Answer: Shade gardens offer cool places to pass the heat of the day and chances to plant things that would fry in the Georgia sun. But growing plants in the shade has special challenges. Tree roots often compete for water and nutrients. So take care, especially when getting plants established, to provide ample water for even drought-tolerant plants.
Knowing the type of shade you have is crucial to choosing plants to put under them.
Dense shade is often found underneath low branches of evergreens such as magnolias. Such a site is often very dry and full of roots.
Dwarf Himalayan sweetbox (Sarcococca hookeriana var. humilis) is a champ in a place like that. This hardy, glossy-leaf plant will spread slowly and offers slightly fragrant flowers in late winter. For Atlanta and areas south, cast iron plant (Aspidistra) will work, too.
The somewhat lighter shade of a high wall or widely spaced trees allows no direct sun, but plenty of reflected light. Many more plants can be grown here, and the limiting factor may be moisture, rather than sunlight.
Ground covers such as ivy, ajuga, liriope and mondo grass will do well in such shade. So will both large- and small-leafed Vinca vines and lamiums. Hostas and fern foliage can brighten up the area, too. If the area is damp, golden creeping Jennie (Lysimachia munnularis 'Aurea') will soon cover the ground.
If the shade is from deciduous trees, daffodils, woodland wildflowers such as bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis) and other spring bloomers are good. They'll have time to bloom and develop their foliage before the trees shade the area too much.
Looking for something different? Variegated Solomon's seal really brightens the dark. Italian arum (Arum italicum) produces interesting, glossy leaves in the fall. The red berries are a bonus.
Hardy begonia (Begonia grandis), with blooms in the fall, spreads freely in moist but well-drained shade. So does astilbe, a spring bloomer.
Annuals for shade include impatiens and begonias as well as Persian shield (Strobilanthes), which has purple and silver foliage, and caladiums, which have red, pink, white and green foliage.
Leaf texture can be more important than flowers in the shade garden. For example, Japanese painted fern and Lamium 'Beacon Silver' are outstanding together. And the wide leaves of hostas combine beautifully with ferns.
Shrubs for shade include aucuba, mahonia and nandina. Fatsia japonica is a good choice in south Georgia, while in north Georgia, Pieris and mountain laurel might be better choices.
Partial shade can be dappled shade all day long or a period of sun followed by shade. Up to 5 hours of sun is considered "partial shade." The number of hours, and whether it's morning or afternoon shade, will dictate which plants will do best.
Many plants that grow in full sun in other parts of the country will be at their best in partial shade in Georgia. For example, day lily colors won't fade as quickly if given afternoon shade, and foxgloves (Digitalis sp.) are perfect here.
Many annuals will thrive here, too. One that's often overlooked is the clown or wishbone flower (Torenia). Shrubs for partial shade include camellias, hydrangeas and azaleas, staples of the Southern landscape.
Hope this information is helpful!
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