The Q&A Archives: Best annuals and perennials

Question: What are the best plants for a shady area in Ft. Worth: annuals and perennials?

Answer: Here is a sampling of plants worthy of consideration:

English Ivy may be one of the best evergreen ground covers for the shaded location. It thrives in deep shade, and once established, will cover a large area with a thick carpet of deep green. There are several varieties available with varying leaf shapes. English Ivy will grow up tree trunks, but can be kept under control with an annual trimming. Asian jasmine will also make a nice cover in light to moderate shade.

Hostas or Plantain Lilies make a bold statement in the shade garden with their large, richly colored leaves. Hostas are herbaceous perennials, disappearing in late fall or winter only to return from the same roots the following spring, more robust than the year before. Hostas grow 8 to 18 inches tall in large clumps and sport tall spikes of flowers in summer. There are many varieties with varying leaf colors and shapes. 'Sugar and Cream', 'So Sweet', 'Blue Cadet', 'Royal Standard', and 'Blue Angel' are a few of the outstanding varieties.

Periwinkle is a vining ground cover which does great in full or partial, open shade. It bears sky- blue flowers and is a very vigorous grower, covering large areas in a short time. Variegated periwinkle really brightens up dark corners.

Liriope is a grass-like perennial that grows in dense, low clumps in full shade or partial sun and bear lilac colored flowers which are followed by black fruit. There are several varieties, including giant and variegated liriope.

A close relative is monkey or mondo grass (Ophiopogon) which forms dense clumps that spread by underground stems. The foliage of common mondo grass is dark green, and there is a variety with almost black leaves. Dwarf mondo grass is a very low growing variety, suitable for growing between the cracks in stepping stones.

Ferns are classic plants for shade. There are many species of ferns to select from - both native and exotic. Most ferns prefer a moist environment and are perfect for the woodland garden. Their light, airy texture provides an excellent contrast to the broad leaves of most plants. Some common types include holly fern, painted fern, royal fern, lady fern, sensitive fern, wood or river fern and autumn fern.

Here's a few other shrubs and ground covers that would prefer a shady location in your yard: acuba, aspidistra, camellia, holly (many species), Florida anise (Illicium floridanum), Oregon grapeholly (Mahonia), leatherleaf mahonia, Japanese fatsia, fatshedera, wintercreeper (Euonymus fortunei), ajuga, variegated Japanese sedge (Carex), inland sea oats (best suited for naturalizing as it readily reseeds), and azaleas.

For a splash of color, try some of the following annuals, perennials and bulbs: impatiens, New Guinea impatiens, begonias, caladiums, Chinese ground orchid (Bletilla), columbine, achimenes ('Purple King'), firespike (Odontonema strictum), coleus, phlox, violets and spring-blooming bulbs such as narcissus

Some companion plants for ferns include aspidistra, columbine, liriope, caladiums, Fatsia, aucuba, hosta and hydrangeas.

Here is a sampling of a few ferns for your shaded garden areas. Most are deciduous (die back in the winter), but evergreen types will be noted.

Athyrium filix-femina (Lady Fern) - This native fern looks delicate but makes a strong presence in the garden. It has finely cut fronds, and the overall form is vertical, growing about 2 to 3 feet tall. I've had it only a few years, and it doesn't look like it will be invasive like other ferns I've grown, but references indicate it is vigorous and can be invasive and could overrun delicate plants.

Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum' (Japanese Painted Fern) - This popular plant is readily available and it is no wonder. It is hardy and very pretty, sporting multicolored fronds with silvery grey fronds hints of purple and red (it's hard to describe). Spreads slowly and doesn't get very tall (to 2 feet).

Cyrtomium falcatum (Holly Fern) - This is another popular fern, with long, large, dark green, glossy, evergreen fronds. It is hardy in our area, though a severe freeze might burn back the fronds, so give it some protection. Remove winter-damaged fronds to keep tidy. Does well in low light area. This fern is not a spreader, so plant them about 2 feet apart.

Dryopteris nomalis (also Thelypteris nomalis , and T. kunthii in some references) (Wood Fern, River Fern) - This is one of the most common landscape ferns of the south, and while I'm not certain of it's correct scientific name, I'm sure you have seen it around. Long, arching, light green fronds light up dark areas with a soft texture. Spreads quickly by rhizomes, rapidly filling in an area.

Dryopteris erythrosora (Autumn Fern) - This is another popular semi-evergreen fern, with arching fronds of a fine texture. The fronds in spring take on a coppery-pink hue, turning green in summer and a rusty copper color in fall. Remove damaged foliage in spring just as new growth emerges. Reportedly takes some drought.

Onoclea sensibilis (Sensitive or Bead Fern) - This is a commonly seen native fern, growing along creeks and ditches in East Texas. It gets one of its names because the light green fronds, which turn yellow to russet in the fall, are easily burned by frost. Bead fern refers to the fertile fronds which, instead bearing leaflets, have compact clusters of beadlike sori which persist through the winter providing landscape interest and good material for dried flower arrangements. Grows rapidly and must be controlled in smaller beds, but a good choice for the right spot in the landscape with moist soil

Osmunda regalis (Royal Fern) - This is a large, distinctive fern with twice cut fronds bearing large leaflets. It produces a distinctive cluster of beadlike sori at the tips of some of its fronds. This fern requires acidic, consistently moist soils

Polystichum acrostichoides (Christmas Fern) - A southeastern native, evergreen fern, looking similar to a Boston fern with stiff, upright leaves. Grows slowly, preferring shade and a well-drained soil.

Best wishes with your shade garden!

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