By Jane Beggs-Joles for Spring Meadow Nursery Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners
Is there anything nicer on a warm summer day than a spot under a shade tree? Maybe a spot under a shade tree with a good book and a cold beverage. But welcome as it is in the heat of the summer, shade can be a challenge for gardeners.
The secret is to embrace the shady areas in your landscapes. Stop trying to wish sun-loving plants into growing in shade; there are plenty of shade tolerant plants that will thrive in these areas. And I’m not just talking about hostas. Don’t get me wrong, hostas are great. But they aren’t your only option.
Some of our durable native plants like Itea and Diervilla will do very well in shade. Little Henry® Itea is a dwarf variety that fits well into residential landscapes. While Itea does well in moist locations, Diervilla is one of the few plants that will grow in dry shade. Both plants produce summer flowers and have attractive fall foliage: Kodiak® Diervilla varieties were selected for their rich spring and fall color. As with many plants, flowering and foliage color may be more subdued in shade than in full sun, but you will still have a lush planting.
In any landscape you need to think about all four seasons. That means evergreens. Both Buxus (boxwood) and Taxus (yews) do well in shade. However, deer like Taxus and they don’t like Buxus. That gives Buxus the edge. For a sassier take on the sedate boxwood hedge, consider Wedding Ring® Buxus. It has lively variegated foliage that would be a real asset to a shady location. A lesser-known evergreen with good shade tolerance is Microbiota, or Siberian Cypress. As the name suggests, this is a very cold hardy plant. It is low growing, with feathery foliage that turns russet in fall. Celtic Pride™ is our choice for its excellent disease resistance.
Shade doesn’t have to be all about foliage. For spring, consider Exochorda like one of our Snow Day® plants. While not suited to deep shade, they put on a delightful spring flower display in dappled shade. Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) is a classic choice for woodland settings. The Gatsby® oakleaf hydrangeas have showy summer flowers and intriguing burgundy fall foliage.
Shade plants are often more subtle than their brash sunny cousins, so plant with an eye for texture and form rather than relying on color alone. Layering a variety of textures in a space invites visitors to sit and rest for a while in the shade. And on a warm summer day, what could be better?