For The Answer
If you have a shady yard it is especially appreciated this time of the year; your air conditioning bills are less and while it is hot to be outside, it beats being in the sun.
The one disadvantage is that there are fewer plants that prosper in the shade than there are for the sun. Here are some good shade plants to consider.
Blue Plumbago is not a disciplined grower for an orderly border but if you can tolerate a “natural, sprawling look” the plant will provide sky-blue blooms from late spring until late autumn. The flowers are quarter-size and are very showy on the 3—4-foot plant of light green foliage. Butterflies love Plumbago. It used to be on some deer-proof lists but I believe it is now eaten by the hungry pests in all neighborhoods. The ideal light condition for Plumbago is morning sun but it tolerates more shade and even full sun. Plumbago freezes back to the ground most winters and is a good xeriscape plant.
Turk’s Cap comes in a small and large version. The small version is about 5-feet tall with nickel-size red flowers. The larger version may reach 8-feet tall with half-dollar-size blooms. Turk’s Cap is a favorite hummingbird plant. The plants are ideal to cover large areas under trees or other shady sites. Most winters Turk’s Cap is evergreen.
Firespike (Odontonema strictum) has shiny green foliage that is attractive enough to use as an indoor plant. The plant will reach 10 or 12-feet tall on sites that are sheltered enough that it does not freeze back. On most sites, however, it reaches about 3-feet tall with a flower stalk that rises another 1—2-feet. The flowers appear in late summer and persist into the fall. They are small deep-red tubular blooms arranged around the stalk. Hummingbirds like firespike almost as much as firebush (Hamelia patens) and firespike blooms in deep shade. Use it in a container to bring autumn hummingbirds to the shady patio just like you would use firebush in a container in the sun. Unfortunately, deer will eat firespike foliage and stems.
Caladiums are at their best in the shade garden now and will look good until the first frost. They are planted for their colorful foliage—many variations of white and red. The bulbs are planted in May and can be removed from the soil in November or December to be stored in a paper sack in a cool dry room until next year. Some winters the bulbs survive to resprout in the spring, especially if the winter temperatures are mild and the soil is very well drained. Caladiums are prone to rotting in cold wet soil. I find it is easiest just to leave the bulbs in place and buy new started bulbs in early summer. Deer find caladiums to be delectable so plant them inside the fence if deer live in your neighborhood.
A great shade garden rotation involves caladiums and cyclamens. In November or December cut off the caladium foliage and plant cyclamen in between the caladium bulbs. Cyclamen is blooming when you buy the plants and blooms until the weather gets hot in April or May. The flower colors available on the San Antonio market are deep red, pink, pure white, and maroon. Plant them about 1.5—2-feet apart so that the foliage and blooms can be admired as specimens. The foliage reminds some gardeners of large African violet leaves. The major weakness of cyclamen as a winter shade plant is the cost. Individual plants can be $4--$10. That is a steep cost for a mound of foliage and blooms 1-foot wide and 8-inches tall even if it is the prettiest plant in the winter landscape.
Cyclamen works equally well in containers or well prepared raised beds. The easiest combination may be to sink 1-quart pots in the planting area. Some of the roots survive over the summer but so far I have not found the ideal way to keep them alive and healthy enough to make a good show the next winter.
For groundcovers in the shade consider Texas Gold or Blazing Star columbine, Katy or Bonita Ruellia, or monkey grass in addition to Asiatic jasmine and English ivy. The columbines do best under deciduous trees. They bloom in March and April. In dapped or morning sun the dwarf Ruellias will bloom all summer. In deep shade the foliage makes an attractive groundcover 8-inches tall.