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9 Plants to Grow in Shade

The next time you’re at the local garden center, step over to the dark side… and by dark side, I mean the area where they keep the shade loving plants.

Shade plants have it all figured out. They’re loving life out of the rays of the scorching sun. Who can blame them? When it’s hotter than a Billy goat in a pepper patch, I like to spend my time in shady spots too. Read more

Growing Grass in the Shade

What would be the best kind of grass to grow in an area that is partial shade?
Midgeville, GA

Your question is very timely because I just spent a few days at a grass research farm in Oregon and this very topic came up in a discussion.

In order to answer your question I think it is important to first understand the problem. In shady areas low light, poor air circulation and competition for water and nutrients combine to create an environment that is inhospitable to grass. Grass needs at least 4 hours of sunlight to produce enough energy for healthy growth and to defend itself against disease. If the area in question has less than 4 hours of sunlight I suggest planting a shade tolerant ground cover or consulting a tree trimming expert about removing a few limbs to allow more light into the space. If you have high shade, dapple shade or partial shade with more than 4 hours of light, you can grow grass. It won’t be as thick as a lawn in full sun, but based on the test lawns I saw at the grass farm it can be quite lovely.

A research technician at the grass farm gave me a few tips on how to grow a beautiful green lawn in shady areas.

Grass Selection
While grass does best with plenty of sunlight, some types have proven to be more shade tolerant than others. Here are some choices based on the region of the country where you live. Cool season grasses are typically grown in northern areas of the country, started from seed in either spring or early fall. Many southern gardeners can also sow cool season grasses in the fall for a green lawn from winter through late spring. Cool season grasses that do well in shade include fine fescue, turf type tall fescue, and perennial rye. Look for blends of cool season grass seeds designed specifically for shade. Warm season grasses are grown primarily in the south. They are grown in summer and go dormant in winter. The best warm season grass for shade is St. Augustine, but some varieties of zoysia such as ‘Cavalier’ will tolerate light shade. Warm season grasses should be planted in mid-spring to early summer.

Turf grasses grown in shade need about half the nitrogen as those grown in full sun. Apply the fertilizer at 1 pound per 1,000 ft2 in late spring after the grass has begun to green up. In the early fall feed again. If you are establishing a new lawn use a starter fertilizer. A soil test is recommended to help you determine the best starter blend for your situation.

When mowing the grass in shady areas, raise your mower blade so that it cuts the grass to about 3 inches tall. The extra grass length increases the amount of leaf tissue available for photosynthesis, the process that produces energy for the plant. But don’t allow the grass to become overgrown and scraggly. Removing more than 1/3 of the plant at a time will cause root shock. This slows root development and weakens the grass.

Grass is competing with neighboring trees and shrubs for moisture so you want to provide adequate water without over watering and promoting fungus. Water deeply to prevent shallow root development and then give the area some time to dry out between waterings.

The Many Definitions of Shade

I’m confused about all the terminology that is used to define shade. How do I differentiate between all the types of shade?

The word shade by definition means absence of light. However, in an outdoor setting there are many different kinds of shade including dappled, partial, deep, and even wet or dry. It is important to take the time to determine what type of shade you have in your yard so you can select the plants that will thrive in your conditions. Happy, healthy plants require a lot less work and worry.

Dappled Shade – This type of shade occurs when there is a moving pattern of sunlight and shadow created by the open branching of shrubs and trees. Because this is the lightest type of shade, it offers the widest range of plant choices.

Partial Shade – There are several ways to define partial shade, but I think of it in terms of how the sun moves through the sky. Depending on the time of day, plants may be in either sun or shade. When plants get direct sun in early morning or late afternoon with shade through most of the day, that creates a “partial shade” environment.

Deep Shade – You will find deep shade conditions under evergreen trees, in dense woodlands, along tall fences and shrubs or on north-facing areas of the house.

Dry or Wet – Moisture is also an important factor in a reduced light area. As you select a shade plant, be sure to check the label to see if it grows best in wet areas or is more drought tolerant.

Ten Great Plants for Shade

Shade loving plants seem to have it all figured out.  They’ve made their home out of the scorching summer sun. Who can blame them?  When temperatures start to rise I like to spend my time in the shady spots in my garden too.

Although the shade garden may not be as brilliant as one in full sun, it is rare that I hear a gardener complain about their shady lot in life.  Bed space in an area of low light can be filled to the brim with textures, shapes and yes, even color.

