All the Rage with Shade


Maybe you’ve actually raged over a shady spot in your garden. An unfortunate detriment to all the sun lovers you tried in these areas to no avail (may they rest in peace). However, shade opens a possibility of new wonders and plants. Shade really is all the rage, but in the best way. Many low-light plants bring a variety of textures and lush foliage. Here you can really play around with the different definitions of cool colors. An alarming amount of blues, greens, and silvers pop in shady areas. Warm colors become focal points because their bright nature illuminates in darker lighting. As a general rule, a shady area is a location that receives four hours or less of sunlight.

Shade Loving Annuals 

Get summer long color with these shade loving annuals! Sprinkle them into your shade bed or design a container tucked in a shady spot. Annuals are a quick, easy, and usually inexpensive way to compliment the foliage and textures of shade lovers.

  • Impatiens
  • Wax Begonia
  • Fuchsia
  • Bowallia
  • Wandering Jew
  • Coleus

Want your impatiens or browallia to knit together? Plant them 4-6” away from each other and get a carpet of color. Wax begonia and fuchsia make beautiful hanging and trailing plants when placed in a container. Wandering Jew is an excellent filler with a variety of fun variegations. Coleus is enough to make any shade garden pop with literally thousands of cultivars and colors to choose from.

Shade Loving Perennials

An array of choices arise with shade loving perennials. Listed below are a few that perform well in Idaho. While this shade-lover’s list is not nearly as extensive a sun-lover’s, different species and cultivars of each perennial give a diverse selection to play with.

  • Fern
  • Hosta
  • Coral bell
  • Hellebore
  • Bergenia
  • Hakonechloa grass
  • Siberian bugloss
  • Leopard plant
  • Deadnettle
  • Ajuga

Leaf shapes and textures with these perennials make for a bold shade garden. Deadnettle is low growing and gives way to light pink flowers in early summer. It’s fine foliage and low profile makes a perfect choice for border fronts, whereas the big leafy foliage of hostas and bergenia makes them a great fit for the middle and back part of garden beds. Textures pull the eye, like that of Hakonechloa grass, while focal points (such as red and orange coral bells) give the eye a place to rest. Leopard plant has huge, leathery leaves all growing season and bears bright yellow-orange flowers in late summer, giving it multipurpose value. Siberian bugloss is another example. Large, silvery leaves give season long interest and forget-me-not like flowers emerge in the spring. Ferns are classic shade-loving perennials and give way to a woodland scape. Ajuga is a groundcover that fills open areas nicely and bears blue flowers in late spring, and hellebore offers evergreen foliage and produces some of the earliest spring flowers.

Shade Loving Shrubs

Shrubs provide structural interest, and fortunately, there are a few that thrive in Idaho’s shade. The hot afternoon and evening sun of the summer can crisp and even kill these shrubs, but under a canopy of trees, they flourish.

  • Mophead hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Fothergilla
  • Witch hazel
  • Andromeda
  • Yew
  • Euonymus

For all you hydrangea lovers new to the valley, it is important to understand the species macrophylla (commonly known as mophead hydrangea) loves the shade. They can tolerate some morning sun, but need protection from the bright heat of the day. If you want these bold flowering and broadleaved shrubs for your shade garden, there are several cultivars of mophead hydrangeas to choose from. Fothergilla and witch hazel share a family and give way to stunning fall color, turning the darkest shade garden into a bright, fiery haven in October. Andromeda prefers slightly acidic, well drained soil, and pairs nicely with ferns in woodland settings. Yew and euonymus are evergreen shade lovers that bring green color year round.

Trees for Shade

If you have a shady enough area, there are even some trees that prefer shade, especially in the Treasure Valley’s climate. Keep in mind that because these trees like shade, they also do best when provided with protection from the weather.

  • Japanese maple
  • Flowering dogwood
  • European beech
  • Magnolia

Most of these trees can handle sun exposure, but too much and at the wrong time of day could result in casualty. Of these trees, Japanese maples require the most shade. Their lacey leaves and small form could be used as a focal point in the garden and compliment water features and sitting areas. Flowering dogwoods and magnolias are somewhat sun tolerant in the Treasure Valley’s climate, but in order to have successful and thriving trees, they favor afternoon shade and slightly acidic soil. European beech trees along with tri-color beech trees grow best in protected areas and cannot handle intense summer sun. Areas with dappled sunlight are best.  

Shade is nothing to be intimidated by, especially not when you have the right plant for the right place. Imagine walking through a shady retreat, greeted by beautiful, thriving foliage. Many combinations with these plants make for a welcoming refuge, especially when the hot and dry Idaho summer hits with full intensity.

In addition, shade gardens lend themselves to better water retention because moisture does not evaporate as rapidly. Weed control also decreases because weed seeds struggle to germinate in lower light conditions. These two factors alone result in lower maintenance, leaving more time to relax in the shade and enjoy your personal landscape design.

By Riley Rehberg

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