Some shady characters for your landscape

After a recent column about perennials, I received a question from reader Joanne about perennials for shade. I think others may be interested also, so I will address that topic.

The most successful plants in my shady front garden are the bleeding hearts. I have two white ones, and they appear very early in spring and grow to the size of small shrubs as they bloom. By this time of the year they have died back, and can be trimmed back almost to the ground. I plan on planting a couple of pink ones next year, as they do so well.

Ground covers that work well in shade are pachysandra and ajuga. Both of them will spread quickly to cover any open space, and this may be good or bad. They do prevent weeds, but you may have to keep the borders in check. Ajuga especially is quick to move into the lawn, if it has access.

Chameleon plant could also be considered a ground cover. It soon covers a lot of ground if it is given a chance! It is an attractive plant with green, yellow and red in the leaves, and will grow to about 10-inches high. It is very hardy.

Monkshood (aconitum) is one of those plants that does not bloom until fall. Mine at this time is about 36 inches tall, but with no sign of flower buds yet, and the bottom leaves are beginning to brown. It would be best in the back of a border so the lower part does not show. When it does bloom, the bright blue flowers are very attractive.

The ever-faithful hostas and daylilies are dependable. Daylilies need some sun or very light shade if they are to bloom up to their potential, but I have a few well under the cherry tree which do quite well. I love hostas, and keep adding new varieties to my collection. They are easy to divide in early spring. The varieties with large leaves will cover a big area.

Heuchera, or coral bells, come in many shapes, sizes and colors. The foliage is as attractive as the flowers in some varieties, with the dark red ones a good foil for greens.

Shady spots under trees are ideal for bulbs, especially the small varieties. They grow so early that they can take advantage of filtered sun before the tree leafs out, and will be finished before shade might become a problem. Scilla, crocus, grape hyacinth and snowdrops are all good, and so are lilies of the valley, although they are apt to spread very fast.

If you are looking for shrubs for a shady spot, varieties of rhododendron and azalea will flourish as long as you give them acid soil. If your soil is not naturally that way, you can buy fertilizer that can be dug in and scattered around and will work well as long as you keep up the treatment.

Cranesbill, or geranium, will do well in shade, in fact the blossoms have more color in a shady spot, and they have the added advantage of blooming all summer.

Shady places in the garden may be a challenge, but there are good plants out there, and experience will show you the best perennials to plant for colorful and trouble-free summer enjoyment.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program. Contact her at