It's a rare gardener who isn't confronted with at least one partially or completely shady location. Finding plants that will bring color or textural interest to those sun-starved spots requires some effort. First, determine how much direct sunlight reaches them during the day. Then narrow your search to plants that thrive in full, partial or both types of shade. The result will be a garden where every area has eye-catching color.
Firecracker plant (Aesculus pavia), a horse-chestnut family shrub, is native to shaded woods, thickets and hillsides across the southern and central United States. Growing between 10 and 40 feet high, it has 6-inch, serrated, compound bluish-green leaves. They provide yellow autumn color. Between March and May, firecracker plant has 8-inch, erect spikes of tubular blooms. The 1.5-inch, bright red or reddish-yellow flowers attract hummingbirds, butterflies and bees. Squirrels feast on the groundnuts that follow the flowers. Plant red buckeye, suggests the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, in part shade and consistently moist, well-drained acidic (pH below 6.8) soil. It tolerates sand, loams and clay. Shrubs in sunny locations suffer from leaf scorch.
Azalea 'Mrs. Henry Schroeder'
Broadleaf evergreen azalea (Rhododendron)'Mrs. Henry Schroeder' is a shade-loving, hybrid shrub. Hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, it grows from 18 inches to 3 feet high and wide. Spring clusters of dense, 2-inch mauve blossoms contrast strikingly with its deep-green, oval leaves. Like all azaleas, it's vulnerable to several pests and diseases. Insect enemies include mites, thrips, and aphids. It may also develop powdery mildew, canker or root rot.
Group this plant in shrub borders, low hedges or woodland gardens, suggests the Missouri Botanical Garden. It's an attractive foundation or specimen plant. Plant it in partial to full shade and fertile, consistently moist, well-drained acidic soil. Yellowing leaves indicate insufficient soil acidity. The shrub appreciates protection from strong winds.
American beautyberry (Callicarpa americana) is a small--to-5-feet high and wide--deciduous verbena family shrub. Native to moist or coastal woods, bottomlands and swamp edges across the southern United States, it has loose, arching branches with elliptical, 9-inch green leaves. Between May and July, tiny pink flowers appear in abundant clusters at the leaf bases. Bunches of vivid magenta, 1/4-inch berries follow the flowers and remain on the bushes into winter. Several bird species feed on them.
Use the shrub, recommends the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, as a screen in shady garden areas. Cutting it back to 12 inches from the ground in winter results in heavier blooms and berries. Give it partial shade and moist, rich acidic soil. Not particular about soil type, it may drop its leaves and young berries in extended drought.