Perennials for Shade

In my backyard, I've got some large trees on the order of 50 or 60 feet up in the air. While a beautiful asset to the property, they do cast quite a shadow over my garden. Rather than turn this shady area into a hosta heaven (I've already got plenty of those elsewhere), I'm planning to create a more varied garden, incorporating several species of shade-loving perennials. If you have a similarly shady situation, here are some of my favorite perennials that will do well lounging around under a tree.

Bleeding Heart Dicentra spectabilis
This pretty spring bloomer produces almost heart-shaped pink and white flowers on long, arching stems until early summer. It can grow up to three feet tall and prefers partial shade. After flowering, the leaves will die back to the ground, which may leave a hole in the garden. A closely related plant, fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia), does not die back in summer and may keep blooming until fall. Unfortunately, this plant can be short-lived and sometimes difficult to establish in the garden.

Foam Flower Tiarella cordifolia
As its name suggests, this plant produces small, airy, white flowers in upright spikes from May to June. It grows in compact mounds up to a foot tall and up to two feet wide, making it an excellent ground cover in partial to full shade. It can spread and take over an area if allowed to, though it is easy to control. The leaves remain evergreen or semi-evergreen in winter, so wait to prune it back until the spring.

Goat's Beard Aruncus dioicus
Great for providing dramatic height, this plant can get up to six feet tall and six feet wide. It grows best in partial shade and produces dense spikes of creamy white flowers in June and July. Though Goat's Beard can tolerate tree root competition, this may reduce its impressive size. When planting, give it plenty of room as it does not like to be moved once settled.

Japanese Anemone Anemone x hybrida
One of the few fall bloomers of the perennial world, Japanese anemones flower from September to October. They do best in an area that gets some morning sun and in moist, fertile soil. Japanese anemones are available in white or pink flowers and grow two to four feet high. One drawback is that they can become invasive, so you might need to keep your eye on that if you don't want it to spread.

Japanese Painted Fern Athyrium nipponicum
This flowerless plant adds unique colors and textures to the garden just with its leaves. Its lacy fronds are grayish-green with reddish tinges. It grows in partial to full shade and forms clumps up to 18 inches high. This fern works well as an accent plant or in combination with darker-leaved plants such as coral bells (Heuchera sanguinea). There are many other ferns that also do well in shade, but few have the distinct colorings of the Japanese Painted Fern.

Red Barrenwort Epimedium x rubrum
This spring-flowering perennial has many positive qualities to recommend. It is long-lived and virtually pest and problem free. Barrenwort competes well with tree roots and does well in dry, full-shade conditions. It has attractive heart-shaped leaves that go from crimson in the spring to green in summer to bronze in the winter. In early spring, cut back the old leaves before it blooms. It grows between 8 and 12 inches tall and produces small red flowers from April to May.

Early fall is a good time to start planting perennials again before winter sets in. If you've got some shady places to fill in, why not try a few of these suggestions? Also, while you're out in the garden digging around, autumn is a good time to divide and transplant perennials that bloom in spring or summer. Try to finish up these activities a couple of weeks before your area's first frost date and the plants should do fine.

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