The shade of towering trees enriches sunny yards. Finding plants that thrive in those shady spots, however, is a prospect far different form finding ones that thrive in sun. A wide variety of such plants exists, says the University of Minnesota Extension's horticultural specialist, Deborah L. Brown, M.S. Including flowering perennials and annuals, foliage plants and bulbs, these plants tolerate partial to dense shade. Experiment to find the right ones for all your shady areas.
Japanese Painted Fern 'Branford Rambler'
Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium) are nonblooming, partial and full-shade plants hardy to minus 30 degrees F. 'Branford Rambler,' a Japanese painted fern cultivar, forms clumps 1 to 2 feet high and wide. It has deep-green, upright fronds with contrasting red or maroon stems. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, 'Branford Rambler' makes an attractive shady area ground cover when planted in groups. Largely free of insect and diseases, this fern may suffer from leaf scorch in dry soil. Plant it in borders or moist areas along streams. It grows quickly in well-drained, fertile, consistently moist soil and appreciates sheltered, humus-rich locations.
Bishop's hat (Epimedium alpinum) is a low-growing--6 to 9 inches high--perennial native to southern Europe. Hardy to minus 30 degrees F, it spreads by rhizomes to form dense clumps. An attractive shady area or woodland ground cover, bishop's hat has compound foliage with heart-shaped, 3-inch leaflets. Pink when new, the foliage deepens to green in summer and turns bronze-red in autumn. In early spring, plants have spikes of yellow-petaled, red-sepaled (bracted) blooms. The Missouri Botanical Garden suggests using bishop's hat as a shady area edging or ground cover, in rock gardens or beneath trees. It grows quickly in partial or full shade and dry to averagely moist, well-drained soil. Drought-tolerant when established, plants do best in loose, fertile loam.
Lady's eardrops (Fuschia) is a broadleaf evergreen hardy to 30 degrees F. Grown as an annual where winters are cold, it's a small, shrubby plant standing 1 to 2 feet high and wide. In spring and summer, it produces elegant, tubular flowers. Fuschia cultivars with flowers in white and shades of red, pink and purple, as well as bicolors, are commercially available. Hummingbirds flock to them. The plant's oval, toothed, medium-green leaves are up to 5 inches long.
Where lady's eardrops are winter-hardy, give them partial to full shade and fertile, moisture-retaining soil. In other areas, plant them in the ground or set them out in containers after the final spring frost. Weeping cultivars make eye-catching hanging basket plants. With proper care, according to the Missouri Botanical Garden, plants lifted in autumn will overwinter indoors.