Occasionally I hear “I can’t grow anything in my yard because it is too shady!” There are a number of plants that prefer shade. Many of them we grow for the leaves rather than flowers. Some of my favorites are:

Coral Bells (Heuchera sp.), a short spreading plant 6 to 18 inches tall, sometimes 2 feet wide.  The blooms are usually tall and slender but not very big. My very first one was “Palace Purple” with deep purplish leaves that has been living under a Redbud TREE for many years.         

            There are ruffled leaves; many have prominent veins that add color. Some leaves have silver coloring, some bronze, and some green with red veins. For me CORAL BELLS behave much better than COLEUS and their blooms are dainty and prettier. I have lost some of them in winter so not all are perennial in Lincoln.

          COLEUS (Salenostemon) is another shade plant I must have. It has just as many wild colors, is easier to propagate by simple stem cutting in water, but can grow much taller.  I do not like the blooms so try to cut them off as soon as possible. They also make the plant unshapely. Two of my favorites are Sedona (orange) and Lace Net Stockings which is very dark green and red with outstanding “lacy” markings. Just before it freezes I like cuttings in a vase for a water bouquet.  Some COLEUS can now stand a great deal of sun so read your labels!

          Since we have had the scare of mildew on IMPATIENS, I have been trying to find substitutes for short, shady plants along the edge of some of my paths. FIBROUS BEGONIAS have done   quite well.  They come in red, pink, and white with either light or dark green leaves.  Like IMPATIENS they are filled with water and among the first plants to be killed by frost.

          If you want a large clump of white 8 inches to 12 inches of blooms that dry and last all winter, then you can choose ANNABELLE (Hydrangea arborescens). It needs practically no attention, but a little water. Its roots will produce new babies each spring. My clump is now about 8 feet across and 4 feet high.  Every spring I can dig and give away new plants at the outer edge.  There are many new hybrid Hydrangeas of various colors and variegated leaves.  Some need acid soil to produce blue flowers.  NICKI BLUE isn’t nearly as vigorous as ANNABELLE, demands more water and produces only a few blooms that are huger and beautiful.  The       hybridizers have been busy and there are any number of varieties of those big blooms available.

          BERGENIA for me is a little fussy-it likes high or light shade. Sometimes it is called PIG SQUEAK. It has spectacular stems of 8 inches to 12 inches covered with bell shaped blooms of purple or red in early spring. When I get to the bed in spring many of the older leaves are dead and have to be cleared out. Some of the big, thick rhizomes are in these leaves and easy to break.  The clump has spread very slowly.

          The ANEMONE (wind flower) group has many varieties, some of which like shade. I have a very aggressive short (12-15 inches) with white flowers that bloom early in spring.  It looks its best in shade but plan on using your hoe after a year or so.  Another ANEMONE I like is the Japanese (var. japonica). It is a taller of 2 1/2 to 4 feet with pink tinted blooms.  In the right place such as high shade and damp soil, it will spread blooms in the fall.  There are some ANEMONE that are not hardy here so read your labels!

          My very favorite is a grass that likes shade and water. It is JAPANESE FOREST GRASS (Hakonechloa) and located under the big COTTONWOOD TREE that is trimmed very high. The long thin leaves of the grass curve out rather that up. They may be green with a yellow stripe, or white with a green stripe. In among those rounded clumps I like to plant CALADIUM bulbs with their wild range of colors, stripes, and spots. These     bulbs need to be dug before a hard frost.  I keep mine in an unheated basement room in vermiculite.

          Mertensia species, called VIRGINIA BLUE BELLS, or VIRGINIA COWSLIP, love high shade and spread slowly in damp soil with lots of compost.  About 15 inches tall and covered in early spring with true blue bells, they disappear with the heat.  I have been filling their bed with IMPATIENS but will need to find another plant.

Copyright 2014





          Regular readers to this column know that I do not like the styrofoam Rose cones. They are convenient but may cause more harm than good. On a warm winter day the heat can build up inside a cone that still has the top on it. This heat can build up to the point where the Rose bush breaks dormancy, especially if there is no mulch under the Rose cone. With the next hard freeze the plant then freezes and dies. The Rose cones are easy and convenient to use, but they do not work. If you do want to use one, cut the top off and fill the inside with mulch, compost, or garden soil taken from another part of the garden. 

          A convenient alternative is to purchase a “rose collar” and fill it with mulch, soil, or compost. A “rose collar” is a plastic collar about 12 inches tall that goes around a bush or shrub and then snaps together. They work fine, are easy to use, do a neat job holding your mulch in place, and take very little storage space in the summer. Prune your bush to about 24 inches then finish your pruning in the spring after the leaves start to come out.

          Remember, mulch in the winter after the night time temperatures are consistently in the mid to low 20’s to keep the ground cold, and to avoid the freezes and thaws. Then mulch in the summer to keep the roots cool and the ground from drying out.

Copyright 2014