The Q&A Archives: Shade-loving plant

Question: We live in Houston, TX - and are looking for a shade-loving plant for ground cover, to plant beneath and around several Magnolia trees we have in our back yard. It's not an option to trim the trees back at this time to get more sunlight. We would prefer an herb, but would be open to any suggestion. Thanks!

Answer: 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.

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.

Another good choice for shady areas are the sedges. We have several native sedges for Texas that do well in the shade. Texas Sedge is an attractive one. It grows in small clumps; if you plant them close enough together, it can form a nice cover and it does reseed. Another good sedge is Berkeley Sedge. It gets a little taller and forms a more robust clump in the garden.

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