In a sunny garden, it's easy for plants to get by on flowers alone. Shade loving plants attract our attention with their foliage as well as their flowers, displaying all sorts of fabulous leaf shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Some of the most spectacular shade loving plants are summer blooming bulbs such as caladiums, begonias and elephant ears. These high performing, easy-care plants can make shady gardens every bit as exciting as sunny ones.
Some gardens are shadier than others, and knowing whether your garden is in partial shade, light shade or full shade, will help you choose plants that are best suited to the growing conditions in your yard.
An area that's considered partial shade receives 4 to 6 hours of morning or afternoon sunlight each day. Light shade or dappled shade areas are relatively bright, but are under a high canopy of overhead trees that filter incoming sunlight for all but a few hours each day. Areas in full shade receive less than 2 hours of sunlight each day. The ground is shaded by a dense canopy of overhead leaves or by a nearby structure.
SUMMER BULBS THAT PREFER THE SHADE
Most shade loving plants, such as azaleas, rhododendrons, bleeding heart and hellebores, are at their best in late spring and early summer. Summer-blooming bulbs can take center stage for the second half of the growing season. Caladiums, begonias and elephant ears are at their prime from midsummer through fall. They are great companions for hostas, astilbes and other shade loving perennials as well as annuals such as impatiens, coleus, torenia and fuchsia.
Tuberous begonias have waxy, rose-like flowers that can be as big as your hand. They grow best in partial shade to full shade, and bloom continuously from midsummer through fall. Begonias are fantastic container plants and a particularly good choice for window boxes and hanging baskets, making it easy to dress up a shady porch, patio or deck with big blooms and brilliant color. Tuberous begonias love the heat. For earlier flowers, start the bulbs indoors about 8 weeks before the last frost.
Caladiums have large, heart-shaped leaves that display amazing color combinations of red, green, pink and white. They are tropical plants that love heat and humidity, and they generally grow best in shady locations. -- though many newer varieties will tolerate full sun.
Caladiums are great companions for other shade loving annuals and perennials such as heuchera, astilbes and hostas. They also grow well in containers, either planted on their own or mixed with other plants such as coleus, begonias and elephant ears. Caladiums rarely bloom, but with such colorful foliage you'll never miss the flowers. In all but the warmest climates, caladiums benefit from an early start. Plant the tubers in pots, 4 to 6 weeks before they go into the garden.
These exotic plants add a tropical look to gardens, patios and entryways. Their giant leaves can measure up to 3 feet across and foliage colors range from lime green, emerald green and blue green to burgundy and almost black.
Elephant ears love heat and humidity and will grow well in either sun and partial shade. They are excellent container plants. Give elephant ears a warm, sheltered location and plenty of moisture, and they always put on a show that attracts attention.