After having a house for a few years, it seems we have become shady. The trees grew and spread and many plants are not blooming as well as they did.  There are different kinds of shade from light to almost no sunlight. Trees can be trimmed up to let in more light with a mulch and a chair close to the trunk to prevent doing damage to the tree roots.  There are many plants that prefer the outer perimeters of shade to keep the leaves from fading or burning.

          The number one plant for use in the shade being sold for several years has been the Hosta.  Now the hybridizers have developed so many color combinations, leaf size, and shape that anyone can have a Hosta.

          In my shadiest area are Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia) under a huge Cottonwood Tree.  Each spring I add small bark chips in that area as a mulch as potting soil could suffocate the tree roots if put on top of the roots. Any mulch should not be over 3 inches thick in order to avoid this problem. The plants come up thick and blue so I put a fence around them to keep the dogs from running through. Then the plants die down early in May so I add a layer of bark, remove the fence, and move my chairs back in.  I think the bark keeps me from compacting the soil, and in early spring the “Bluebells” fill every inch coming up through the bark. About 18 inches high, the Bells start out pink and then change to bright blue.

          Away from that dense shade area, I have “Wind Flowers” that bloom white. It is a rather aggressive plant that needs a hoe to keep it home.  In this same area are the Shooting Stars (Dodecatheon species) of white and pink. They only grow about 8 to 12 inches with the flowers having a pointed tip followed by petals flowing backward from the tip. They must not dry out or will go dormant.  This plant is listed as an Ephemeral as are Blue Bells.  Ephemerals are those plants that disappear after blooming.

          Astilbe hybrids do well in medium shade but do require a moist location with lots of organic material in the soil.  It does not like water on its roots in winter or drought in summer. They have fluffy, red, white, pink, and even lavender flowers about 2 feet tall, sometime described as featherly. It is a heavy feeder remaining for many years in the same place. It can do well in deep shade but not if it has to fight tree roots.  They seem to do best under the outside edges of trees giving them a little sun protection.

          For all my “dark spots” I find Impatiens to do well.  There are some that can tolerate more sun.  You may hear some people call it “Busy Lizzie”. It is annual and if you are careful you can start it from seed indoors 10 to 12 weeks before you want to set the plants out. The seeds are very tiny so don’t sneeze while you are planting.  During hot weather Impatiens must be kept moist as they wilt easily.  There are single and double flowers in many very bright colors for those dark areas. You can put them in many places-containers, window boxes, or hanging baskets.

          A favorite perennial of mine is the Bergenia hardy to zone 2. It likes any kind of shade with big 12 inch coarse leaves that do better if protected from wind.  Each spring a number of the lowest and oldest leaves turn brown but are quickly replaced by new ones.  In fertile soil it will spread faster but is not invasive.  The blooms are quite spectacular in a cluster held above the leaves in shades of pink, orange, and red.  You can divide them in fall or spring.  They stay green all winter until pushed aside by the new ones in spring.

          For light shade Brunnera macrophylla can not beat.  Sometimes called “Bugloss” with beautiful leaves and tiny blue flowers about 12 inches high.  In the last few years several new varieties with different leaf patterns have been developed.  My very favorite is “Jack Frost” whose leaves do look slightly frosted all summer. Mine are under an old “Redbud Tree”.  Last year they produced a number of seedlings. About half of them look like the original plant of long ago and the other half are “ Jack Frosts ”.  I am hoping that around the last of April and first of May my new colony will be in bloom.

          If you like little Daisy like flowers (white) in light shade or sun, someone could probably give you a start of “Feverfew” (Chrysanthemum parthenum) also call “Matricaria”. They can take care of themselves.  They are covered most of the summer with blooms that do well in bouquets. This means lots of seeds to scatter around.  The seedlings from the hybrids will grow to 3 feet unless you cut the tops off early. Then they will be 12 to 15 inches and make a short white plant for the front of the border.

          Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra) comes in various combinations of green, white and yellow and is one of the few grasses that prefers shade and water. It only grows about 12 inches high as it tends to flop-all in one direction.  I plant Caladium bulbs in and around my clumps growing along a path under the Cottonwood Tree that is trimmed very high. It will need watering as its competing with tree roots.  My species is green with almost white stripes.

          By March the following plants for shade should be in bloom:

  • Helleborous (Christmas or Lenten Rose ).
  • Day Lilies
  • Hydrangeas (my favorite is Hydrangea Macrophylla “ Annabelle ”)
  • The shrub Kerria japonica (Japanese Kerria)

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