This article was published originally on 5/8/1998
For some gardeners, shady areas are problem
spots in the home garden. Many plants, however,
perform well in shady areas. Selecting and planting
shade tolerant annuals, perennials, trees, and shrubs
can turn a shady site into an attractively landscaped area.
The following perennials are good choices for partially to heavily shaded locations:
Hostas (Hosta species) (right) have few peers in the
shade garden. They are easy to grow and have few problems. Hundreds
of varieties are available to the home gardener. Varieties differ in
leaf color, texture, and shape. The foliage may be green, blue, gold,
or variegated. Leaf textures include smooth, glossy,
dull, seersuckered, or leathery. The leaves may be long and narrow, nearly round,
or heart-shaped. Hosta varieties also exhibit
diversity in plant height and flower characteristics.
Varieties range in height from 2 inches to 4 feet. Flowers
may be white, blue, or purple. The flowers of
some varieties are highly fragrant.
Hostas can be used as a groundcover or as
specimen plants. Most grow best in partial to heavy shade.
However, the gold-leaved varieties develop their best color in partial to full sun. The color
intensity of the blue-leaved hostas is best in heavy shade.
The attractive foliage and flowers of astilbes (Astilbe species) (left) are
excellent additions to partially shaded sites. Numerous varieties are available.
Foliage color varies from dark green to reddish green. Flowers are produced on erect
or arching stems. Flower colors include white, pink, red, and lavender.
Astilbe varieties range in height from 6 to 8 inches up to 3
to 4 feet. Astilbes perform best in moist,
well-drained soils. In hot, dry locations, astilbe foliage
often turns brown and dies prematurely.
Lungworts (Pulmonaria species) are
clump-forming perennials with distinctly spotted foliage.
The common name refers to the purported value of
the leaves in the treatment of lung diseases. The
foliage of most species and varieties is green with white
or silver spots. However, some of the newer
varieties have essentially silver leaves with green margins.
In addition to the spotted foliage, lungworts also produce attractive flowers in spring. Flowers
may be white, pink, or blue. Lungworts can be grown
as specimen plants or a groundcover in partial to
An excellent low-growing groundcover for
partial shade is creeping phlox
(Phlox stolonifera). (Phlox
subulata is also frequently referred to as
creeping phlox. However, Phlox stolonifera is the true creeping phlox.) Creeping phlox produces low
mats of foliage. Plants bloom in spring on 6 to 8
inch flowering stems. Excellent varieties include
'Blue Ridge,' 'Pink Ridge,' 'Bruce's White' or
'Ariane' (white flowers with conspicuous yellow eyes),
and 'Sherwood Purple.' Creeping phlox requires
moist, well-drained soils. Siberian bugloss (Brunnera
macrophylla) is valued for its blue, forget-me-not-like flowers which
appear in early spring. The large, basal leaves are
heart-shaped and remain attractive until frost.
Siberian bugloss performs best in moist, well-drained soils
in partial shade.
Goat's beard (Aruncus dioicus) is a plant native
to Iowa woodlands. Goat's beard may grow 4 to 6
feet tall and 6 feet wide. Its pinnately compound
leaves are 2 to 3 feet long. Dense spikes of creamy
white flowers are produced in early summer. It
prefers moist soils and partial shade. Because of its
large size, goat's beard is best used as a background
plant or in the center of large beds. Dwarf goat's
beard (Aruncus aethusifolius) is ideal for small sites.
This Korean native produces finely dissected foliage
and cream-colored flowers in early summer. Plants
are approximately 1 foot tall.
The graceful, arching stem of the Solomon's
seal (Polygonatum biflorum) (right) is common in woodland
areas throughout Iowa. The long, unbranched stem may be up
to 6 feet long. The stem originates from a thick, horizontal,
underground stem or rhizome. Solomon's seal bears yellowish-green to
greenish-white flowers in May or June. The
flowers hang in clusters from the leaf axils. The flowers
are followed by pea-size berries which turn
blue-black in late summer. The foliage of the variegated Solomon's seal
(Polygonatum odoratum 'Variegatum') has green leaves which are edged
in creamy white. Solomon's seal prefers heavy
shade and cool, moist soils. Plant several rhizomes (3
or more) in an area for greater visual impact.
Other perennials that perform well in partial
to heavy shade include columbine
(Aquilegia species), Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema
triphyllum), Japanese painted fern
(Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'), turtlehead (Chelone species), bugbane (Cimicifuga racemosa), bleeding
heart (Dicentra species), yellow
archangel (Lamiastrum galeobdolon), spotted
deadnettle (Lamium maculatum), Virginia bluebells (Mertensia
virginica), woodland phlox (Phlox
divaricata), and foam flower
This article originally appeared in the May 8, 1998 issue, pp. 54-55.
IC-479(11) -- May 8, 1998