Plant Guide: Short Plants for Shade

These beautiful plants need plenty of shade but will look stunning in stylish containers.

Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios
  • Fan-Shaped Fern Leaves

    The evergreen maidenhair fern is grown for its mix of thin, black stems and new bronze-pink fronds, which gradually turn fresh green. The rhizomes need space to spread; it makes an effective miniature for the front of a garden bed.
    Height: 6 inches
    Spread: To 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Lobed and Serrated Lady's Mantle Leaves

    A good space filler, lady's mantle has pale green leaves and sprays of greenish yellow flowers. A prolific self-seeder, it scatters new plants freely. Shear after flowering to stop reseeding and encourage fresh, new growth.
    Height: 16 inches
    Spread: 16 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Interesting Italian Arum

    A high-scoring perennial, arum has large, white-veined leaves and an early-summer creamy white spadix. The foliage of 'Marmoratum' is showier, marbled with pale green. The orange-red berries are toxic.
    Height: 12 inches
    Spread: 6 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Pendula Begonias Good for Trailing in Containers

    Flowering prolifically from early summer to the first frosts, tuberous begonias come in red, pink, orange, yellow and white. Plant the tubers 1 inch deep, ideally in a hanging basket because of their spreading growth, and water well in dry spells. Feed regularly.
    Height: 12 inches
    Spread: 18 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Bergenia is Known for Its Interesting Foliage

    Elephant's ears has large, glossy evergreen leaves and white, pink or red flowers in spring. Magenta-flowered B. cordifolia 'Purpurea' has large leaves that redden up in winter; B. purpurascens turns beet red. Avoid direct sun.
    Height: To 18 inches
    Spread: To 18 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Unique Leatherleaf Sedge

    Leatherleaf sedge offers slender, arching, copper-bronze leafy growth that's best featured against a light background. Brown flower spikes appear in mid- and late summer. Don't let it dry out in warm spells, but avoid waterlogging.
    Height: 24 inches
    Spread: 30 inches
    Soil Preference: Moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Lily of the Valley is Old Fashioned Perennial

    Lily-of-the-valley is one of the best plants for light shade, with its white, sweetly scented flowers set against shapely leaves. 'Albostriata' is eye-catching because of its white-striped leaves; 'Hardwick Hall' has creamy to yellow-edged leaves.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Blue Corydalis is Outstanding Shade Plant

    A woodland perennial with a mass of feathery, light green leaves, blue corydalis produces tubular flowers from late spring to summer. There are several cultivars: bright blue 'Pere David' and deep blue 'China Blue' and 'Purple Leaf'. Grow it with yellow C. lutea.
    Height: To 12 inches
    Spread: To 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Exotic Cuphea Plant

    With red and purple flowers said to look like a mouse's ears, the cuphea 'Tiny Mice' blooms from summer to the first frosts. Keep pinching out new growth to increase the plant's bushiness, and water and feed well in summer. It attracts hummingbirds.
    Height: 8 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Cyclamen Coum Flowers in Winter or Early Spring

    A tuberous tender perennial with white, pink, or red flowers from late winter to spring, cyclamen also sometimes has silver-patterned foliage. Use gritty soil with leaf mold; plant shallowly.
    Height: 2 1/2 inches
    Spread: 4 inches
    Soil Preference: Moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Bishops Mitre is Good Addition to Shade Garden

    A quiet, low-key perennial, the new, pointed leaves of red epimedium have a reddish tinge in spring and again in winter before falling. Dull red or pale yellow flowers with short spurs appear in the second half of spring. Give it a position sheltered from cold winds.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 9 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Distinctive Dogtooth Violet

    The spring-flowering dog's-tooth violets are beautiful small perennials. Typically the flowers are white, pink, yellow, purple, and violet; many have distinctive, mottled foliage. Keep the soil damp, especially over a long, hot summer.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 9 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Emerald-N-Gold Known for Variegated Foliage

