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Skaggs: Embrace a yard’s shady spaces

POSTED: July 1, 2008 5:00 a.m.

From the many questions I receive in the extension office, it seems that many gardeners want what they do not have.

If the landscape is sunny, they want shade. If shady, the want more sun. With the ongoing drought, be thankful if you have shade!

However, I would have to admit that shady landscapes can be challenging to a gardener looking for vibrant color. While the list of plants for sunny locations seems to be endless, the shade gardener must be a little more selective to ensure good plant survival. Luckily, there are many plants available to enhance shadowy real estate.

First, determine how much shade you have. Is it a couple of hours in the afternoon caused by a few trees? Is it filtered light caused by a thin canopy of deciduous trees? Or, is it dense shade? There is a big difference between what we call partial shade and full shade. There are also areas of shade that fall between these two categories.

Some plants thrive in almost cave-like shade. Others handle light-filtered shade. It is best to check the yard for shade at different times of the day and throughout the year to see what you really have. A site can be modified with the removal of a few tree limbs.

Many vines can thrive in low-light areas and add color. Common jasmine does well in almost any soil condition and can handle moderate shade. It has bright yellow blooms. Carolina jessamine is another good choice. Both vines need support such as a post or trellis.

Other vines for shaded areas are cross vine, trumpet vine and large flowered clematis. Most of the ivies will also do well such as Algerian ivy. Avoid invasive types such as English ivy.

For areas that require small plants or ground covers, consider holly fern, Hellebores or even daylilies. Others are pachysandra, periwinkle or possibly mondo grass. Many of these are available in a variegated form, which can brighten dark areas.

Ferns certainly top the list for thriving in shaded, moist areas. Whether you choose the Christmas fern, Japanese painted fern or one of the other dozens available, they are sure to provide unique interest with their delicate foliage. Ferns can range in size from a few inches across to several feet.

Bottlebrush buckeye is another possibility for moist shaded areas. It is a native shrub that has white bottle brush shaped flowers. This plant can reach more than 6 feet.

Oakleaf hydrangea is a large native plant with spectacular white blooms in the spring that will also survive well in moist shaded areas. This plant is best sited in areas with plenty of room. Mature plants can be 8 feet tall with a 10-foot spread.

When it comes to shrubs, the list includes short, tall and medium plants as well as deciduous and evergreen varieties. Azalea, aucuba, leucothoe, ink berry, boxwood and yew are popular shade-tolerant shrubs. Within the world of perennials, the best-known example is the hosta.

Hardy ferns of all kinds are easy to grow. Two favorites include autumn fern and cinnamon fern, so named because of their distinctively colored new fronds.

A few more perennials to consider include astilbe, bleeding heart, columbine (Aquilegia), coral bells (Heuchera), foxglove (Digitalis), Virginia bluebell (Mertensia pulmonarioides), monkshood (Aconitum), phlox, primrose, cardinal flower (Lobelia), Siberian iris and veronica.

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County Extension Coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.



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