Express News Weekly Article
Saturday, March 5, 2005
By Calvin Finch, Conservation Director, SAWS, and Horticulturist
Plants for the Shade
If you have large shade trees and are looking for plants to grow in the shade, consider this list.
The best foundation shrubs are the hollies. Dwarf yaupon holly makes a disciplined growing round shrub up to 3.5 feet tall. The foliage is a gray green without prickly edges. Dwarf Chinese holly has Kelly green foliage with prickly points. Use it where you need a rounded shrub about 3 feet tall and 3.5 feet wide. Deer do not seem to eat dwarf yaupon or dwarf Chinese hollies in most situations.
For hedges in the shade, consider dwarf Burford or standard Burford holly (6 feet and 8 feet tall respectively). They make dense dark green evergreen hedges or attractive specimen plants. The red berries are spectacular if the plants are in the sun but are less showy in the shade. The Burford hollies are favorite bird nesting sites.
The shade tolerant viburnums are among my favorite shrub for specimens or hedges in the shade. Mexican plum grows best in full sun but tolerates considerable shade. The tree reaches 12-15 feet tall and is a favorite nesting site for birds. The blooms are not hugely showy and the fruit production is low, but the Mexican plum makes a nicely shaped edge or understory tree.
Standard pittosporums have been overused in the past but they are still a good large shrub for the shade (10 feet tall by 15 feet around). There is a variegated version and a green version. The main attraction of the shrub is the rounded shape and evergreen foliage. They also have a showy fragrant blossom in the spring. In some neighborhoods, deer do not eat pittosporum. As much as I like the standard version, I do not recommend that the dwarf pittosporum be used. It is too sensitive to cold.
There are many versions of nandina to use in a shady landscape. The standard version reaches 7 feet tall and has attractive berries and colorful winter foliage depending on how much sun it receives. There is a ground cover version and several mid-size selections. The “Gulfstream” with small leaves on horizontal branches is especially distinctive.
For blooming shrubs, consider Turk’s Cap and shrimp plant. The individual blooms are not showy but the overall effect is impressive. Turk’s cap comes in two versions. The large flowered version reaches 8 feet tall. It has half dollar size red blooms that attract hummingbirds all summer. The smaller flowered variety only reaches about 4 feet tall but is just as attractive to the birds. It makes a good groundcover for the shade.
Shrimp plant blooms over a long season like Turk’s Cap and the blooms are hummingbird favorites. Deer do not relish the foliage but are eating it in settings where there is not much else to eat. Shrimp plant grows to 5 feet tall in some soils but is more likely to reach 3 feet. The rust colored flower is most common but the yellow blooming selection is the showiest.
Small trees are often left out of landscapes. To provide a visual link between shrubs and shade trees, they are essential. Two that work well in the shady landscape are redbud and Mexican plum.
Redbuds are blooming now. The pink red blooms appear on the leafless stems as an attractive indication that spring has arrived. Select the Mexican, Texas or Oklahoma varieties rather than the Eastern redbud. Eastern redbud frequently loses its leaves during dry, hot summers. Redbuds make good edge trees. They may reach 25-30 feet tall.
Mexican plum grows best in full sun but tolerates considerable shade. The tree reaches 12-15 feet tall and is a favorite nesting site for birds. The blooms are not hugely showy and the fruit production is low, but the Mexican plum makes a nicely shaped edge or understory tree.
For groundcovers in the shade, there are many excellent choices. Most of them have more shade tolerance than St. Augustine grass and should be used if it is too shady for a lawn or if you want a drought tolerant planting. Consider Asiatic jasmine, monkey grass, dwarf Ruellia, English ivy and Texas gold columbine. Tropical giant spider lily is another attractive plant for the shade. It is especially desirable because of the lush foliage that emerges from clumps up to 3 feet tall.
Society garlic and Asiatic jasmine are the most deer resistant. Deer love to eat English ivy and spider lilies. They are not as fond of the other groundcovers but will eat them.
Next Saturday join me and the Garden Volunteers of South Texas for the Spring Bloom Giveaway at the Quarry from 9am to noon. You will receive a 3-inch xeriscape plant and information on successful landscaping in San Antonio.