Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Lower South
September, 2011
Regional Report

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The white foliage of shade loving Aztec grass is a great way to brighten up a shady area of the landscape.

Made for the Shade

It is hot and muggy outside. Even in the shade the mercury is pushing three digits. There is something very wrong when sitting in the shade doing nothing leaves you soaked in perspiration! While we gardeners may retreat to the safety of an air conditioned home, there are plants that add color and take the summer heat and humidity in stride if provided a shady location.

Shady areas are often areas with little color other than green foliage and brown mulch. This need not be. Here are a few tips and some plants that have worked well for me in the shady areas of my landscape.

I think the first thing to remember is that shade is dark -- profound, isn't it? Well, I've made the mistake of planting things with dark purple blooms or other dark colors in the shade and they failed to impress, to say the least. Having to point out flowers and color to visitors kinda takes the wow factor out!

Use light, bright colors whenever you can in shady areas. They will show up like a flashlight on a dark night. I should add here that white is a color too! White works great in shade. I have used it to draw the eye down a path, by planting the sides of the walkway with Aztec grass, which looks like a variegated white and green striped liriope but is much brighter. A row of white blooming impatiens would also do the trick if the shade is fairly bright.

A cluster of white plants around the base of a tree or a mass planting that swirls through the shady area can be really attractive. Caladiums that are predominantly white, or even a variegated lacecap hydrangea will catch the eye. If the shade is bright, try the white form of plumbago (Plumbago auriculata) or a white blooming cultivar of summer phlox. White types of wishbone flower (Torenia) are another option

I like to add other colors to shady areas. Impatiens provide a wide color palette of choices, as do the lighter colored cultivars of wishbone flower. Although fairly dark, the blood red foliage of red chicken gizzard (Iresine herbstii) shows well in bright to dappled shade. Other colorful bright shade plants include blue cultivars of plumbago, flowering tobacco, and pentas, which come in several colors including white.

Foliage can add a lot of attention-grabbing color to bright shade. Try coleus, variegated cultivars of canna, and light green foliage plants, including several ferns and the trailing ornamental sweet potato cultivar 'Margarite' with its bright chartreuse foliage. Another great ornamental sweet potato is 'Tricolor' which adds green, white, and pink to bright shady areas. Although fairly dark in color, Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus) commands attention with light to dark purple leaves that look almost metallic in the way they reflect light.

Shrimp plant blooms in shade and is very tough, even in dry conditions. The subtropical Brazilian plume (Justicia carnea and various crosses) is very attractive, as is golden shrimp plant (Pachystachys lutea) with its bright golden yellow bloom bracts and white flowers.

Then there are the blooming shrubs that do well in partial shade or very bright shade such as camellia, azalea, hydrangea (both lace cap and oak leaf species), and gardenia.

I think I'll start heading out early in the morning to start preparing the soil in some shady spots to get them ready for adding a few of these plants during fall planting season.

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