Plant Guide: Medium-Sized Plants for Shade

These medium-sized plants are perfect for container gardening and prefer slightly shady conditions.

Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios
  • Harts Tongue Fern for Shady Areas

    Asplenium scolopendrium

    A shapely evergreen for shade, hart’s- tongue fern makes a bright green show of leathery, shiny fronds. Good cultivars include Crispum Group, with wavy margins, and Cristatum Group, crested at each frond's tip. Give half-strength liquid fertilizer in summer.
    Height: 24 inches
    Spread: 24 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Moist soil, well-drained soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Pink Begonias

    Begonia 'Dragon Wing'

    This annual has prolific red flowers that hang down in summer until stopped by frost (pink and white forms are now also available). It is ideal for hanging baskets, with lush growth spreading out over the sides. Water well and fertilize over summer.
    Height: 12 inches
    Spread: 14 inches
    Hardiness: Plants that need protection from frost over winter
    Soil Preference: Moist soil, well-drained soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade, full sun

  • Japanese Barberry

    Berberis thunbergii 'Atropurpurea Nana'

    A small, purple bushy mound of a deciduous shrub — the dwarf form of f. atropurpurea — that really stands out in fall when the foliage \"burns\" eye-catching red before falling. A good patio plant in a four-season display.
    Height: 24 inches
    Spread: 28 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Shape Common Boxwood for Topiary or Hedge

    Buxus sempervirens 'Suffruticosa'

    Common boxwood is an evergreen shrub with dense growth and small leaves, widely used for topiary. Trim to shape in both early and late summer, by eye or using frames. Fertilize over summer.
    Height: To 4 feet
    Spread: To 3 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • New Zealand Native Weeping Sedge

    Carex flagellifera

    A New Zealand perennial with dense growth, it has long, bronze, arching leaves and beige flower spikes in summer. Makes an effective contrast at the foot of bright green verticals, such as Crocosmia 'Lucifer'. Easy, but avoid overwatering and drought.
    Height: 36 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Plants that survive outside in mild regions or sheltered sites
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade, full sun

  • Splendid Spurge Laurel

    Daphne laureola

    Not as richly scented as some daphnes, but the evergreen spring laurel is still worth growing for its glossy, dark green leaves and tiny, clustered yellow-green flowers in late winter and early spring. They are followed by black fruit.
    Height: 28 inches
    Spread: 4 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Winter Daphne Fragrant Rosy Pink Flower Buds

    Daphne mezereum

    A scented, deciduous shrub for late winter and early spring. Pink-purple flowers appear on bare wood; f. alba is white. Underplant with spring bulbs to take over as flowers fade. Provide shelter to preserve its exquisite scent; do not let the soil bake dry.
    Height: 36 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Common Male Fern Favors Damp Shady Areas

    Dryopteris filix-mas

    The easy-to-grow male fern is more than a gap-filler. Its new, fresh green fronds poke out of the ground and start uncoiling in spring, bearing divided fronds and rust-brown scales; it turns dull green in summer. Cut back to soil level in early winter.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: 30 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Wood Spurge

    Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

    A bushy, evergreen perennial, wood spurge has lime green flowers in spring, turning dark green in summer and eventually coral red. Plants seed into cracks in paving and walls. Cut off stems at the base after flowering.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Climbing Evergreen Ivy

    Hedera helix

    Evergreen ivy can be incredibly vigorous, so you need a restrained form for a trellis or a hanging basket. Frost-hardy ‘Duckfoot’ has light green leaves; ‘Goldchild’ gray-green foliage with yellow edging; ‘Parsley Crested’ bright green, crinkle-edged leaves.
    Height: To 6 feet
    Hardiness: Plants that survive outside in mild regions or sheltered sites
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Lenten Rose Starts Blooming in Late Winter

    Helleborus orientalis

    The perennial Lenten rose is meant topeak in spring but often blooms inmidwinter with open, saucerlike flowers. Colors range from greenish white to pinkish purple, mauve and deep purple; the best are speckled. White H. niger flowers in midwinter.
    Height: To 24 inches
    Spread: To 24 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Hosta Leaves

