No sun? No problem!

By Pam Roy | Feb 08, 2012

 Photo courtesy of Pam Roy

Blossoms of enkianthus perulatus, a shrub that grows well the shade.

I often hear a new client lament, “I can’t grow anything here, it’s too shady, so just cover this area with bark or gravel.”  This becomes an unattractive forgotten part of the yard.  

The good news is that there are many plants that thrive in areas of shade.  The Great Plant Picks program has recently compiled lists of plants to enhance these trouble spots in the garden.  Here are a few suggestions to start you rethinking beyond mulch and gravel.

Most landscapes have a bit of light shade receiving four to six hours of sun daily.  A favorite shrub of mine for this is enkianthus perulatus.  This deciduous shrub needs some room, growing to 6-8 feet tall and wide.  

Small white bell shaped flowers hang from bare branches early spring.  The leaves turn brilliant colors in fall.  

The evergreen shrub Viburnum davidi is a sturdy performer, 3-4 feet tall with dark green leaves, white clustered flowers in spring followed by dark bluish black berries (non-edible) and is often planted in drifts.  

Open shade is defined as exposed to the sky, but receiving no direct sunlight. Perhaps sunlight is blocked by a nearby building.  Enjoy Hydrangea macrophylla ‘Glowing Embers’ red edged leaves that deepen to maroon in fall.  

Mophead flowers range from deep rose red to violet depending on soil acidity in this four foot tall shrub.   

A great groundcover for open shade is Mahonia repans (creeping Oregon grape). This native plant has bright yellow flowers followed by dark blue berries and bronzy fall foliage color.  Plant three feet apart to cover the ground within three years.  

A beautiful small fern for open shade is Blechnum penna-marina (alpine water fern).  The new fronds of this low evergreen fern open bronzy, aging to a deep green.

Dappled shade is provided by a high open canopy of foliage receiving only two to three hours of sunlight.  Try using a clumping bamboo like Fargesia angustissima to fill in under the canopy.  Fargesia a. grows to 20 feet tall. The softly arching culms hold delicate green leaves.

  Add texture with Adiantum venustum (Himalayan Maidenhair fern).  The dainty evergreen fronds open with a bronzy blush.  

Add color with pulmonaria longifolium ss. cevennensis.  Silver specked green leaves and blue flowers of pulmonaria  in late winter early spring are a treat.

What about deep shade?  No problem!  Elaeagnus x ebbingei ‘Gilt Edge’ is a large shrub with striking yellow leaf margins and tiny fragrant silvery flowers made for the shade.  

Add more fragrance with Osmanthus x burkwoodii, an evergreen shrub with small leaves and sweet smelling spring flowers.  Osmanthus grows 6-10 feet.  

To carpet the ground, plant oxalis oregana (evergreen oxalis).  This is native to coastal forests, spreading by underground rhizomes and reaching 10 inches tall.   Oxalis may die to the ground in extreme cold, but will recover.

Take a look at the Great Plant Picks website for more plant to use in shady areas at  HYPERLINK "" Have fun reclaiming those forgotten corners of the garden.

Pam Roy, owner of Planscapes, has been a landscape designer and horticulturist for 30 years in the Northwest. Contact her at 425-252-9469 or view
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