There are so many choices for shade to partial shade areas that I found it hard to narrow it down to just ten.  In addition to trying out these selections I encourage you to further explore the possibilities.  Once you discover all the beautiful annuals, perennials, shrubs and trees suitable for shade gardens you’ll never want to go out into the sun again.

Proven Winners Summer Wave Blue ToreniaSummer Wave® Blue Torenia (Wishbone Flower) – This plant pumps out true blue flowers throughout the summer.  It’s a low grower, maturing at 2 to 6 inches tall and has a ground cover like habit when planted in beds.  Position Summer Wave® Blue at the edge of containers, hanging baskets and window boxes for a cascade of color. It’s a proven performer, even through periods of intense heat and humidity.
Annual; part shade to shade; deer resistant; heat tolerant
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Proven Winners Rockapulco Appleblossom ImpatiensRockapulco® Appleblossom Impatiens – Who says you can’t grow roses in the shade?  This impatiens produces pale pink, fully double blooms that look just like roses.  This is one of my favorites for container gardens.  It works well as the round and full component in my 3-shape rule of using a combination of tall and spiky, round and full, and cascading plants.  In addition to the Appleblossom, Rockapulco® is also available in white, purple, pink and red. 
Annual; partial shade to shade; 10 to 20 inches tall
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Proven Winners Heuchera Dolce Mocha MintDolce® Coral Bells (Heuchera hybrid) – One of my most delightful plant discoveries of late are the Dolce® heucheras.  Talk about color!  Names like Crème Brulee, Key Lime Pie and Mocha Mint set the tone for these extraordinary plants.  The bright chartreuse foliage of Key Lime Pie makes it a favorite of mine and I just love using Peach Melba in fall containers.  The fiery salmon leaves fit right in to the autumn tapestry.  These heucheras bloom nicely as well.  Hefty spires of tiny bell-shaped flowers are produced in spring and again in late summer.
Perennial; full sun to partial shade to shade; zones 5 – 11; deer resistant; drought tolerant
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Proven Winners Infinity Salmon New Guinea ImpatiensInfinity® Salmon New Guinea Impatiens
– Bright, cheerful color on large flowers can be difficult to find for the shade, but this New Guinea Impatiens definitely answers to the call.  The deep salmon flowers with a white sparkling eye look great massed in flower beds or container designs with hostas, ivy and grasses.  For the best results be sure to give New Guinea Impatiens plenty of moisture, but allow the soil to dry out between waterings. 
Annual; partial shade to full shade
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Proven Winners Diamond Frost EuphorbiaDiamond Frost® Euphorbia – This plant is outstanding anywhere in the garden.  It’s designated as a full sun to partial shade plant, but I’ve discovered that it does really well in full shade as well. It is so delicate and ethereal looking that I was surprised to discover what a toughie it can be. Both heat and drought tolerant Diamond Frost® blooms constantly throughout the summer and into fall. The flowers appeared to hover over the ground in a cloud of dainty white flowers. Mature garden height is 12 to 18 inches.
Tender perennial; full sun to partial shade; zone 10; deer resistant, drought tolerant; heat tolerant
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Proven Winners Little Henry IteaLittle Henry® Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica) – This little shrub is a superstar in my garden because of its sweet smelling summer blooms and amazing fall color. It’s exceptionally adaptable to a variety of growing conditions and virtually carefree.  If you have an area in your garden with low light and wet, poorly draining soil, this is the shrub for you.  It will also thrive in full sun and can survive short periods of drought once it gets established.  As the name implies this shrub stays compact, maturing at about 3 feet tall and 3 feet wide.  It’s an excellent choice to slip into containers for seasonal color and then plant in the garden later.
Deciduous shrub, zones 5 – 9, deer resistant, 3 feet tall x 3 feet wide
This plant is a Proven Winner®. Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer near you.

