really hot & humid during the summers with very few cloudy days.

I want to approach my garden design a little better this time since I over-planted my spring bulbs (oops). I've been searching the web, visiting the library and keeping magazine clippings but I dont know what to plant in my "problem" spot. Could I get away with full sun? If not, should I look for Part Shade or Part Sun plants? Is 3 hours of direct sun too much for Full Shade plants?

Please help :-(

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I'll jump in on this quickly and advise that you'll get more response to plant selection/growing requirement queries over on the Perennials Forum if your interest is in plants for your hardiness zone that return year after year; the Annuals Forum to experiment with and change plants from year to year; or the Cottage Garden Forum for a mixture of both.

All growing conditions are a little different - from region to region and even yard to yard so you'll be doing some experimenting even with good plant recommendations for the sun situation you have. Here close to Lake Superior, shade tolerant perennials like hosta, astilbe, bleeding hearts, trollius, ferns... can take full sun. We have no humidity to speak of and the normal summer high temps are in the 70's and low 80's.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 5:45PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

Three hours of direct afternoon sun will fry most full shade plants. Look for plants that are listed as suitable for a range of sun exposures, from full sun to part sun or part shade. This way you know they will tolerate the hottest part of the day, but will still perform reasonably well with less than a full 6 hours of sun. Determine what kind of soil you have as well, and choose plants accordingly.

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 5:49PM
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DULUTHIN - thanks for the input...I will try the Perennial & Cottage Garden forums

SAYPOINT - you've given me a better understanding of those lables I've been seeing. One other question though, is there a difference between Part Shade and Part Sun?

Thanks :-)

    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 6:35PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Part shade generally means a plant would prefer more sun...but will tolerate some shade. Part sun means it is happier with some protection from the afternoon sun.

The tags will usually say something like:

"Full sun to part shade"--means "You can plant me in the full sun, and I'll be happiest. But you can also plant me where I'll get shade in the morning and sun all afternoon...and I'll be OK."

"Part shade to full shade"--means "You can plant me in full shade and I'll be a happy camper. But I'll tolerate some morning sun...if it doesn't get too hot."

At least, that is what those phrases mean in zone 7b NC.

Go to an independent garden center in your area and get someone to explain the tags and such to you. Not Slowes. Not Home Despot. Someplace that makes it's bread and butter selling plants. And DON'T go on a Saturday morning. Around here, Monday mornings are our slowest. No deliveries first thing...and we are picked over from the weekend. You won't get the BEST selection...but think of your first visit as a "scouting trip."

If you MUST go on a and find out when that GC's lull is. We all have them. And for goodness sake...if it's 90+ outside...wait. The staff will thank you for it. (I spent several hours outside Thursday, in the 105 degree heat, with a customer who was on a scouting mission. Don't do that.)


    Bookmark   August 12, 2007 at 7:40PM
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Great advice Melanie!

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 10:56AM
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Wow Melanie - thanks - you really know your stuff. Just so I'm clear....I should stick to labels that have some combination of "part shade" on them, right? And anything labeled exclusively as "full sun" or "full shade" probably wont thrive, correct?

Also, I went to the library yesterday and checked-out a book titled Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials (a wealth of information, by the way). There's one particular plant that I really like but the condition requirement says "Full Sun to Open Shade". What is open shade?

Oh yeah, one more thing - I looked up my city on the USDA Hardiness Zone Map and it said that I'm in a 6a/6b rating zone. I live about 10 miles from the Ohio River in College Hill, Ohio (a suburb of Cincinnati). Is it okay to get Zone 5 plants for my area? What about Zone 7?

Thanks again.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 1:47PM
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mjsee(Zone 7b, NC)

Zone 7 will probably die from prolonged cold in your area. The hardiness zones refer to how cold it gets (on average) in a specific geographic area.

I'm familiar with the winters in that part of Ohio...graduated from XU in 1982. There is also a heat zone map--but it probably won't come into play in Ohio.

As to sun/shade that part of Ohio you should probably look for something that says sun-to-part-sun. BUT--some things might be fine regardless. I never gardened there, so I don't have first hand knowledge. I work in a retail garden center in Chapel Hill, NC. I know what will grow HERE. That's why I suggested you look for a reputable nursery in YOUR area.

good luck, happy gardening, and don't be afraid to experiment. You can ALWAYS move stuff.


    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 3:41PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

A plant rated for zone 5 will survive further north than where you live, and will be fine in zone 6. There are also heat zones, but they are not often referenced. Some plants will do fine in the north, but can't take the heat of the south, so that info would be more inportant if you live in the south.

You might get away with a plant hardy only to zone 7 if it's planted near the foundation of the house, in a sheltered place, and you get lucky. I wouldn't count on it, but some people like to experiment with pushing one zone further.

Speaking of which, whether a plant does well for you or not will also depend on the soil type, how well drained it is, how moisture retentive, how much rain or watering the plant needs/receives, and light that is reflected off of nearby surfaces like pavement or house siding.

