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Made in the shade

Shade gardens can be nearly as colorful as their sunnier cousins


What’s better than a bevy of blooms in the summertime? If you’re living in the woods, you might think flowers bloom only in the sun. But there are some pretty petal-icious plants available that are made in—and for—the shade.

According to plantaddicts.com, there are three types of shade: full sun, meaning six-plus hours of sunshine per day; partial sun, or four to six hours per day; and full shade—two to four hours of light, usually morning sun or filtered sun.

Even after you’ve determined your shade limitations, there are other details that need to get ironed out before you plunk your plants into the ground. One of the most important factors is your area’s hardiness zone. Hardiness zones are based on the lowest average winter temperature of your area. It’s easy to find your hardiness zone by ZIP code online; just Google “hardiness zone by zip code.” The Narrowsburg area, for instance, is zone 5b. A quick online search of the plants you’re eyeing can tell you whether they will thrive in your zone.

The next decision you need to make is whether you’ll grow annuals or perennials. Annuals live for just one growing season, while perennials die back at the end of the season and return the next year. If you prefer perennials, be careful when buying plants for a shady area; the hours of sun, or lack of it, may not hold up in your zone. But fear not, you can always fill in bare areas with potted annuals during the growing season.

Some shade-tolerant flowering plants may be annuals but are self-seeding, like echinacea and columbine (Aquilegia). They will come back the following year, but not necessarily where initially planted.  

After checking off all the above, you’ll also want plants, trees and bushes that are deer- and rabbit-resistant. What’s that you hear? Why, evil laughs from Mother Nature!

Fortunately, there are numerous varieties of colorful flowering plants (besides hostas, which are basically deer salad) and ornamental trees that fit this zone, in partial to full shade, and claim to be deer- and rabbit-resistant. (Note “resistant,” not “foolproof.”)

Some eye-pleasing flowering plants that do well are bleeding hearts, coneflowers (the aforementioned echinacea), hardy geraniums, “Spot on” lungwort and barrenwort. There are many more to discover, once you research your specific shade amounts and zone.

A few bushes and shrubs for shady areas are American boxwood, dwarf Burford holly, Hicks yew, dwarf flowering cherry and mountain laurel. Pollinators like visiting honeysuckle and hydrangeas so much that sometimes it appears that the plant is shaking. No, those are the bees on the flowers, moving the branches.     

Hydrangeas have an unbelievable variety of flower shapes and colors from which to choose. No need to stick with the ball-shaped flowers—or even keep the color of the hydrangea you start out with. You can change the color based on what you put in the soil. Coffee grounds, diluted vinegar or Epsom salts change the pH, which changes the color of the flowers on these bushes.

How about planting something in the shade that will give further shade? That’s right; there are trees that thrive in shady spots, too. The following grow in full to partial shade: golden rain trees, hardy magnolias and Japanese maples. Currently, I have a sugar maple growing under my deck that gets little if any sun. Every spring I prune it back, but it keeps growing out. Once I found a four-foot-tall Japanese maple growing in a forest.  I replanted it in my small, shaded garden, and it grew.

If your shady spot is a little too damp for your liking, tri-color dappled willows need partial shade and wet areas (but not close to your home or sewer, where its roots could wreak havoc). Any form of willow roots will suck water wherever they can find it. Any of the above will add panache to your shade garden. It all depends on how fast and large you want your tree to grow.

After a long day of gardening, grab your chaise, a glass of Long Island iced tea, and the River Reporter, and relax in the shade.

summertime, shade garden, shade, flowers


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