Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, speaker, radio, and television personality. He has worked for more than 20 years bringing expert gardening information to home gardeners. He speaks around the country at flower shows, master gardener groups and horticultural trade shows on gardening topics from roses to tomatoes.
The shadows are moving in! That's what it feels like in many urban and suburban gardens. As houses are built on smaller lots and closer together and trees grow, shade becomes the dominant factor in many gardens. Luckily for us, there are many great, colorful, shade-loving plants that thrive under part sun or even full shade conditions. The challenge is choosing the right ones for your yard and growing them so they stay healthy. Here are 5 shade lovers you shouldn't do without in your yard.
Astilbe breaks the notion that perennials in shade can't have bright, knock out colored flowers. There is an astilbe variety that will fit in any shade garden situation. Astilbe has varieties that can grow a diminutive 1 foot tall to a striking 4 feet tall plant. Some bold colored varieties to grow include 'Rise and Shine's' with hot pink flowers that are good for drying, 'Glow' with its 2 foot tall, bright red flowers on bronze-red colored foliage, and the 4 foot tall 'Mighty Pip', with it's bold, pink flowering blooms.
Dicentra or bleeding hearts are a mainstay in my garden. They are one of the first perennials to bloom in spring with their heart-shaped flowers in red, pink, or purple colors. Short on space? While most bleeding hearts grow 2- to 3-feet tall, 'Burning Hearts' grows only 12 inches tall and blooms all summer in cool areas. If you're looking for a bleeding heart variety that's truly unique try 'Fire Island'. It has ferny foliage and deep purple colored flowers on a plant that only grows 18-inches tall. For a more bold appearance, try 'Gold Heart' with it's yellow-colored foliage and pink flowers. Since most bleeding heart varieties die back in mid-summer, plant them next to summer blooming perennials that will cover their dying foliage, such as hosta.
Speaking of hosta, how can you have a shade garden without these beauties. There are so many varieties with different foliage and leaf sizes and colors, you're sure to find one that fits your location. Plus, some produce fragrant flowers in summer too. Try 'Lakeside Cupcake' with its cup-shaped, corrugated textured, white leaves with a blue-green margin. It only grows 1 foot tall. 'First Frost' is a larger hosta (2 feet tall), producing blue-green leaves with a yellow margins and lavender colored flowers in summer. First frost contrast well with 'Dream Queen'. 'Dream Queen' features blue-green leaves with yellow centers on 1- to 2-foot tall plants. To keep hosta slug-free, cultivate around the plants frequently and apply iron phosphate-based baits that are safe for the environment.
I love the airiness of coral bells (Heuchera). Not only are the dainty flowers in a variety of colors, the foliage is attractive even when the plants aren't blooming. These low growing plants do well in part shade. For varieties with unique colored foliage, try 'Citronelle' with yellow leaves, 'Vulcano' with it's amber-colored leaves, and 'Palace Purple' with its bronzy-purple colored leaves. Coral bells make great container plants as well as garden plants.
For a final, low growing shade lover, think Pulmonaria or lungwort. Although the name isn't attractive, the plants sure are and deer seem to avoid them. Lungwort only grow 1-foot tall and thrive in shade. The foliage is mottled and newer varieties have bright colored flowers. 'Raspberry Splash' features silver spotted leaves with cheery, raspberry colored flowers in spring. 'Redstart' is a very early bloomer and has coral-red flowers on mottled leaves.