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University of Illinois Extension

Gardening in the Shade

July 17, 2013

With all of the hot weather that has decided to show up, what could be better than thinking of gardening in the shade! Today, shade gardening is no longer just hostas. There are so many great varieties of plants for shady locations that it can be an exciting adventure and I actually prefer shade gardening and many of my favorite plants are shade plants.

Understanding how much light your garden is getting is the first step prior to choosing plants. Some of the plants that are made for shade, my only tolerate part shade and not a full shade location and that becomes important for choosing the right plants. Simply broken down, light falls into these categories:

Full Sun – 6+ hours per day

Part Shade – 3-6 hours per day

Full Shade – less than 3 hours per day

This does require checking on the location multiple times during the day to get a good idea of what lighting situation you have for your garden. Once you have that figured out the fun part is choosing plants. Below are a few shade garden power perennials that have shown to be good selections, are easy to grow, and worth trying in the garden.

Bergenia cordifolia – Pigsqueak, Heart-leaved Bergenia

Thick, leathery green leaves with pink flowers held above the foliage in April and May makes Bergenia a gorgeous plant for part to full shade garden locations. It is tolerant of a wide range of soil types as well as providing fall interest with purplish-bronze foliage in fall. A clump forming plant that is slow to spread makes this a great addition to any shade garden.

Brunnera macrophylla 'Jack Frost' – Jack Frost Brunnera

This silver and green heart shaped leaved plant really glows in the garden. It provides forget-me-not like flowers held above the foliage in April and May. Jack Frost Brunnera requires a part shade location and average soils. It is intolerant of dry soils, so make sure to choose a location that offers moist, well-drained soils and provide a layer of mulch. This plant was selected as the Perennial Plant of the Year by the Perennial Plant Association in 2012.

Corydalis lutea – Yellow Corydalis

This plant thrives in part to full shade and provides beautiful yellow blooms from May through September. Easy to propagate and fill in large spaces in the garden, make sure to locate this somewhere in the garden where it will receive adequate moisture, but avoid locations that are prone to holding excessive moisture in winter. Corydalis is a great plant for any shade garden as it is easy to grow. Be sure to choose the yellow variety over the blue variety, as the blue variety does not seem to be as hardy and tolerant as the yellow.

Heuchera spp. – Coral Bells

These perennials are prized for their attractive foliage that ranges in colors from yellows/oranges to purple to reds and can pack a great color punch in the garden. They offer light and airy flowers in June and July and require a part shade location and prefer soil that is humus rich. They benefit from being mulched especially in winter as the freezing and thawing of the ground can sometime cause them to heave up out of the ground. They will do well even in a location that receives afternoon sun as long as they receive adequate moisture.

Pulmonaria saccharata – Lungwort

Elongated green leaves with either silver spots or large areas of silver, make this another plant that glows in the shade garden. Blooming in April and May in shades of pink, lavender, white, and reds depending on the variety planted. Lungwort prefers moist, well-drained, humus rich, cool soils so provide a layer of mulch to keep the roots and soil cooler for the plant, but make sure to avoid poorly draining soils. A dependable plant for the shade garden that is tolerant of deer, Black Walnut, and dense shade is definitely worth planting in the shade garden.

Source: Kari Houle, Extension Educator, Horticulture, khoule@illinois.edu

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