The Q&A Archives: Shade Plants

Question: I have a white wicker chair and an urn for my front porch. I would love to have a colorful flower garden in the urn but the porch receives very little sun. This year I planted begonias which do not have a deep color and for the most part are small (short) plants. The begonias were happy there. I've tried geraniums and they live but will not flower.

The porch has only two sides open to light. The front of the porch faces east and receives only the early morning sun.

Maybe you could suggest some greenery that would be very showy along with some colorful plants to fill the container. I know we're not yet into Fall, but I'm just thinking ahead to next Spring.

Just found your website recently and think it is wonderful. I purchase everything from Tagawa Garden Center near my home. They have very knowledgeable people working there.

Thanks for your help.
Ann Peppin

Answer: Plants with year-round color or interesting foliage are an easy solution for filling in shady places. Variegated ginger (Zingiber zerumbet) has become very popular with its creamy white and dark green variegated leaves. A healthy clump in a three-gallon pot grows 4 to 6 feet tall and almost as wide, so one plant needs lots of room to spread out.

Dwarf schefflera and croton are a good combination for shady places with drier soil. Petite types of variegated dwarf schefflera and a wide variety of taller colorful crotons brighten up any shady space.

Several colorful low-growing plants that do well in shade are bromeliads, variegated liriope (also called aztec grass) and oyster plant. All of these need well-drained soil. Many bromeliad species grow well in shade, even deep shade. Some tolerate a wide range of light intensities and will actually change leaf color when moved from a sunny to a shady location. In general, species with thin, softer, green leaves grow best in partial shade, while those with thick, hard, gray-green or fuzzy leaves tolerate more sun.

A few words about shade-loving ferns are due. Although they don't offer exciting new colors, many ferns have shiny or otherwise interesting foliage worthy of attention. One of my favorites is holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum) with clumps of dark green, glossy foliage that look like holly leaves. It spreads slowly and is controllable, especially when compared to invasive cousins like the sword fern.

Impatiens is one of the first annuals to grab attention. Or, try one of these annuals: wax begonia, Dragon Wing Red begonia hybrid, crossandra, coleus, nicotiana, scarlet sage and torenia.

Two perennials to consider for moist shady areas are jacobinia and caladium. Jacobinia (Justicia carnea) is a perennial (although often sold and grown as an annual) that flowers in light to deep shade, and needs moist fertile soil. This is a good example of a plant that must have shade or it will die. Jacobinia produces bright pink flowers off and on throughout the summer. Remove spent flowers to keep the plants full of blooms.

Caladiums are a bulbous perennial that produce large leaves with many variations in color and shape. Some cultivars perform very well in shade, with some developing intense leaf color under these conditions. Several with red and pink colorations that perform well in shade include Blaze, Festivia, Florida Roselight, Florida Sunrise and Red Flash.

All of these plants for shady places are sensitive to cold weather. Expect to replace them as the seasons change. For even more ideas, visit your local nursery and see what new plants they stock in fall, winter, spring and summer. Enjoy!

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