shade perennials / flowers

dmcdorman(5)February 12, 2013

hey guys. i recently moved into a house with tons of shade, so much i can barely grow grass in some places. im thinking of having some trees trimmed but id really like to get some beds going with some perennials / annuals that will look great together and grow in deep shade. i live in missouri.

when we moved in there were some hostas, mums, daylilies, ornamental grasses, iris, purple salvia and a bed of young mix perennials. most of those either dont flower or arent coming back due to the lack of sunlight.

thanks in advance for any thing that loves deep, humid shade.

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

let me suggest.. that if the greatest invasive weed on the face of the earth.. GRASS [it grows EVERYWHERE!!!!] .... can not survive under your trees.. or in the darkness.. or in the tree created drought ...

you are going to be hard pressed in finding anything else that will ...

first.. what kind of trees ... its very hard to garden under maples ...

and second.. if you really want to garden easily.. and successfully .. what about removal of one or two ...

you already know the lack of light is your problem.. but frankly.. nothing will thrive.. in a dark cave ... other than your basic GREEN plants.. let alone flower ....

and if removal of one or two.. is an option.. it is better to do it PRIOR to building your garden ...

what do you think???


    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:24PM
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I'll agree with Ken, that getting some additional light to your plants will be a big help. Also irrigation will help tremendously. I'll also agree that grass is a weed, but it's a weed that hates shade, so I'll disagree with the lack of things that will take its place in shade.

Epimedium are extremely tolerant of shade, though bright shade is better than deep shade. They are also extremely drought tolerant.

Many sedges can tolerate dry shade. I would give Carex flacca 'Blue Zinger' or C. morrowi 'Ice Dance' a try. Some irrigation will be helpful, but they're more drought tolerant than say a Hosta would be.

Which brings us to Hosta. Most will grow even in dark shade as long as they aren't too dry. Go with vigorous varieties. Medium to large varieties will also be your best bet as small and minis tend to want some sunlight.

The various Solomon's Seal are fairly drought tolerant. P. odoratum 'Variegatum' or P. humile are my recommendations as they're both easy to grow and are the easiest to find of the big group of plants. Though there are many more to choose from!

Tiarellas are tolerant of dry shade, though they'd do best in bright shade rather than dark shade. Irrigation while they're getting established helps them tremendously as well. I've found the creeping types to be more drought tolerant than the clumpers.

Also the various woodland native plants like Trilliums, Hepatica, Bloodroot, Trout Lily, Anemonella, Anemone, etc will do quite well.

That's a pretty good start, there are plenty of other great shade plants.

The Plant Geek

    Bookmark   February 12, 2013 at 6:41PM
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Hi dcmdorman! Congrats on the new living space. What is your gardening experience? This question just gives us some idea of how to approach your question. For instance, are you sure the current plantings are failing due to light, or could it be moisture conditions, soil conditions, etc? Also, does your garden get any light, and if so, how much (and how long per day?). Is the shade truly *deep*, or is it just constant but perhaps bright?

I have a lot of shade myself, and was constantly told when I first started (mostly by non-gardeners) that I wouldn't be able to grow anything. Which made me more determined to grow something!

Most of my shade is fairly bright, so that could be a big difference from your yard, and a few of my beds may get an hour or so of sun, but this is what I grow:

heuchera / heucherella
toad lilies
trout lilies
lily of the valley (watch out for this one - can be aggressive!)
viburnum (a little sun)
itea (a little sun)
clethra (a little sun)
deciduous hollies (a little sun)
impatiens (unfortunately hit with that mildew disease last year)
snapdragons and even some annual rudbeckias do fairly well in my bright shade

Some links that may be of some help:

Us shade gardeners quickly learn to love foliage, which is often the star of shade gardens over blooms, but that doesn't mean we can't have some blooms too!
Good luck and have fun - its always exciting to build a new garden!


