Ideally, your yard includes areas exposed to full sun, shade, and everything in between. That would allow you the greatest flexibility in planting perennials, groundcovers, trees, and shrubs. But maybe you are blessed with an overabundance of shade, which is not at all unusual in our area. No problem, you can still have gracefully curving borders or woodland gardens bursting with color and texture, and that’s our topic for today. There are so many perennials and groundcovers that thrive in partial to full shade, and we can’t possibly cover them all a single blog. We’ll focus on a few that add some great texture and color from spring through fall, and catch up on some of the others another day.
Heuchera and hosta are both known for their striking foliage. While they do bloom, the flowers themselves are not necessarily showy, but are sometimes fragrant. Astilbe, on the other hand, is known for its striking flower plumes. Cranesbill (aka hardy geranium) has both foliage and flower interest. And Himalayan sweet box is a perfect groundcover for shaded plantings. These plants have decent life expectancies, so they’re likely to be hanging around for the next decade. You can read more about each of these shade perennials below. And remember that even if the flowers aren’t the main attraction to us, they may be to beneficial insects, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
Heuchera, also known as coral bells, is known for its dense foliage, which can be deeply textured, crinkly, ruffled, veined, and/or silvered, in shades of pale peach, gold, chartreuse, silver, red, burgundy, chocolate, and green. The flower spikes are delicate, and float above the mounded plants. Planted in masses, heuchera is stunning. Heuchera ranges in size from 8” to 3’ to the tips of its flower spikes, which are generally as tall as the foliage mound, with spreads matching the height of the foliage. They can be placed at the front of a border, in rock gardens, or containers. Heuchera are low maintenance, and should be cut back in fall, and mulched in winter if planted in colder or exposed locations. Heuchera attracts hummingbirds and butterflies. Some cultivars do well in full sun to full shade, but colors will likely fade quicker in sunny situations.
Astilbe, with dark green ferny foliage, can range in height from 12” to 32” to tips of flower plumes. Dense foliage and upright form give astilbe a commanding presence, especially when planted in groups (although they also make a stunning centerpiece in a container planting), preferably in partial to full shade in sheltered locations. The bloom stalks are referred to as plumes, which vary in form, from lacy to bottle brushy, in shades of white, pink, peach, salmon, red, and purplish pink. While astilbe are generally low maintenance once they’re established, they do make a fuss about the soil in which they are planted – only consistently moist, rich, acidic soil will do – and they require spring cleanup. Astilbe attracts butterflies, and are not particularly appealing to deer.
Hosta cultivars span a wide range of characteristics in terms of plant size, foliage size, foliage texture, and colors. The range of plant sizes is generally from 6”-36” tall, and generally their spread equals their height. Hostas prefer partial to full shade, and foliage colors and striations fade out in sun. They are low maintenance, with cleanup required in spring. The down side is that slugs and deer view hosta as salad bars, so make sure you put out a variety of extras and dressings, and don’t forget the croutons. Hostas are superb in mass plantings, and their dense foliage fills in gaps beautifully. The bloom stalks are generally of little visual interest, however, some do have slightly fragrant flowers. Average soil that isn’t allowed to completely dry out is about all a hosta requires.
Cranesbill grows in partial shade to full sun, with flowers in shades of white, pink, blush, lilac, and rose. They are most effective when planted in groups, and because of their dense foliage, they can be situated in the front seat of a border. Cranesbill’s palmate leaves also often provide fall color in the garden. Cranesbill is low maintenance, requiring pruning only after flowering has ended for the season, or in preparation for winter. And they’re not fussy about moisture levels or soil.
Himalayan sweet box is an evergreen groundcover with glossy dark green leaves and fragrant white flowers that does well in dry shade. It is slow growing, ultimately reaching 1-2’ tall and 8’ wide. Himalayan sweet box is low maintenance, requiring only occasional watering once established.
These are a just a few suggestions for shaded plantings. There are so many perennials, shrubs, ferns, groundcovers, and trees that thrive in the shade. Some, such as native azaleas, anemones, foxgloves, and camellias offer elegant, brightly colored, and sometimes fragrant blossoms. In addition to hostas, Japanese maples, ferns, ajuga, and lamium provide foliage interest to shady and woodland gardens.
We have what you need to create beautiful spaces where you can enjoy your own private retreat, or enhance the walk to your front door, no matter what kinds of shade you may have. Come on in to see the hundreds of shade loving perennials, annuals, shrubs, ground covers, and trees we have here at the nursery.