Shade area shrubs - Knowledgebase Question

Williamstown, Ne
Question by jtaz848
September 13, 2008
Can you recommend a shrub that does well in a shady area? This area is along-side our driveway and does not get sunlight. We have mulched the area since we have been unable to grow grass there and now would like to plant some kind of shrub but don't know which type would do well. Thank you for your help. Joe & Joan Surace

Answer from NGA
September 13, 2008


Although they do not produce flowers, ferns are ideally suited for deep shade. Their lacey foliage makes them ideal compan?ions for many flowering plants, or as lone groups in the gar?den. The American hair fern, lady fern, hay scented fern, Dryopteris filixmas (the imposing broad fronds reach a height of 2 feet), cinnamon fern, Christmas fern, and the ostrich fern (also with tall imposing fronds), all thrive in a deep, woodsy soil, requiring plenty of moisture at the roots during the summer and they benefit from a top dressing of rooted leaves in spring.

Some shrubs are naturals for the shade garden, such as azaleas, rhododendrons and hydrangeas. You might also consider Juneberry (Amelanchier), with masses of small white flowers followed by small reddish purple berries; redbud (Cercis), producing quantities of pink pea like flowers, and which, like the Juneberry, reaches the dimen?sions of a small tree under favorable conditions; and the less vigorous Carolina allspice (Calycanthus) whose reddish-purple flowers have a pleasant spicy odor. Another interesting shrub, the Japanese quince (Chaenomeles), can be highly recommended both for the clusters of spring flowers in various shades of red, pink or white, and the large, spicey scented, quince like fruits that appear later and which can be, made into jelly.

A -shrub worth growing for the vivid red autumn coloring of its leaves and the interesting corky, wing-like flanges of its bark is the winged euonymus (E. alatas). Another showy member of this group is the purple-leaf winter?creeper (E. fortunei var. coloratus) which makes, an excellent groundcover. The leaves take on an attractive shade of purple with the coming of cold weather.

Perhaps the most popular of the flowering shrubs are the rhododendrons, which include azaleas. Given a deep, moist, woodsy soil, they will thrive in shade and are ideally suited for informal planting. One of the first to flower is the lovely royal azalea (A. schlippenbachi) with large, single flowers in a delicate pink on a 5 to 6?foot deciduous plant. More recently available in this country are the famous Knaphill hybrids that come in a wide assortment of colors. The hardiest and most reliable of the evergreen section is the native rose bay rhododendron (R. maximum). It will thrive even in areas of deep shade. In recent years many rhododendron hy?brids have become available so that gardeners who admire these plants should keep an eye out for new introductions that will serve their particular needs.

Hardy Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) is a carefree shrub that no garden should be without. One of the best native American shrubs, Summersweet has everything. Carefree, with sweet smelling summer blooms of pink, white, or deep-rose, Summersweet is pest and disease free. Beautiful when planted in mass or as a foundation plant. Prefers slightly acid, sandy soil and full sun, but tolerates clay and dense shade. Late summer/early fall bloom. Zone: 3-9. Height: 4-6 feet.

Camellia japonica and C. sasanqua (zones vary so be sure to select a variety that's hardy in your region). Camellias bushes are the queens of the garden, giving evegreen color, beautiful flowers and an open growth habit that provides a pleasing backdrop for other perennials and annuals. Several hundred, even thousands of Camellia shrubs have been bred so gardeners have many flower colors and forms to choose from when adding color to their shade garden.

Hope I've supplied a few ideas for you!

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