Here is a link that might be useful: gardening in the shade

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 12:21PM
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In deeper shade, you'll have to deal with mostly foliage but it can still be interesting. The flowers are usually early before the trees leaf out. I have saxifrage stolonifera (strawberry begonia), various gingers, corydalis and cyclamen mixed in with the hostas, hellebores and epimediums. You can also try astilbe with aruncus and aconitum for blooms.

    Bookmark   February 13, 2013 at 5:17PM
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Thanks guys.

My gardening is pretty limited. I have never tested soil or anything like that.

My shade is not very dense, but very constant. Removal of the trees is not an option, because they are great shade for our deck and our house in the hot summer days. However I am definitely going to call a friend to thin them out to get more sunlight.

I have elm (EXTREMELY LARGE), redbud, and bradford pear shading the front (west) of my house. Only gets 1-2 hours morning sun

Hickory (LARGE!) and pine shading the south side (growing grass under the hickory has been my hardest task, owners before left it bare). gets probably 7-8 hours of sun but trees block most of it

Maple, pine and Persimmon shading my entire back yard (East) this is the area I'd like to put in a patio, fountain and flower beds. Could get sun most of the day but trees shade it all day, although not dense shade.

and my house and a large Walnut shade the North side for the better part of the day. very early morning sun and late afternoon sun in some spots.

Thanks for the many recommendations. I have a great place to start!!

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 1:00PM
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Just thought of something - just how new are you to this house? Have you seen the sun patterns in spring and summer yet?

My personal preference, especially for a patio area, is definitely shade. And shade gardens are very restful and peaceful. My patio is unfortunately smack up against the house on two sides, and has asphalt on the other two. Hot, sunny, and not very pleasant in August! Nice in the morning as we get some morning shade, (and it's cooler anyway) and later in the day the house shades it, but it's hot and yucky for the most part. I'm toying wiith the idea of building a patio out in the yard in the shade. Would be more work to bring food and drink, etc., out there, but it sure would be a lot nicer sitting in the shade surrounded by my shade garden!


    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 4:08PM
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vinca minor (periwinkle) will grow even under pine trees... shallow rooted & pretty tough little bugger, tolerant of difficult soils.

oh, & it will eat your lawn if you let it.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 6:16PM
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Wow! DiggerDee and I must have identical gardens,
since I grow everything on her list in partial-to-full
shade. . .but in addition, I enjoy numerous other flowers
as well, many of them growing on top of the massive
root systems of two silver maples (supposedly The Worst!) This added list includes mertensia, nandina (5 varieties), epimediums, chelone, tricyrtis, ligularia, lamiastrum, galium, aegopodium (can be aggressive!), lamium, chrysogonum, vinca minor, bergenia, brunnera, aruncus, celadine poppy, hakonechloa, lysimachia aurea, actea, thalictrum, corydalis, begonia grandifloris, sanguinaria, trillium, kirengashoma, doronicum, viola labridorica, viburnums, tradescantia, several varieties of ferns and ivy. . .and, believe it or not, a Rosa 'Knockout' Double Pink, in partial shade ! You'll learn to LOVE the challenge of shade. . .right, Dee?


    Bookmark   February 26, 2013 at 5:21PM
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Yes, Carl learned everything he knows from me, lol! ;)

Seriously, I do indeed think the OP will come to love his/her shade garden! While the plants may be more limited (and actually, I'm not even sure "limited" is the right word - maybe just "different") than a sun garden, I sure as heck would rather be sitting in my shade garden with a cool drink on a hot day than out in my small sunny spot.

Well, Carl, you are making me fess up. I not ony have a few of the other things you mentioned, but I too have a rose in partial shade. I didn't mention it earlier because the spot does get about two hours of mid-day sun, and then maybe another hour of dappled shade on either end of that two hours, before and after it is in full shade the rest of the day. I have a Darlow's Enigma there that is very happy. I am happily surprised at how well it seems to like it's spot. Oh, and I forgot - I also have a Lyda Rose in some partial shade. This rose does get a blast of late afternoon sun for about two hours, so I don't know if that helps, but I do hear it does well in perhaps even more shade than I have. Beautiful single pink and white rose, and quite carefree.