Open shade or high shade refers to an area such as one under tall trees that are "limbed up" so that it is in shade, but a fair amount of indirect light is admitted.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 9:37PM
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The American Horticultural Society has attempted to standardize shade terminology. Full shade is an area that receives no direct sunlight. Partial shade (aka partial sun) is an area that receives less than 6 hours a day direct sunlight. Full sun is an area that receives 6 or more hours a day of direct sunlight. Partial shade can also be further broken down into light and dappled or filtered shade. Light shade is an area that is in a shadow cast by a structure, fence or wall but is otherwise open directly to the sky. This tends to be a situation that often receives quite bright but indirect light as that which typically occurs on the north face of such a structure (but not under any eaves or overhangs). Filtered or dappled shade is created by a relatively airy tree canopy or an open overhead structure like a pergola, so that sun can at times penetrate but the area is more shaded than in direct sunlight at any given time.

For the most part, most plants will tolerate a range of light conditions. The "sun to part shade" tag in the nursery or in reference books generally means that specific plant will grow in all of those light conditions equally well, all other factors being equal. Obviously some allowances must be made for location, just as one does for zonal hardiness. Full sun in very northern locations will not carry the same intensity as full sun in more southerly areas, just as a PNW zone 8 is not the same as a Texas zone 8.

And finally, afternoon sun tends to be stronger and hotter or more intense than early day sun. Typically 4-6 hours of mid to late afternoon sun is considered to be a full sun situation.

    Bookmark   August 13, 2007 at 9:42PM
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Brent_In_NoVA(z7/6 VA)

Plant tags are a good start but be sure not to treat them as gospel. Is it me or does every tag say "full sun, moist well drained soil"? As pointed out already, sun exposure is just one growing factor. What is growing there now? If it is grass then that can give you a good clue as to what will grow.

- Brent

    Bookmark   August 14, 2007 at 9:57AM
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A few 'basics' need to be understood first. The side of the house is brick, wood siding? What is the color? Important question because you need to think about heat reflecting off the house which further bakes the garden planted along it.

You say bed width is 4'. Is it this width because a sidewalk runs along the house, or can the garden space be enlarged? If a sidewalk situation you are again dealing with hot, reflected heat for three hours a day.

    Bookmark   August 14, 2007 at 10:22AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Grow your own shade! The addition of some shrubs to your layout would simplify things considerably. Many shrubs are quite tolerant of a variety of conditions and should do OK in there, and with 4 feet you have some space to grow shrubs. Space them along the side of the house with your perennials in between and you've got shade where you want it.

Deciduous or evergreen shrubs should be available. Off the top of my head (and not doing the research for your zone), some shrubs that might work would include mock orange (Philadelphus), Viburnums of various sorts, Stachyurus, yews, boxwood, butterfly bush, Hamamelis, Corylus contorta... really the list is endless.

...and in contrast, Hydrangeas would likely falter in the hot sun, and things like Vitex would not get enough sun to bloom.


    Bookmark   August 14, 2007 at 5:54PM
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Wow, you all have given me a wealth of information. Much thanks to everyone. HereÂs a little more information to answer some of your questionsÂÂÂ.

GARDENGAL48  your explanation was great. Am I to understand that the sun intensity is ranked in the following order: Full Sun - Part Sun  Lite Shade  Filtered or Dappled Shade  Full Shade? If so, I think my area is lite shade but IÂm not sure because it is directly under my roofÂs overhang. Also, itÂs not on the north-facing side of my house but rather the west-facing side, does that make a difference? At any rate, although the area receives only 3 hours of direct afternoon sun (and not the 4-6 you mention above) I think IÂll start experimenting with the full sun-to-part shade plants and see how they do. Any suggestions?

BRENT IN NOVA Â there is nothing growing there right now, just some top soil and the occasional weed (mostly of the broadleaf variety).

NANDINA Â The side of my house is a grayish-blue poured foundation (concrete, I believe), and the side of my neighborÂs house is red brick. The bed is probably a little less than 4' because I only did an eye-ball estimate and didnt actually use a measuring tape. Yes, there is a sidewalk running along the side of the house where the bed isÂ.well actually itÂs my 8ft driveway that leads to my backyard garage and it gets alot more than three hours of direct sun each day so I guess I do have this "hot reflective heat" you mentioned. What does that mean exactly? Will the "hot reflective heat" qualify my area for full sun plants?

KARIN1 Â are any of the evergreens you mentioned of the upright & narrow variety? I have some short & stout ones in my front yard but donÂt really like them that much?

Again, thanks to everyone for all your help.

    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 10:14AM
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karinl(BC Z8)

Most of the plants I mentioned aren't evergreen, and they weren't meant to be prescriptive in any event. You should check out what your local nurseries have available, see what you like, and research their eventual shapes in a shrub book or on the internet. I'd say deciduous shrubs would be nicest in this setting, but your taste may dictate otherwise.