    Hosta 'Francee'

    A showy perennial with puckered green leaves, white-splashed around the edges, and pale blue summer flowers. Offset it with gravel-topped soil. ‘Frosted Jade’ is also green with white edging. Keep well watered; avoid flaying winds.
    Height: 20 inches
    Spread: 3 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Elegan Hostas Produce Smoky Blue Foliage

    Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans

    The rounded, gray-blue leaves stand out clearly, being puckered or channeled with a ripple effect. This is a good choice for shade. Provide a sheltered spot for the container and make sure the soil stays well watered in hot, dry spells.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: 3 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Bluebird Hydrangea Changes Bloom Color with Soil

    Hydrangea serrata 'Bluebird'

    A deciduous, upright shrub, H. serrata has flat-topped flowerheads. 'Bluebird' is one of the best of many cultivars. It has a long summer-to-fall show of blue flowers; the leaves redden in fall. Prune one-third of stems to the base in spring.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Plants that survive outside in mild regions or sheltered sites
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Leopard Plant

    Ligularia dentata 'Desdemona'

    This lush perennial has large, purple-reddish young leaves that turn green on top, and spires of orange flowers in midsummer. Try standing it near a water feature. Keep the soil moist in summer, and shelter from strong winds. Beware of slugs.
    Height: 3 feet
    Spread: 3 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Winter Honeysuckle

    Lonicera fragrantissima

    A bushy evergreen widely grown for its scented, creamy white flowers at the end of winter. Stand against a protective wall. Cut back to a strong bud after flowering, and entirely remove one-quarter of the old stems to soil level.
    Height: 36 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Plants that survive outside in mild regions or sheltered sites
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Money Plant with Translucent Seed Pods

    Lunaria annua

    The annual honesty has late-spring and summer flowers, from white to purple; ‘Variegata’ is eye-catching, with its green and white leaves. Both have paper-thin, semitranslucent seedheads, excellent in cut-flower arrangements. Sow seed in spring.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: 9 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Little Heath Shrub is Dwarf Variety of Japonica

    Pieris japonica 'Little Heath'

    The leaves of this dwarf form of the evergreen species initially have a pink tinge but later stand out because of their attractive white edging. White flowers open in late winter and spring. Use ericaceous potting mix, and stand in a sheltered position.
    Height: 24 inches
    Spread: 24 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Solomon's Seal Displays Drooping White, Green-Tipped Flowers

    Polygonatum x hybridum

    Solomon’s seal is a superb perennial that flowers in spring, when a row of green-tipped, white flowers dangle along the arching green stems. ‘Striatum’ has creamy white striped leaves. Provide woodland-like conditions with damp shade.
    Height: To 4 feet
    Spread: 12 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Holly Fern Stays Green All Winter

    Polystichum

    The best holly ferns include P. aculeatum, which thrives in deep shade. Its narrow, shiny, dark green fronds form a shuttlecock shape. The soft shield fern, P. setiferum, can be twice the size. Remove old fronds as new ones unfurl in spring.
    Height: To 3 feet
    Spread: To 36 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Black Eyed Susan Blooms in Second Half of Summer

    Rudbeckia hirta 'Kelvedon Star'

    An eye-catching version of black-eyed Susan, with a dark mahogany brown slash up the base of the bright yellow petals, which are set around a dark central eye, making 4-inch-wide flowers. Essential for the second half of summer into fall.
    Height: 36 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Butchers Broom Bears Masses of Bright Red Berries

    Ruscus aculeatus

    The shrubby, evergreen butcher’s broom perks things up in fall when females bear masses of bright red, poisonous berries. They follow on from tiny, inconspicuous flowers and stand out against the dark green “leaves.” A good plant for dry shade.
    Height: 30 inches
    Spread: To 3 feet
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • White Flowers and Green Leaves

    Viburnum davidii

    One of the smaller viburnums, this makes compact, dense, evergreen mounding growth packed with shiny, dark green leaves. The late-spring, dull white flowers are followed by bluish berries (if you have a male and female), which stand out in winter.
    Height: 36 inches
    Spread: 36 inches
    Hardiness: Fully hardy plants
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007

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