Perennials for Shady Areas

For some gardeners, shady areas are problem spots in the home garden. Many plants, however, perform well in shady areas. Selecting and planting shade tolerant annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs can turn a shady site into an attractively landscaped area.

The following perennials are good choices for partially to heavily shaded locations:
HostasHostas (Hosta species) (right) have few peers in the shade garden. They are easy to grow and have few problems. Hundreds of varieties are available to the home gardener. Varieties differ in leaf color, texture, and shape. The foliage may be green, blue, gold, or variegated. Leaf textures include smooth, glossy, dull, seersuckered, or leathery. The leaves may be long and narrow, nearly round, or heart-shaped. Hosta varieties also exhibit diversity in plant height and flower characteristics. Varieties range in height from 2 inches to 4 feet. Flowers may be white, blue, or purple. The flowers of some varieties are highly fragrant. Hostas can be used as a groundcover or as specimen plants. Most grow best in partial to heavy shade. However, the gold-leaved varieties develop their best color in partial to full sun. The color intensity of the blue-leaved hostas is best in heavy shade.

AstilbesThe attractive foliage and flowers of astilbes (Astilbe species) (left) are excellent additions to partially shaded sites. Numerous varieties are available. Foliage color varies from dark green to reddish green. Flowers are produced on erect or arching stems. Flower colors include white, pink, red, and lavender. Astilbe varieties range in height from 6 to 8 inches up to 3 to 4 feet. Astilbes perform best in moist, well-drained soils. In hot, dry locations, astilbe foliage often turns brown and dies prematurely.

Lungworts (Pulmonaria species) are clump-forming perennials with distinctly spotted foliage. The common name refers to the purported value of the leaves in the treatment of lung diseases. The foliage of most species and varieties is green with white or silver spots. However, some of the newer varieties have essentially silver leaves with green margins. In addition to the spotted foliage, lungworts also produce attractive flowers in spring. Flowers may be white, pink, or blue. Lungworts can be grown as specimen plants or a groundcover in partial to full shade.

An excellent low-growing groundcover for partial shade is creeping phlox (Phlox stolonifera). (Phlox subulata is also frequently referred to as creeping phlox. However, Phlox stolonifera is the true creeping phlox.) Creeping phlox produces low mats of foliage. Plants bloom in spring on 6 to 8 inch flowering stems. Excellent varieties include 'Blue Ridge,' 'Pink Ridge,' 'Bruce's White' or 'Ariane' (white flowers with conspicuous yellow eyes), and 'Sherwood Purple.' Creeping phlox requires moist, well-drained soils. Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla) is valued for its blue, forget-me-not-like flowers which appear in early spring. The large, basal leaves are heart-shaped and remain attractive until frost. Siberian bugloss performs best in moist, well-drained soils in partial shade.

Goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus) is a plant native to Iowa woodlands. Goat's beard may grow 4 to 6 feet tall and 6 feet wide. Its pinnately compound leaves are 2 to 3 feet long. Dense spikes of creamy white flowers are produced in early summer. It prefers moist soils and partial shade. Because of its large size, goat's beard is best used as a background plant or in the center of large beds. Dwarf goat's beard (Aruncus aethusifolius) is ideal for small sites. This Korean native produces finely dissected foliage and cream-colored flowers in early summer. Plants are approximately 1 foot tall.

Solomon's SealThe graceful, arching stem of the Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum) (right) is common in woodland areas throughout Iowa. The long, unbranched stem may be up to 6 feet long. The stem originates from a thick, horizontal, underground stem or rhizome. Solomon's seal bears yellowish-green to greenish-white flowers in May or June. The flowers hang in clusters from the leaf axils. The flowers are followed by pea-size berries which turn blue-black in late summer. The foliage of the variegated Solomon's seal (Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum') has green leaves which are edged in creamy white. Solomon's seal prefers heavy shade and cool, moist soils. Plant several rhizomes (3 or more) in an area for greater visual impact. Other perennials that perform well in partial to heavy shade include columbine (Aquilegia species), Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum), Japanese painted fern (Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'), turtlehead (Chelone species), bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa), bleeding heart (Dicentra species), yellow archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata), and foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia).

This article originally appeared in the May 8, 1998 issue, pp. 54-55.


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