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Southeast Gardening: Embracing Shade

Brought to you by Lowe's Creative Ideas

When you know your conditions, you can garden effectively in different types of shade.

aucuba leaves

By Glenn Dinella

When gardening in the shade, remember that shade comes in two forms: semishade (sometimes referred to as “dappled shade” or “part shade”) and full shade (aka “deep shade”).

red-flowering azaleas in front of house

Some plants prefer semishade, tending to struggle in either full sun or full shade. Azaleas, pictured, are an example. Too much sun and the foliage burns, the plant looks unattractive, and sometimes dies.

Usually too much shade is a minor issue for a semishade plant. Perhaps the plant doesn’t produce as many flowers, might get “leggy,” or the foliage doesn’t get its usual brilliant fall color. But sometimes it’s more serious and the plant becomes more susceptible to fungal disease.

variegated hosta

Typically, plants that thrive in full shade tolerate semishade, meaning a little dappled sunlight doesn’t burn them up. But the strong point of these deep shade lovers is they handle those difficult areas of your garden that never see much sun — such as beneath a large tree, in a wooded area, or on the north side of your home or other structure. Hostas, pictured, are a good example.


Also consider what time of the day the plant gets sun. A fern that gets 3 hours of sun first thing in the morning does fine. If that fern gets 3 hours of direct sun during the heat of the afternoon, it might not fare well.

It’s also important to remember the farther south you go, the more likely your plants appreciate some shade. So plants labeled for full sun might prefer part sun in the hottest parts of the Southeast. Plants labeled for part sun might grow better in semishade, and so on. The reverse is also true. Plants labeled full shade might do perfectly fine in semishade in the cooler climes of the mountains of North Carolina.


Here are some great plants for semishade:

  • agapanthus
  • azalea (Rhododendron spp.)
  • beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma)
  • big-leaf hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • boxwood (Buxus spp.)
  • camellia
  • columbine (Aquiligea spp.), shown
  • dogwood (Cornus spp.)
  • iris
  • rhododendron
  • viburnum
  • Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Here are great plants for full shade:

  • aucuba (Aucuba japonica), shown
  • bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
  • bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)
  • cast iron plant (Aspidistra spp.)
  • Fatsia (Fatsia japonica)
  • ferns
  • hostas
  • mahonia
  • mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicum)
  • monkey grass (Liriope spp.)

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