By Scott Calhoun
Shade in hot climates is not something to complain about but rather something to celebrate. One of the best things about most desert trees is that they cast dappled shade, not deep shade. It’s the perfect environment for those desert plants needing a little relief from the sun but not complete shade. Below are some of my favorite plants and techniques.
Understory magic: aloes and succulents. For groups of plants that look great growing beneath the canopies of desert trees, choose aloes and other succulents that appreciate a little shade. One of my favorite aloes for filtered to part shade is coral aloe (Aloe striata), featured in the photo above. I also like partridge breast aloe (Aloe variegata) and cape aloe (Aloe ferox). These rosette-shaped succulents appreciate dappled shade from trees in summer and frost protection in the winter. Most aloes, including those mentioned above, are early spring bloomers that attract hummingbirds.
Oasis shade lovers. In areas that stay damp, or abut water features or fountains in an oasis area, consider yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica), pictured. This native perennial, with cone-shape pure-white flowers, grows in or next to water.
For a nice foliage contrast, pair yerba mansa with grassy and usually evergreen Berkeley sedge (Carex tumulicola), pictured. Both take filtered sun to fairly deep shade.
What about containers? Because of our warm climate, we spend a lot of time on covered patios. Potted plants can dress up a shady patio. Try potting typical houseplants such as mother-in-law tongue, pictured. The variegated swordlike leaves add drama, and the plant requires little watering.
For a fun trailing plant on a wall or pillar, try string of beads (Senecio herreianus), pictured, which cascades several feet.
Experiment. Plants labeled for full sun in more moderate climates often do fine with some filtered shade in our bright desert conditions. Don’t be afraid to try a few things — remember that plants can’t read their own tags.