    An evergreen shrub and sometimes creeper, euonymus offers some first-rate cultivars. Best for a container is 'Emerald 'n' Gold', with yellow-edged green leaves turning reddish in winter (a degree of sun aids the variegation). The smaller 'Emerald Cushion' has a mound of lush green leaves.
    Height: 24 inches
    Spread: 24 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Tom Thumb Fuchsia Floriferous Summertime Beauty

    A dwarf, upright, bushy fuchsia, 'Tom Thumb' is as popular now as when it was first grown in France in 1850. The flower tube at the top is red, with flared red wings and a mauve skirt beneath. It starts flowering early in summer, and never lets up until fall.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 9 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Checkerberry, Evergreen Creeper

    The checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens) makes low, spreading growth with shiny, dark green leaves and white or pale pink flowers in summer, followed by rich red berries through winter. Use as groundcover in acidic soil.
    Height: 6 inches
    Spread: To 3 feet
    Soil Preference: Moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Glamorous Golden Japanese Forest Grass

    A perennial ornamental grass, Hakonechloa macra 'Aureola' forms a vivid mound of bright yellow leaves with a few slender, green stripes. In deep shade, the variegation is lime green, and in cool conditions it tends to be creamy white. Makes a good contrast with rounded and upright shapes.
    Height: 12 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Coral Bells with Deep Purple Foliage

    A prized container perennial because of its shiny, bronze-purple, jagged leaves, 'Purple Palace' heuchera is highlighted by early summer sprays of tiny, greenish white flowers. Avoid full shade. Replant in early fall with the crown above the soil.
    Height: 18 inches
    Spread: 18 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Shade Loving Impatiens

    Among the popular family of impatiens there are tons of excellent hybrids, such as the New Guinea group and cultivars of I. walleriana. I. niamniamensis 'Congo Cockatoo' has flashy red and yellow hooded flowers. Many impatiens thrive in shade.
    Height: To 20 inches
    Spread: To 24 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Blue Star Creeper Used as Lawn Substitute

    Usually grown as an annual for its long spring-to-fall show of open, starlike flowers on slender, branching stems, the flowers of blue star creeper range from pale to deep blue, and occasionally white. Fertilize once a month, don't overwater and keep deadheading.
    Height: 12 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Silvery Spotted Dead Nettles

    A clump-forming perennial, spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) has triangular, dark green leaves, and pinkish purple late spring to summer flowers. Its spreading growth creates a groundcover effect in a large pot. 'White Nancy' has tiny silver leaves with a green rim and white flowers.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 9 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade

  • Lilyturf Plants are Good for Ground Cover

    Lilyturf is a woodland plant, with tiny violet-mauve fall flowers held on a spike, and straplike dark green leaves. 'John Burch' has gold-variegated leaves; 'Monroe White' needs full shade. Provide acid-loving potting mix and shelter from cold winds.
    Height: 9 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Stemless Flowers Accentuate a Rock Garden

    A short, creeping form of Solomon's seal, the Himalayan version has late-spring/early summer star-shaped flowers, from pale to deep pink, followed by black fruit. It makes an intriguing little pot plant for a shady corner; cover the top of the soil with gravel.
    Height: 4 inches
    Spread: 12 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade, full shade

  • Primrose: A Hardy Springtime Perennial

    The Wanda Supreme Series of primroses offers a cheery show of flowers in shades of blue, yellow, purple, pink, and red, from winter to mid-spring. Plants like moist, rich soil; seed can be sown in early spring.
    Height: 3 inches
    Spread: 6 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Full sun, partial or dappled shade

  • Toad Lily Produces Stunning Speckled Blooms

    The toad lily is an exquisite perennial with upright to arching stems and upward-facing fall flowers. They come in quiet colors — mauves, yellows and cream — often with a mass of tiny spots. Slugs and snails attack new growth.
    Height: To 30 inches
    Spread: To 18 inches
    Soil Preference: Well-drained soil, moist soil
    Sun or Shade: Partial or dappled shade, full shade

Excerpted from Simple Steps: Containers for Patios

©Dorling Kindersley Limited 2007

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