I also had a gorgeous swath of chrysogonum, but the last few years with the almost drought-like summer conditions have really done it in. It's in a difficult bed - mostly dry shade, but with a searing blast of late day hot sun, and I think the dryness and the sun just did it in. Too bad, as for a few years it made a beautiful carpet of yellow blooms - and in a very visbile spot, to boot. I'm just going to let the vinca take over in that spot. Not nearly as nice, but hey, green is better than dry dirt and weeds any day!


    Bookmark   February 27, 2013 at 9:16AM
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molie(z6 CT)

My first house was in a heavily forested part of CT. Besides all of the great plants suggested, above, you might also want to consider naturalizing bulbs in your yard. I found that bulbs will provide wonderful color before the trees leaf out and that their leaves, which should be left untouched after flowering, will be less conspicuous in a shade garden than in full sun.

I used narcissus and other minor bulbs rather than tulips, which were illogical in my situation where there were woods between each house lot. Every vole within ten miles must have heard about the "tulip deli" in my yard because I lost hundreds of them. Besides, tulips weren't good naturalizers back when I started gardening.


    Bookmark   February 28, 2013 at 7:53AM
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Reading over your last post, I think I'm hearing you focusing on "shade" in the sense of low or no light, when your real problem is probably going to be root competition. In assessing your conditions you will need to look down as well as up, figure out how dense the roots are from your mature trees as well as how much or how little light plants might get.

When one responder mentions that silver maples are the worst, he means in terms of really agressive root competition. Maples notoriously have dense surface roots. The maple sucks up all the water and, were you to create a bed anywhere near one, its roots will soon invade. You'd be amazed where you will find tree roots and how quickly!

Also, walnuts are said to create adverse growing conditions for many other plants through a chemical in their root tissue. I don't know much about it as I don't have to deal with it, but you did mention a walnut.

Others have mentioned "dry shade". That's what you get under a tree that is quite content to hog the water. Since its canopy may also keep quite a bit of rain from ever reaching the ground, anything planted under its branches is getting robbed twice. Not much water from the sky. And the tree robs it of whatever does drip through.

That being said, add me to the list of folks with patio envy. Shade is lovely stuff. I'm sort of guessing that you probably have plenty of light, just not particularly good soil conditions. I could be very wrong about that, or that might be the problem only in certain parts (like the part with little grass). My suggestion is to also consider what you can do with hanging pots and other containers. In the ground under the trees you may eventually find a tough plant or two that will work as a ground cover -- epimediums, sweet woodruff, and vinca come to mind. Both vinca and sweet woodruff can be agressive in certain situations, but if it's dry shade you're dealing with that can slow them down and they might be the right choice.

All of us are still sort of handing you suggestions without really knowing all the details. Just thought I'd throw in my 2 pennies. Yep. I'm picturing gorgeous big containers with flowering annuals or even with some handsome humongous architectural hostas (yes, they could overwinter outside in large containers).

    Bookmark   March 1, 2013 at 10:47PM
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Putting in some cheap Coleus and Begonias, Lamium - Orchid or Lemon Frost along with Heucheras, Bruneras and Hostas gives you lots of varieties

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 11:29PM
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And a later closeup

This post was edited by boday on Sun, Mar 3, 13 at 9:40

    Bookmark   March 2, 2013 at 11:35PM
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docmom_gw Zone 5 MI(5)

I second the coleus suggestion. They come in hundreds of varieties with fabulous colors that are even more beautiful than some flowers. And they last all season with no dead heading. Can be grown in containers or the ground. And I'm finding them very easy to over winter as simple cuttings in water. Good luck.


    Bookmark   March 6, 2013 at 10:09PM
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