One of gardening's harsher realities is that shady yards don't support as large a variety of ornamental plants as sunny ones do. Gardeners working with partially shady locations, however, might be surprised at their number of options. Areas receiving between three and four daily hours of direct sun, says Richard Jauron, M.S., of Iowa State University's Department of Horticulture, are suitable for several landscape-beautifying shade trees and bushes.
Persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is an ebony family tree native to old fields and clearings from Massachusetts south to Florida and west to Texas. Wild trees seldom exceed 15 feet in height. In home landscapes, however, persimmons can reach 100 feet. Drooping branches with large, oval deep green leaves provide yellow autumn color. Between April and June, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the trees have large, bell-shaped yellow blooms.
Trees planted in pairs produce fruit that ripens to orange in cold weather. Bitter when young, it develops a date-like sweetness suitable for puddings, cakes and drinks. Give persimmon rich, moist, acidic soil with a pH of less than 7.0 and partial shade. It grows in sand, loam or clay.
American hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) is a 35 to 50 foot shrubby tree found along stream banks and in shaded woods from Maine to Florida and west to Texas. Muscle-like trunk bulges distinguish it from other trees, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. Its gracefully arching branches have greenish-blue foliage that changes to red-orange in the fall. Between March and May, its reddish or greenish flowers appear. Papery hanging fruit, food for quail and grouse, follows. Plant hornbeam in partial to full shade. It does best in deep, rich, moist acidic sand, loam or clay. Tolerant of occasional flooding, it's susceptible to black leaf mold.
Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora), a 6 to 12 foot ornamental shrub, has horizontal lower branches that rest on the ground. Its feathery, cylindrical white blooms appear in June and July. Their red anthers contrast well with the plant's deep green foliage. Yellow-husked buckeye nuts follow the flowers. Leaves also become yellow in fall. Plant this shrub, advises the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in partial shade and shallow, moist well-drained soil. Sandy loam or limestone-based soil is best. Note that ingesting the leaves or nuts is toxic to humans.
Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum) is an 8 to 10 foot tall shrub native to woodland blocks and stream banks from southwestern Georgia and the Florida panhandle to Mississippi. During April, its branches bear large clusters of fragrant, tubular yellow, red or orange blossoms. Flowering occurs just before or simultaneously with the emergence of 4 inch green leaves. Like all azaleas, cautions the Missouri Botanical Garden, this shrub is susceptible to several disease and pest problems. Plant Florida azalea inconsistently moist, acidic, well-drained sandy soil and partial shade. Mulch to keep the shallow roots moist.