The Q&A Archives: What will grow there?

Question: I have about an 6'x8' area at the front of the house that's mostly shade that no matter what I've tried to plant, nothing will grow. I'm on my 5th planting. At the front of that bed I have roses and lavender growing. Currently I have some coleus stuck in pots for a little color but that's a temporary and seasonal solution. I would like to find a permanant one. I've tried roses, azaleas, camelias, I like flowering shrubs or plants and something that wouldn't be taller than 5' because of the window there. At the most it gets 2 hours of late afternoon sun. Interesting enough some verbena ground cover I transplanted in there is growing. I want height and width though to balance out what is growing in the front of the bed.
Thanks for any help you can give me, I'm totally frustrated. I'm in zone 9, central valley, CA.

Answer: If you're planting shade tolerant plants such as azaleas and camellias without success, I wonder if you might want to consider amending the soil with organic matter to enrich and loosen it, and help it drain quickly. Sometimes all you need to do to encourage plants is a good environment, conducive to healthy growth. With that said, there are actually many beautiful, shade-loving shrubs that thrive in anything from dappled to heavy shade. Carolina allspice is a shade-loving shrub that not only adds interest with its reddish-purple flowers, but this shrub also emits a pleasant spicy aroma.

Also worthy in the shade garden is the fragrant honeysuckle shrub. While you may find numerous varieties to choose from, the climbing variety will add height when trained on a trellis or similar structure. Even if you opt for the more shrubby variety, this shade lover should be placed close by, where its fragrance can be better appreciated.

If fragrance is what you?re after than gardenias are definitely for you. Gardenias thrive in light shade and moist soil. They are evergreen, which will provide year-round interest, but it?s their intensely fragrant, white flowers that really steal the show.

Viburnum shrubs not only provide attractive, fragrant blooms but are also tolerant of shade. These sweet-smelling, shade-loving shrubs can make excellent understory plantings as well.

Nothing speaks shade better than hydrangeas. Many species tolerate areas with light shade. Their clustered, summer-flowering blooms are spectacular, and there are many varieties in shades of pink, blue, and white. Hydrangea shrubs work well in woodland gardens, informal borders, and as specimen plantings.

Rhododendrons and azaleas are probably some of the most popular and best loved of the shade shrubs. They not only thrive in shade but also seem to harmonize with it. These shade-loving shrubs are loved for their colorful blooms and interesting, evergreen foliage. They can be used as hedges, foundation plantings, or alone as specimen plants.

One of the finest choices for shady sites is the camellia. These evergreen shade lovers bloom in later winter or early spring in shades of red, pink, white, or bicolor.

Since most of the plants I've mentioned appreciate slightly acidic soils, you can amend the planting bed with compost, shredded leaves or peat moss to acidify it and the plants I've listed should thrive.

Be sure to water deeply once each week to assure healthy root systems.

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