Shady areas present problems, but also provide opportunities for home gardeners. Wise plant selection can turn a shady problem site into an attractive area in the home landscape. There are a number of trees and shrubs that can be successfully grown in partial shade. (Partially shaded sites receive a few hours of direct sun, but are shaded much of the day.)
Serviceberries or Juneberries (Amelanchier spp.) are native to Iowa and can often be found in open areas in woodlands. They are large, multi-stemmed shrubs or small trees that reach a height of 10 to 25 feet. Ornamental characteristics include white flowers in mid to late April and colorful fall foliage. The fall foliage varies from yellow to orange to red. (Fall color is generally best in full sun.) Serviceberries also produce edible, blueberry-like fruit which ripen in June. The fruit are excellent in pies and muffins.
American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) and ironwood (Ostrya virginiana) are slow growing, native trees that should be used more in the home landscape. The mature heights of the American hornbeam and ironwood are 20 to 25 feet and 25 to 40 feet, respectively. Their use in the landscape has been limited by the fact that both are somewhat difficult to transplant. However, once established they develop into small, attractive trees.
The eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis) is native to much of the eastern United States, including southern Iowa. It reaches a height of 20 to 25 feet. Redbuds are cherished for their pinkish-purple flowers that appear in late April or early May. Mature trees also possess a handsome flat-topped to rounded growth habit.
The pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia) is a large shrub or small tree. Its mature height and spread is 15 to 25 feet. Ornamental characteristics include a horizontal branching habit, yellowish white flowers in late spring, and reddish purple fall foliage. The pagoda dogwood requires a cool site and moist, well- drained soils. Protected sites and eastern exposures are generally the best planting sites.
Another large shrub or small tree is common witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana). Its mature height is 12 to 15 feet. The flowering habit of common witchhazel is unique. It blooms in the fall (October to December). The yellow, strap-like petals unfold on warm days and curl up on cold days. In fall, the leaves turn a bright yellow. Common witchhazel develops a rounded, open habit in shady sites, but has a more dense, fuller habit in full sun.
Several deciduous shrubs do well in partial shade. The gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa) is a very adaptable shrub. It will tolerate wet or dry soils, full shade or sun. Gray dogwood reaches a height of 8 to 10 feet. It produces whitish flowers in late spring which are followed by small white berries (drupes). The use of gray dogwood in the home landscape is limited somewhat by its suckering habit.
Arrowwood viburnum (Viburnum dentatum) is a durable, adaptable shrub. It grows well in sun or shade and tolerates most soils. Arrowwood viburnum grows about 6 to 8 feet tall. Plants produce white flowers in spring followed by blue-black fruit in fall.
Alpine currant (Ribes alpinum) is an extremely hardy, adaptable shrub. Its mature height is 3 to 6 feet. Alpine currant is one of the first shrubs to leaf out in the spring. It tolerates pruning well and makes an excellent formal hedge.
Other deciduous shrub possibilities include five-leaf aralia (Acanthopanax sieboldianus), smooth hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), black jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens), and snowberry (Symphoricarpos spp.).
It's also possible to grow evergreen shrubs in the shade. Yews (Taxus spp.) do well in sun or shade. However, they do require well-drained soils. Yews often die in wet soils. They are also prone to winter injury when planted in windy, exposed sites. Gardeners can choose from numerous varieties, which are variable in size. Yews tolerate pruning well and are often pruned into formal hedges.
Russian cypress (Microbiota spp.) is a low spreading evergreen. While it may spread several feet, its mature height is only 12 inches. The foliage of Russian cypress is light green and resembles that of arborvitae.
The planting of shade tolerant trees and shrubs, plus annuals, perennials, and groundcovers can make a shady site an attractive, cool respite in the yard.
This article originally appeared in the March 31, 1993 issue, pp. , 1993 issue, pp. 35-36.