Many plants thrive in shade

One challenge facing many home gardeners is shade. Most of the homes here in Gwinnett County have trees, and often they have significant shade. Numerous garden plants thrive under these conditions.

With the proper selection of shade-loving shrubs and perennials, you can give your shady foundations just as much elegance and beauty as the sunny ones.

Just like moisture and temperature, the level of shade is a big factor in determining which plants will grow successfully. Not all shade is the same - you can have filtered shade, partial shade, open shade or dense shade, and the amount of shade varies with the time of day and from year to year as trees grow.

Many plants are tolerant to low light levels, and some thrive in it. Many flowering annuals, perennials, bulbs, groundcovers and woodland plants do quite well in shade. The challenge is to figure out which plants are most likely to succeed growing in the shade, and then provide them the type of care that will improve their chances.

Different plants require differing degrees of shade, from dense shade to partial shade. First, determine how much light the plants will receive. Deeply shaded areas under large trees or the overhang of a building present more of a challenge than areas with partial or light shade. Many plant choices are possible for these locations; however, more plants will do better in areas with five or more hours of direct, full sunlight.

Most shade-tolerant plants need well-drained, fertile soil. Incorporate organic matter, such as peat moss or compost, into sandy or heavy, clay soils. Make sure the plants growing in the shade of large trees and shrubs or structures are watered regularly.

Which plants do the best in a shady situation? Annuals - impatiens, coleus, wax begonias, dwarf salvias and other shade-tolerant annuals - do well, and they can be planted after the frost danger is past. Planting young, robust, healthy bedding plants will improve performance.

Some spring-flowering bulbs can be planted in shady locations, though many of them will have to be treated as annuals. Plant new bulbs each fall and then dig them up and discard them after they have bloomed. Some spring bulbs, such as crocus, scillas and snowdrops, bloom and produce leaves early before the trees leaf out. They receive adequate amounts of sun to bloom annually in a lightly shaded area.

Many perennials do well in light shade, but some will bloom in dense shade. Hosta lilies love shady areas, as do columbines, bleeding hearts and coral bells. Many shade-loving perennials are woodland plants that usually blossom very early in the season, like trillium, Solomon's seal and wild violets. Consider growing ferns.

In the Extension office, we get a lot of questions about growing turf grasses in shady areas. There are not many solutions to growing turf in the shade. Some turf grasses are more tolerant of shade than others, like certain cultivars of St. Augustine, but even those need considerable amounts of sunlight. The area must receive at least four hours of sunlight per day or it is too shady.

If your yard is too shady to maintain a quality turf, there are other alternatives. Consider planting a shade-loving perennial ground cover, like English ivy or pachysandra.

Timothy Daly is an agricultural and natural resource agent with the Gwinnett County Extension Service. He can be reached at 678-377-4010 or timothy.daly@gwinnettcounty.com.