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South Central Gardening: Plants for the Shade

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

Brighten a shady area with color and variegation in South Central gardens


By Susan Albert

Gardening in the shade is limited only by your imagination. Besides lots of variegated plants, colorful additions such as impatiens, coleus, caladium, and astilbes make your Oklahoma or Texas shady area dance with joy.

Plenty of places can incorporate shade-tolerant plants. If tree canopies cover your yard, you’re probably familiar with Japanese maple, dogwood, plum yew, azalea, hydrangea, hosta, and coleus.


Most people have a shady nook somewhere in the yard, perhaps along the foundation or on the north side of the house. Pergolas, covered patios, and front porches are opportunities to showcase colorful annuals such as the hummingbird-attracting fuchsia, dragon-wing begonia, impatiens, and wishbone flower.

Resist the urge to dig and plant under your trees. This disturbs surface roots, and the tree’s deeper roots can suffer from lack of air. It’s best simply to apply a layer of mulch beneath trees — no more than 2 inches deep, and kept about a foot from the trunk.

Shade comes in variations: full, part or dappled, and light. Full shade offers only indirect light and is excellent for ivy and ferns. Part shade goes 4 to 5 hours a day without direct sun, and light shade means 2 to 3 hours a day without direct sun.

Most shade-loving plants benefit from soil prepared with lots of compost for nutrients and moisture retention. Adding sand or peat moss can improve the drainage of clay soil.

Here are some plants suitable for South Central gardens in full to part shade. Be sure to check plant tags for specific light requirements.


Trees and shrubs:

  • Aucuba (Aucuba japonica) is a great shrub for lightening a shady area, thanks to yellow variegation accenting the dark-green foliage. Hardy in Zones 6–10, aucuba thrives in full to light shade with adequate moisture. Aucuba grows slowly but can reach 8 to 10 feet.

Others: Japanese maple, flowering dogwood, mahonia, camellia, Japanese yew, plum yew, Japanese aralia, hydrangea, azalea.



  • Astilbe (Astilbe x arendsii) features feathery spring blooms in pink, lavender, red, or white. The ferny, dark-green foliage slowly spreads to form a groundcover. Hardy in Zones 4–8, astilbe prefers moist soil in part sun to shady areas.

Others: bleeding heart, yellow corydalis, ferns, hosta, coralbells, Lenten rose, pansy, oxalis, columbine, gardenia, woodland phlox, plumbago.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal


  • Variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum falcatum ‘Variegatum’) spreads by underground rhizomes to form an eye-catching 1- to 2-ft tall clump with arching, unbranched stems. Preferring moist soil in full to part shade and hardy in Zones 4–8, variegated Solomon’s seal blooms in spring with bell-shape white flowers that dangle from the stems.

Others: ajuga, pachysandra, perennial vinca, liriope, hardy geranium, moneywort.



  • Caladiums (Caladium x hortulanum) grow from tubers and greatly complement other shade-loving plants such as ferns and impatiens. Mix several caladium varieties in a container for a colorful display of pink, red, rose, chartreuse, green, and white. Hardy in Zones 8–10, the tubers can be lifted and stored over winter in colder climates.

Others: coleus, impatiens, wax begonia, wishbone flower, elephant’s ears, ginger.

Shade gardening can open a whole new world of colors, textures, and plant varieties. You just might find a new favorite plant.

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