Pineapple LilyPineapple Lily (Eucomis autumnalis) – I discovered this plant during a visit to Holland and I’ve been planting it in my shade garden and container designs ever since.  It’s an exotic beauty that produces rosettes of strap-like leaves and  20" bloom stalks bearing flowers that resemble pineapples. It’s a tender perennial that doesn’t winter over in my mid-South garden so I have to plant it every summer.  It will thrive in full sun or partial shade, although the blooms may need to be staked in areas of low light.
Tender perennial; full sun to partial shade; zones 8 – 11

Hosta Krossa Regal and Souther Wood FernsHosta – Hostas may seem a little obvious, but sometimes you just can’t beat the tried and true.  Besides there are so many interesting types.  You can grow the jumbo hostas like Sum and Substance or tea cup varieties such as Tiara.  Colors range from true green, chartreuse, variegated, gray and blue.  I think a mass planting of hefty hostas and delicate ferns can be truly stunning.  And hosta leaves and blooms are a wonderful addition to cut flower arrangements. 
Perennial; partial shade to shade; zones 3 – 9

Japanese Anemone Honorine Jobert‘Honorine Jobert’ Japanese Anemone (Anemone x hybrida) – Japanese anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’ produces single petaled flowers tinged delicately with pink on the underside of the petals.  Bright yellow stamens emerge from the center.  The glossy green, deeply lobed foliage is lovely in the garden as well. This plant will grow 2 to 3 feet tall and prefers rich, moist, but well-drained soil. If the plant has wet "feet" in winter, it can be fatal.  For the best results plant in partial shade to filtered light.
Perennial; partial shade to shade; zones 5 – 10

Royal FernRoyal Fern (Osmunda regalis) – Royal ferns provide dramatic height and delicate foliage to your garden.  They are an ideal choice for areas with poor drainage. Its regal stature, growing to 6 feet tall in ideal conditions, makes it a dramatic backdrop for other woodland plants such as variegated hosta and columbine. The delicate foliage brings to mind black locust leaves in that the leaflets are small and oblong.  The bright green of the leaves and cinnamon colored summer “blooms” make this plant a real standout. 
Perennial, zones 4 – 9, partial shade to shade

Made in the Shade

Whenever I talk to people about their gardens, one of the most frequently asked questions is, "What can I grow in the shade?" Many homeowners view these areas of reduced light as "problem spots" and "no-grow" zones.

The good news is that although you may be more familiar with plants that flourish in full sun, there is also a beautiful selection of shade-loving plants that can add color and interest to those darker areas of your garden. In fact, I have found these often little-used places to be wonderful opportunities to create refreshing havens when summer temperatures climb. But, before you head to the garden center, there are some tips you should know that will help you achieve the best results.

A New Mind Set
Shade Garden
First, readjust your thinking that everything in the garden needs to bloom. Even in sunny areas, I find the most interesting compositions are a mixture of flowering and foliage plants. Discover all the beautiful varieties of hostas, ferns, variegated foliage plants, shrubs, vines and ground covers that will brighten shady areas with their colorful leaves. Next blend in some flowering shade plants such as impatiens, columbine, lamium, spiderwort, and torenia.

Working Around Tree Roots
Turning over soil to create bed space around tree roots can be difficult as well as harm the health of the tree. But these areas don’t have to go neglected. You can add beautiful splashes of color to dark areas under trees with container gardens. Pack the containers full of vibrant flowers and foliage for drama.

Morning or Afternoon Light
As you think about what you would like to plant in your shade garden, observe the area through the day and note the light conditions as they change from morning to night. What I’ve discovered, especially in warmer parts of the country, is that the afternoon sun is especially hard on shade loving plants, so it is especially important to be careful what you plant in those areas. Hydrangeas, azaleas and hostas struggle when exposed to several hours of western sun, while they seem less bothered with the same amount of morning light.

Good to Know: Know Your Shade

To select the right plants for your shade garden ask yourself these questions and then select varieties that best suit the site.

  1. Do I have dry or moist shade?
  2. Is the area fully shaded all day or are there periods when it gets sunlight?
  3. If the area receives periods of sunlight, what time of the day does it happen and for how long?

Raise the Shades
If you are faced with deep shade under trees, one way you can bring more light to the understory is to lift the canopy by pruning some of the lower branches. I call this "raising the shades." It’s important to remove limbs in a balanced way so the tree continues to look natural and attractive. This type of pruning will allow the sun to come in at an angle, bringing in filtered light.

Create A Focal Point
Shady spots are perfect places to create a dramatic focal point. An eye-catching object in a darkened area makes a powerful visual hook. A brightly painted bench, statue, ornament, or a colorful container full of bright plants can add interest to an otherwise overlooked area of the garden.

