By Robert Cox, Colorado State University Cooperative Extension Agent, Horticulture
New home buyers, anxious for shade, often provide it by planting less-desirable, fast-growing trees. In older homes and neighborhoods, the problem is reversed, and gardeners must decide how to rejuvenate a landscape heavily shaded by mature trees and shrubs.
Overshaded landscapes may exhibit thin hedges, bare or thin lawns, and marigolds, petunias or other annuals that barely flower, all because the sun can't get in. In addition to providing heavy shade, large trees with extensive, shallow root systems compete for water and nutrients with the plants trying to grow beneath them.
The term "shade" may be insufficient to describe the situation. Shade may range from dappled to dense. Dappled shade means plenty of light passes through to the ground. Several plants will grow in dappled shade.
Dense or full shade is more extreme, such as in north-facing yards. Plant selection for such an area is limited. More plants are available for areas of medium and open shade.
Bluegrass lawns do not tolerate dense shade. If you need a lawn in heavily shaded areas, consider only the more shade-tolerant bluegrass varieties: A-34, Bristol, Eclipse, Enmundi, Mystic, or Nuggett. Lawn grasses that will perform better than bluegrass include perennial rye, bentgrass and tall fescue.
You can use the following lists of shade-tolerant plants as a quick guide. An asterisk (*) denotes plants that tolerate dense shade. Other factors, such as hardiness, soil fertility, alkalinity, texture, and moisture level play a big role in determining whether a plant will survive in a given area. Choosing appropriate plants for the microclimates around your property can save money and eliminate some pest problems later.
ANNUALS: impatiens,* browallia,* monkeyflower,* begonia, nicotiana, red salvia, viola (pansy), coleus
SHRUBS: grey dogwood, red-osier dogwood, kerria,* privet, burning bush, Oregon grape, nannyberry viburnum, flowering quince
PERENNIALS: digitalis (foxglove),* hosta,* bleeding-heart, daylily, coral bells, columbine, anemone, bishop's goutweed
VINES: Boston ivy, Virginia creeper, English ivy, thunbergia (annual)
GROUND COVERS: carpet bugle, mock strawberry, blue fescue grass, English ivy,* purpleleaf wintercreeper, sweet woodruff, periwinkle (vinca), creeping mahonia
BULBLIKE PLANTS: tuberous begonia, caladium, lily-of-the-valley, scilla
SMALL TREES: serviceberry, redbud
Photograph courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010