Fall is a perfect time to evaluate your gardens and consider adding new plants. Bringing color to the shade garden can present some real challenges, though. The key is to truly know your conditions, plan for season long color, and look for creative solutions. I recently asked the Rosehill growers what they thought our best shade plants are. Here is what they came up with.
1) Use a good foundation of perennial plants. Life, for most of us is so busy! Perennials are a great way to establish an easy care landscape.
2) Leave some space for season long color with well-chosen annuals. Annuals fill in the gaps nicely when perennials cycle out of bloom. By planning some pockets of space in your perennial shade garden, you can ensure season long color from spring to frost.
3) Make sure you are planting in good soil and manage your water! Shade gardens need to be monitored closely on water needs. Especially in our ever changing climate. Water early in the day to allow for the plants to dry down. Watch that you don’t over saturate the soil, as the nature of the shady spaces will often keep them on the damp side. If you haven’t sent a soil sample to your local county extension, contact them for instructions, and do so. You will get a report that lets you know what amendments to add to ensure you get the best results in your shade garden.
Our favorite shade perennials and a brief description:
1) Ferns—you name it, we love it! Dark places need a touch of soft texture. Ferns will do that for you. Place taller ferns to the back of the shade bed where conditions are likely to be a little on the dry side. Shorter ferns can be placed more front and center, but do watch moisture levels. They love soil just a little on the dry side, so they are great for our area! Consider an Ostrich or Cinnamon fern for the background, and any of the Japanese Painted Ferns for the foreground.
2) Astilbe- Available in a wide range of heights and colors ranging from purple-reds to whites, Astilbe can take the sun of early spring and fall, while standing up well to the shade of summer when trees are in full leaf. New varieties offer a nice range on foliage color as well. Light shade is best for the most bloom on the Astilbe.
3) Huechera- The range of colors is nearly limitless with Heuchera and Heucherella (a cross between Tiarella and Huechera, allowing for a more interesting leaf pattern with a wide range of colors). Delicate spires of cream to red bell shaped blooms can appear multiple times in the growing season. These work especially well along borders.
Hostas- So many to choose from! You can find a Hosta for nearly any condition or placement in the shade garden. We love ‘Frozen Margarita’ for a large leaf choice with great lime green foliage and a touch of creamy white variegation. Mix this with Hosta ‘Guacamole’
1) for a great blend! ‘Rainforest Sunrise’ is a new small leaf favorite offering, sporting a near true yellow leaf with a rich deep green margin.
Very deep shade will work for the ferns and hostas. You might also consider Ligularia, Hakonachloe Grass ( ‘All Gold’ will really pop some color in a shade garden) and Brunerra. The blue ‘Forget-me-not’ style blooms of Brunnera Looking Glass or Jack Frost are sure to delight!
You might expect to see traditional Impatiens as a top pick for annual color. With the arrival of Impatiens Downy mildew in our region, we no longer can advise using Impatiens walleranii. However, New Guinea Impatiens thrive in shade as do Sunpatiens! Don’t let the name mislead. Sunpatiens will take the sun like no other, but they do love shade as well! They tend to grow quite vigorously, come in a nice range of colors, and are oh so easy to care for! The bloom power on the Sunpatiens is unparalleled in this type of impatiens.
In addition to New Guinea or Sunpatiens, here are the Rosehill grower’s top picks for shade annuals:
1) Caladiums- You can’t beat the great color and textures of Caladiums. Deep true reds, vibrant pinks, bright whites, all serve to add great color in the shade landscape. Plant once the soil temperatures are warm. They do well even in deep shade!
2) Coleus and Irisine- two great foliages with nearly limitless colors and patterns! We just can’t say enough about what these plants can offer.
3) Torenia is probably our favorite shade bloomer! Great shade of blue, rose, yellow and white allow you to have lovely blooms in your shade garden early spring to frost.
4) Begonias! Begonias are often used in full sun, but they really love a shady spot! For some real drama, try some of the larger varieties like Dragon Wing or BIG in shades of red, rose, or pink. Do you have a terraced shade garden? Begonia Santa Cruz Sunset is a ‘Must Have’ to cascade over a wall or trail from a basket! Beautiful tuberous and Reiger types can provide as much color as any Impatiens ever thought of offering.
Additional shade items to consider are upright Fuchsias. They drive hummingbirds crazy. While they do go out of bloom in the hottest weeks of summer, you will see them again as cooler temps return. Bacopa has done very well for us in light to medium shade as a ground cover. We also like Alternanthera True Yellow for that bright acid green accent that really livens up a shady place.