Dry Shade
For dry, shady locations the best solution is to plant ground covers. Check with local garden centers for the varieties suited to your growing zone. In my zone 7 garden, I’ve had good luck with Bishop’s weed (Aegopodium podagraria), vinca (Vinca minor), variegated wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), liriope and varieties of mondo grass.

Five Design Elements of a Woodland Garden

Woodland gardens enchant us. They’re intriguing – they remind us of fairy tales and adventure. With relaxed, natural looks and carefree plants, maintenance is easy, leaving you with more time to enjoy it. Woodland gardens play off the region’s natural setting and leave room for awe. Plus, more practically, they are an excellent solution for shady yards.

I’ve created and explored many a garden and I’ve concluded these are five essentials for creating a woodland garden.

1. A winding path

Say bye to sidewalk-straight paths. Create a path that curves through the garden, leading you along. The path can be paved with well-worn stones, bricks, mulched or just left with exposed earth. The path can be edged with river rocks too. Tidy perfection and symmetry have no place here.

Winding path edged by tall evergreens

2. Curved beds

When it comes to beds in a woodland garden, there’s no room for right edges and hard lines. Allow the edges of your garden beds to curve in organic movement. Remember, there are seldom straight lines in nature.

Japanese Maples

3. Greenery

My biggest tip for a woodland garden? Select plants native to your region for easy maintenance. Work with nature as much as possible.

Also, consider layering when you’re creating a woodland garden. There’s more of an incorporation of vertical space because you’re dealing with trees. You’ll need to think in terms of a top layer (trees), a mid layer (shrubs), a lower layer (flowers or grasses) and ground cover.

Good tree options for the top layer include dogwood, magnolias, birch and Japanese maple. Azaleas, holly and hydrangea are all excellent shrub-type choices.

Shade Garden Planted with Shrubs, Perennials and Trees

Common lower level woodland plants are ferns, columbine, phlox, coral bells, golden rod and elephant ear. As far as ground cover, popular choices include Virginia creeper, moss, lily of the valley and ivy. Of course this list isn’t comprehensive, but it should give you a few ideas to start.

4. Decoration

Gnomes, fanciful creatures, saint statues or mirrored glass orbs all provide that extra element that separates woodland gardens from their more serious counterparts. Birdbaths or birdhouses are also nice to include. Many woodland gardens feature a small pond or have a tiny bridge over a creek. An arbor also can be a pleasant addition.

Adirondack chairs made from recycled skis

5. A place to rest

Whether it’s a stone bench, wooden Adirondack chairs or metal patio furniture, allow a place for rest in your woodland garden. Breathe and unwind in what’s sure to become your favorite spot.

Shady Glen Container Garden

Container of ColorBlaze Sedona Coleus Mandalay Mandarin Begonias and Gage's Shadow Perilla Proven WinnersThe superstar of this trio of plants is ColorBlaze™ ‘Sedona’ Coleus, a reliable and carefree source of bright color for the garden.  It is a unique rusty bronze named after the Sedona Mountains.  The undersides of the leaves are a rich plum.  It is a beautiful companion to the large purple-green foliage of the ‘Gage’s Shadow’ Perilla and brilliant orange blooms of the Mandalay™ Mandarin Begonia.

The plants in this container are best suited to partial shade.  You can count on them to perform beautifully from spring until the first hard freeze in fall.

This container garden can be used as a colorful focal point or as a warm welcome beside an entryway.  Select a pot that is upright to emphasize the cascading blooms of the Begonia. Diagram of Shady Glen Container Garden

16-inch Container
(1) 4 1/2 inch pot Mandalay™ Mandarin Begonia
(1) 4 1/2 inch pot ColorBlaze™ ‘Sedona’ Coleus
(1) 4 1/2 inch pot ‘Gage’s Shadow’ Perilla


ColorBlaze™ ‘Sedona’ Coleus is also suited for growing indoors as a houseplant.  To care for your Coleus indoors, place it in a location with bright, indirect light. Keep the soil consistently moist, but not soggy. Pinch back blooms to prevent the plant from going to seed and cut the stems back hard if the plant becomes too leggy. Feed your Coleus monthly during the growing season with a liquid fertilizer diluted to half strength. 


Proven WinnersThe plants featured in this article are from Proven Winners®.  Visit www.provenwinners.com to find a retailer in your area.