The Q&A Archives: Full Shade Foundation Plants that don't get wide.

Question: The front of my house has an east exposure that is fully shaded by trees. The previous owner planted three crape mrytles in front of our 10 x 10 window. They are of course not doing well and need to come out. They worked great in that they gave us privacy during the summer but sunshine during the winter. They were planted one to two feet from the house. Someone suggested camellias but I don't think that we can get them that close to the house. Do you have any suggestions?

Answer: Foundation plants need to be set far enough out from the foundation that they will receive rain at their roots (meaning out beyond the eaves) and so that you have room to work behind them if needed (to perform maintenance or repairs on the building). Generally speaking, if you want to screen/shade the window the same way the crepe myrtles did, you might try either shade tolerant deciduous shrubs or, if you have room to plant a bit further out from the house, a small deciduous tree. Since I am not sure how tall you want these to be or what type of soil you have or what size you really need, it is a bit difficult to make specific suggestions. However you might consider a flowering dogwood (Cornus kousa) or Carolina silverbell (Halesia carolina) or perhaps Paperbark maple (Acer griseum) planted well out from the house so it does not crowd when grown, or perhaps hydrangeas or nandinas planted along the foundation. For these to bloom well, the location should be fairly bright with some direct sun coming through the trees. (Crepe myrtles really need full direct sun all day or from noon to dusk to grow well.)

Your zip code places you in zone 6B, so I do not think Camellias would be the best choice as they would not be reliably hardy for your area. They are also evergreen. If you would consider evergreens and want a flowering shrub, you might look at some of the rhododendrons and azaleas. An eastern exposure shaded by trees would be perfect for them so long as you have soil that is suitable -- acidic, organic and well drained, yet evenly moist. There are cultivars that mature to a range of sizes, from quite short to very large so you should be able to find something that would ultimately grow to the size you need. And, there are actually some deciduous azaleas if that winter sun is important to you.

I would strongly suggest you consult with your local county extension and with your local professionally trained nursery staff to evaluate the growing conditions where you want to plant and identify plants that would thrive there, then select the one you like best from among those. Good luck with your project!

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