Shade Shrubs

Written by Helen Glenn Court
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Shade gardens, of course, are more than simply a gathering of shrubs and perennials and foliage plants that fare well in less than direct sun. The same care you take in planning a flowering garden is called for with a shade garden. You might be envisioning a hideaway nook with a hammock, a small pond, and a rock garden of ferns, ornamental grasses, and perhaps Columbine. Perhaps you're faced with a stretch of woods flanking a tennis court and are designing shrubs and ground covers for the base of trees.

Among the more popular shade shrubs are rhododendron and azalea, hydrangea, and forsythia. But there are a host of others you'll want to consider. Flowering and gray dogwood are shade lovers, as are mountain laurel, privet, oakleaf hydrangea, chokeberry, and viburnum. Burning Bush a flowering perennial, has a strong odor of lemon, is very drought tolerant, and shows an abundance of white, pink, and red flowers.

Common camellia is a hardy evergreen shrub that grows to between six and 12 feet. It is appreciated for its shiny dark green foliage and white and red blooms that come early in the year. Most often it is used as a specimen plant. It will not flower in dense shade. Nandina is another evergreen, growing from six to eight feet. It has large clusters of white flowers in summer, finely textured foliage, and lovely red berries in the autumn.

Preparing for Shade Shrubs

Several factors are critical to a thriving shade garden. On the one hand is the amount and type of sunlight. On the other is the soil-earth type, rockiness, acidity, organic matter. On still another is how much rainfall is typical, how well the soil drains, and air flow patterns. All of these need to be taken into account in designing the overall appearance and selecting the shrubs and perennials to plant.

The best time for planting is late winter to early spring in well-prepared soil. Remember that all shade is not alike. Anything planted directly under low-branching trees will get essentially no direct light, ever. Shrub roots will be competing with tree roots, and probably lose. Light shade under taller trees is quite good because of the broken sunlight that filters down. Open and half shade will come from nearby buildings, walls, or trees.

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