My list of great shade-lov­ing plants be­low is split into two

The Guardian (Charlottetown) - - FRONT PAGE - Mark Cullen Mark Cullen is lawn & gar­den ex­pert for Home Hard­ware, mem­ber of the Or­der of Canada, au­thor and broad­caster. Get his free monthly news­let­ter at markcullen. com. Look for his new best seller, ‘The New Cana­dian Gar­den’ pub­lished by Dun­durn Pres

Gar­dener’s list of great shade-lov­ing plants is split into two: one for dap­pled or thin shade and an­other for grow­ing un­der your ma­ture Nor­way maple.

Now that we are in the heat of our grow­ing sea­son, many of us head for the shade. If this is you and you hap­pen to no­tice that the shady parts of your gar­den are a lit­tle thin on plant pop­u­la­tion, I am here to help.

Peo­ple of­ten say to me, “I can’t gar­den be­cause my whole yard is in the shade.” My re­sponse is: “Aren’t you lucky! What an op­por­tu­nity to do some­thing in­ter­est­ing with your gar­den.”

What shade?

There is thin shade, like on the north side of your house or un­der a birch tree and then there is the dense sort of shade that you find on the for­est floor. Dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions for dif­fer­ent plants.

My list of great shade lov­ing plants be­low is split into two: one for dap­pled or thin shade and an­other for grow­ing un­der your ma­ture Nor­way maple.


Just to con­fuse you, ap­ply­ing the ap­pro­pri­ate amount of wa­ter in a shady gar­den can mean pulling back and min­i­miz­ing the amount on the north side of your house where evap­o­ra­tion is slower than it is in the sun. Or, it can mean ap­ply­ing more wa­ter more fre­quently in the root zone of ma­ture trees (es­pe­cially when es­tab­lish­ing the young roots of new plants).


This is es­sen­tial to your suc­cess as a shade gar­dener, es­pe­cially un­der ma­ture trees where tree roots com­pete with smaller plants at their feet for wa­ter. When I plant in a densely shaded area, I spread 12 to 15 cm of new triple mix or other qual­ity gar­den soil on the ex­ist­ing ground, be­ing care­ful not to mound soil up the trunk

of ex­ist­ing trees. In­stead, slope the soil down to the ‘root flare’ where the root flares out from the main trunk of the tree.

Shade-lov­ing flow­er­ing plants: Thin/dap­pled shade: Hosta pro­vides loads of colour and tex­ture by way of their leaves but they also have great flow­ers that at­tract hum­ming­birds.

Astilbe [false spirea]: great in part shade but do not let them de­hy­drate as they are not good af­ter re-hy­drat­ing. Beau­ti­ful spikes of bril­liant colours. Suit­able for cut­ting.

Coral Bells [heuchera]: out­stand­ing for their early sum­mer colour, flow­ers that you can cut and bring in­doors and fo­liage that at­tracts at­ten­tion wher­ever it goes. Ma­tures to about 20 to 50 cm de­pend­ing on va­ri­ety. And there are many va­ri­eties!

Dense shade:

Where no sun pen­e­trates.

Ja­panese spurge [pachysan­dra]: hardy to zone 5, this is a great look­ing ground cover that is ev­er­green. Strong: even my dog couldn’t kill it. Plant densely, about 12 cm apart for the ‘ground cover’ look. Grows to about 15 cm high with a creamy white flower in late May or June.

Lily of the Val­ley [con­va­l­laria]: in­de­struc­tible, self

prop­a­gat­ing and great look­ing where al­most noth­ing else will grow. Great ground cover with sweetly fra­grant spring flow­ers. Also ‘dog proof’.

Na­tive Wood­land Plants: Tril­li­ums, Cana­dian gin­ger [asarum], sweet woodruff [gal­lium], Jack in the Pul­pit, and Marsh marigold are all na­tive wood­land plants. They all look great early in the spring and some con­tinue to show fo­liage through­out the sum­mer. When look­ing for great ideas for plant se­lec­tion, it is al­ways good to look at what Mother Na­ture is do­ing, in this case on the for­est floor. Keep in mind that th­ese plants are avail­able as nurs­ery grown plants from re­li­able plant re­tail­ers. Do not take plants from the wild. Ever.

And fi­nally, there are a hand­ful of trees that grow in dap­pled shade. Look for na­tive sugar maple, Cana­dian hem­lock and Downy Ser­vice­berry. Yews [taxus], box­wood and Cana­dian Holly [ma­ho­nia] are not na­tive but quite tol­er­ant of lit­tle sun.


Gar­dener’s list of great shade lov­ing plants be­low is split into two: one for dap­pled or thin shade and an­other for grow­ing un­der your ma­ture Nor­way maple.

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