Saturday, July 11, 2009

Shade Plants Part One

I was asked recently to share some of my tips about growing plants in the shade. This first tip I’ll give is to get the soil in shape as best you can no matter what kind of light conditions you have. Amend it with compost and use mulch to add nutrients, keep down weeds and retain moisture. The discussion of soil can fill several more posts, so I won’t go any further with it here, except to say my soil is far from ideal and is a work in progress.

Second, learn just exactly what light conditions you have in your beds. Watch the areas all during the day throughout the season. I have beds that get little to no sun in early spring, but almost full sun for most of the day during the summer months. Those are the areas I use for vegetables and flowers that demand the most sun for best performance.

If you are planning on growing perennials learn what planting zone you live in. This will help you in purchasing plants that will survive the winter in your area and return for you next spring. I live on the border of zones 6 and 7 here in the mountains. This means I can be pretty confident with plants rated zone 7 and lower. A zone 8 or higher will have to be overwintered inside as a house plant or grown as an annual.

Now for the plants I have the best luck with. In this post I’ll cover the perennials.

Hosta: These plants are very hardy and I have learned they can grow where nothing else will. Some gardeners only grow hosta and there are many varieties to choose from. Hostas are mainly grown as foliage plants, but they do bloom with tall spikes of lavender to purple flowers in mid-summer. They can be grown from seed, but it is difficult and all my seedlings have had plain solid green leaves. Your best bet is to purchase hosta or find someone who will share a few with you. Tip: If you buy a lush container of hosta at the nursery, you can divide the plants inside to get more bang for your buck. They will look pitiful and scrawny the first year, but after that will fill in beautifully. In my experience hosta can stand poor soil, drought, hot sun and deep shade. To me they are an all around winner for problem areas.

Day Lily: These plants are another winner for hard to deal with areas. They care not about soil conditions, survive drought and wet weather equally well and come in a great variety of colors. Now there are cultivars that bloom all summer. I have day lilies on a previously un-cultivatable bank behind my garden shed. I have them at the entrance to Shady Hollow where they get the run-off and car pollution and still thrive. They are considered a sun loving plant but here they get varying amounts of sun and in all areas less than the optimum, but yet they thrive. They can be grown from seed, but your plants will take at least three years to bloom. I collect and plant seed from mine each year and eagerly await their blooming to see what I’ve got. Daylilies can be divided and transplanted after they bloom. Many gardeners will be happy to share with you if you only ask. One or two roots will multiply into a nice patch in only a few years.

Bearded Iris: These are favorites here at Shady Hollow. They are an old fashioned plant, a staple at every old southern home-place. They bloom in spring and are available in a huge selection of colors. When planting iris, be sure to leave the top of the corm uncovered. It needs light in order for the plant to bloom. Iris need partial sun, so don’t plant in deep shade. Mine get a few hours of morning sun and do great.

Purple Cone Flower: These are blooming now in my gardens and are one of my favorites. A prairie plant originally, they love full sun, but do well in part sun as well. A few plants will multiply into a beautiful colony in a short time. Seeds are readily available for purple coneflower and related species. Colors, other than purple, include white and yellow varieties.

Perennial Hibiscus: Flowers the size of dinner plates grace these beauties. I grow them from seed and prefer the Dixie Bell Hybrid variety available from Park Seeds. Started early in spring they will often bloom the first year, growing fuller and with more blooms in each additional year. I will caution that these do need the best soil you can provide and as much sun as possible. They are one of my borderline shade plants. I usually grow them in big (I mean big) pots on my deck and overwinter the pots on the south side of the house for protection. My deck is my sunniest spot and I get much better results from the deck grown hibiscus than those in the ground in shadier locations.

Cannas: I love the tropical look of these plants; even without the blooms they are gorgeous. Like the hibiscus, they really don’t do as well in shade. I grow them in pots so I can place them in the sunniest locations. A warning though, in pots you have to overwinter inside (I use my basement) or the tubers will freeze if you are in zone 7 or lower. Here in North Carolina many folks leave them in the ground all winter with good results. I’ve never been lucky over-wintering mine in the ground. I left them out last year and lost them all. Those that didn’t freeze became squirrel food. This year I am starting fresh with new plants and will definitely overwinter inside.

Foxglove: Warning, if you have small children or nibbling pets, these plants contain digitalis in all parts of the plant and can be fatal if eaten. If you handle them bare-handed, wash your hands afterwards. A biennial instead of perennial they are also one of my favorites. They like moist, partly shaded conditions and are hurt more by heat than anything. They are a favorite of fairies; so of course, I keep some growing at Shady Hollow.

Lilly-of-the valley: Warning . . . another poisonous plant! This plant grows in spring from tuberous runners that grow underground. Their small white bell-shaped blooms smell delightful. They are expensive and once started invasive. They were here when I arrived and I keep them around, it is almost impossible to get rid of them. They do not care about soil, sun, or shade; they grow and spread everywhere.

Ivy: Don’t. I have and it was a mistake.

Virginia creeper: It grows wild here and I’ve let it climb a few trees, but am not crazy about it.

Wisteria: I grew one from seed. I trained it to grow on my old deck. It took a seed grown wisteria 15 years to be mature enough to bloom. It pulled the deck off my house. So, if you must, buy a nursery plant or you may not live long enough to see the flowers. Build a trellis for it from 4” x 4” timbers set in concrete. Then prune it unmercifully.

My wisteria still lives. It sent runners underground into my neighbor’s back yard and climbed her pine trees. It is beautiful over there. I still have the mother vine, but I keep her small and do not let her even get close to the deck supports.

Part two of this will be the shade annuals I grow at Shady Hollow. If you stayed with me this long, may the Goddess bless you for your patience!

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome. I have had great luck with some of the same ones you have and I want doug to read this so we can possibly try some of the others. There is so much to be done here. I think our yard will be a work in progress no matter how long either of us live.
    Thanks so much!!
    LOVE YA, andrea