I will add my mite too to the question of whether your conditions "qualify" certain plants to grow in the situation you are working with. What you need to understand in order to evaluate plants for this area is why various plants need the amount of sun or shade that is recommended for them, and what will happen if they don't get it. To some extent trial and error is the only way to learn this, but you can also learn the horticulatural principles to improve your ability to guess which plants will succeed.

For example, most shade plants are adapted to catching as much light as possible in a shady environment. This is why many of them have big leaves. And they tend to prioritize surface area over leaf thickness, as they aren't faced with dessicating sun. So when you put shade plants in too much sun, the leaves are prone to burning and scorching, and they tend to wilt. Sun plants, on the other hand, have adaptations that allow them to resist heat, and they get leggy and don't bloom if they get too little sun.

Obviously there are endless variations of leaf size and other attributes. For example, as someone mentioned above, there are hostas that actually want and need a certain amount of sun. And there are plants that are adapted to grow in the shade of deciduous trees, so they bloom in early spring when they get sun, and go through their leafy phase during summer.

Some plants can also adapt to local conditions. For example, if the shade is really heavy and dense, as in the shade of a house, shade plants will grow their leaves extra big. But such a plant will be extra-sensitive if you change its conditions in mid-season or maybe if it gets a mid-day blast of sun.

The conditions recommended on plant labels are only a guideline, and there are no guarantees that your conditions of partial shade are the kind of partial shade that a certain plant wants.


    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 12:59PM
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I am very familiar with your type of growing situation. It can be frustrating! Reflected heat requires special thought. The secret to success is the installation of an irrigation line along the outside edge of the bed with enough misting heads to cover the plantings set to come on every day for 20 minutes, one and one-half hours into the time period when the garden is in full sun. If you presently have an irrigation system this can be added on a separate circuit. Just keeping the plants watered is not enough. They need that gentle misting shower on the foliage to revive them from the shock of cool shade to bright, high temperature sun. Of course, you can also plan to hand mist them at that time of day, every day without fail.

If you do not have the Bluestone Perennials catalog order one at or read it on line. This is the best way to research adaptable plants. You are looking for full sun plants only. Many will survive your situation. I am going to quickly make some suggestions from that catalog which I know will grow for you. Keep an eye on the box stores as many of them may appear for sale. Also, visit GW's Salvia Forum. Experts are posting there and many types of Salvia are suitable.

For your consideration. I am only posting family names and you can choose specific types.
Shasta daisy
Gloriosa daisy
The more petite grasses such as Blue Oat grass
Russian sage
Sedum Autumn Joy
Dwarf Buddleias
Compact, sun loving shrubs

    Bookmark   August 15, 2007 at 3:20PM
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Hello all, it's me again. I've been reading Rodale's Illustrated Encyclopedia of Perennials and have decided that I really like Asters....especially the compact ones (because my flower bed is so narrow). Any suggestions on what would go nicely with these daisy-like flowers?

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 4:01PM
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saypoint(6b CT)

My asters haven't even bloomed yet, so you have to consider what plants will bloom or have colorful foliage around the same time. Eupatorium, Sedum, Montauk Daisy, fall-blooming Anemone, and other late bloomers are some to consider, along with ornamental grasses.

Make a chart with columns for bloom times and make sure you include plants for early, mid and late spring, early, mid and late summer, and early, mid and late fall. Of course, many of these will overlap, but you get the idea. Also look for books or articles about companion plants for plant combinations for ideas on plants that look good together and are likely to be at their best at the same time.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 5:42PM
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Somewhere above you did reveal that this 4' bed is "under the eaves". That means dry.

You also mentioned the driveway. That also means dry.

I think of beds like this, sandwiched between house foundation and driveway, as being similar to large containers. The best suggestion you've received is the installation of the irrigation system. Just like a container, this area will require daily watering. It's because of the concrete as well as the reflected light. It may vary a little based on the moisture retentive quality of your soil, but a narrow bed between concrete and concrete can be challenging. Your bulbs will do well, and some may be good naturalizers (meaning they may return year after year). Most bulbs love the moisture they get when the weather gets cold, but prefer dry, well-drained soils in summerÂprecisely the opposite of many perennials. Choose species or near-species tulips, such as Tulipa x greigii "Red Riding Hood" or an "Emperor tulip", like tulipa Fosteriana "Sweetheart" or "Wite Emperor". These species tulips bloom much earlier than the usual hybrids, often have a nice fragrance, and can be a bit more convenient in terms of disguising foliage because of their early bloom.

Ah, the bulb buying season is soon upon us! As to your situation, I'm guessing that 3 hours of sun is plenty for the full sun things you're interested in. My west side bedsÂwith several differences from yoursÂare zone 6a, sloped, receiving about that 3 hrs because of our house and the neighbors house. Full sun stuff does fine there.


    Bookmark   August 23, 2007 at 6:54PM
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My inquiry has not been dressed when the grass does not grow in shadow covered by neigbour's wall, in other adjoining area with limited sun it grows,what should be done with the quality of soil to induce it to grow grass in shaded area.

    Bookmark   December 17, 2010 at 11:49AM
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