Pretty plants for container garden in mostly shade - Knowledgebase Question

Sausalito, Ca
Question by katie123080
February 17, 2010
I want to create a container garden on my patio, which is mostly shaded with some filtered sunlight. I live on the NorCal coast, so it's upper 50s to low 80s most of the time. I'd love anything colorful, and edible plants/herbs would be a big bonus. What can I plant?

Answer from NGA
February 17, 2010


There are so many choices of flowers and herbs that are suitable for containers that you can have lots of fun trying different combinations.

Astilbe - These beautiful perennials will reward with with light, fluffy plumes of flowers from May through July, and beautiful fern-like foliage from spring through first frost. There are many varieties and grow from 6 inches to 3 feet tall. Flowers come in a range of white, pinks and reds. Plant in partial to full shade with potting soil rich in humus. Trim stems back after flowering. Divide every 3 to five years. Water regularly, keeping soil moist but not wet.

Begonia ? In cold climates begonia are often treated as annuals, but when grown in containers they can be easily overwintered year after year. There are many types of begonias, and some are hardier than others. Begonias also have a wide range of sizes and growth habits, from small compact plants to trailing to large upright cane-type begonias. Hiemalis begonias are some of the showiest, with 2 inch or large blooms covering the plant over a long bloom period. Rex begonias are grown mainly for their colorful and unusual foliage, and Tuberous Begonias can bear blooms 6 inches across or more. All begonias require partial to full filtered shade, moist soil and humid air. Protect from freezing ? digging tubers or rhizomes or moving containers to a protected area in winter.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra) ? Natives to moist, woodland areas, bleeding heart do especially well in shaded areas. They require regular water, and prefer climates with cold winters. The fern-like foliage of bleeding heart emerges in the spring, followed soon by long stems with horizontal branches covered by dangling white or pink to red heart-shaped flowers. Plant in a rich but well-draining potting soil. Water regularly but do not keep overly wet.

Caladium ? These tender perennials are best grown in warm climates and full shade, and appreciate a daily misting or high humidity. Growing 2 to 4 feet tall, their foliage is quite pretty ? large, heart shaped variegated leaves with spots of white, pink, or red. Water frequently. Bring indoors for winter except in tropical climates.

Clivia miniata - This evergreen perennial is quite sun-sensitive and does best if it never gets any direct sun. Blooms are yellow, orange or red from December through April, followed by ornamental red berries in the summer. Fertilize regularly and allow the roots to become crowded for best bloom. Require regular water. Protect from freezing in the winter.

Hellebore ? Christmas Rose and Lenten Rose are part of this group of cold and shade tolerant evergreen plants. H. orientalis (Lenten Rose) is probably the best known, blooming from March through May. Distinctive flowers are greenish with shades of white, pink or red. Prefers partial to full shade. Water needs vary by species. Once planted do not disturb, plants are slow to recover when their roots are disturbed. Prefer rich potting soils with plenty of compost or other organic material. Feed twice a year with a well-balanced fertilizer or compost tea.

Heuchera (Coral Bells) - These delicate plants have pretty evergreen foliage which dies back in cold winter areas. From late spring through late summer tall stems of delicate bell shaped flowers rise above the greenery with tine flowers of red, pink, coral or white. Plant in well-drained soil in partial shade. Divide clumps every 3-4 years and through away old, woody root divisions. Requires moderate water.

Heucherella ? These wonderful little hybrids between Heuchera and Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) are a dainty plant growing in low clumps of small round leaves. The tall flower stems yield many tiny pink flowers all along their length. Prefers light shade and regular water.

Hosta ? Also known as Plantain Lily, hosta are most treasured for their foliage, though most do bear stands of pretty blooms for several weeks in the summer. Hosta come in a wide range of foliage colors and variations, and range in size from dwarf (6-8 inch) to giant (5 feet high and wide) Be sure to buy the right size for your containers. Plant in partial to full shade and water regularly throughout the summer. Watch for snails ? hosta are a haven for them, even in containers. Hosta will die back completely to the ground over the winter, then come back from the roots in spring.

Lily of the Valley ? these plants are poisonous, so do not grow if children or pets may try to eat them. If you do grow them, you'll be rewarded with pretty bell-shaped white blooms and a sweet fragrance in the spring, and pretty broad leaves from spring to frost. Prefers humus-rich soil, so add leaf mold, compost, or peat moss yearly. Prefers partial shade and regular water.

Primrose ? Sometimes grown as an annual, primroses are actually quite a hardy perennial. They prefer light shade and summers not too hot or dry, thriving in shady, cool, moist regions. They are not particular about soil, any good potting mix will do, if watered regularly.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)- This pretty, low-spreading perennial is also pleasantly aromatic (it's dried leaves are used to give the distinctive flavor to May wine.) It blooms with clusters on tiny white flowers on branching stems in late spring through summer. Prefers full shade and regular (and abundant) water. Spreads rapidly ? divide clumps in fall or spring.

Some edible choices include Lavender, basil, thyme, sage, dill, chives, lemon verbena, mint, oregano, rosemary, and parsley, combined with flowers such as nasturtiums, violas, zinnias, portulaca, scaevola, geraniums, and dahlias. These herbs and flowers need full sun, which means at least 6 hours a day. Choose an all purpose potting soil that contains some humus (not just peat moss) and moisten the soil. If you are using clay pots, soak them in water prior to planting so they don't draw moisture out of the soil.

Enjoy your colorful garden!

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