Happy March! Here’s hoping that this is a fabulous month for everyone. This is such a busy time of scheming and planning – for a wedding if you plan to get married this year, for a party if you will be celebrating someone or something special, and for the flowers and vegetables you hope to grow. We’ve been getting some great questions on our Facebook page lately, and recently someone asked about shade tolerant plants that can be container grown and have some color. It’s a great question, because rare is the home that doesn’t have some shady space, whether due to a porch or overhang or trees or who knows what.
It’s important to keep in mind that there are a lot of shades of shade, if you know what I mean. The difference between complete shade (only indirect light), dappled shade, 2-4 hours of sun, and 4-6 hours of sun can really make some of your choices for you. If you’re not quite sure what your light conditions are, choose a day when you’ll be home and use a kitchen timer to remind you to check the light every 15 minutes or so. Keep in mind that the sun’s arc will shift between now and summer, and likewise that leaves will be coming in over the next few months. I’ll be focusing on plants that will thrive in a container, but keep in mind that these can also be bed planted with no problem.
There are so many ways to go with a container arrangement, but I find myself partial to those with some real variation in height, and sometimes it can be a challenge to find shade loving plants that offer a vertical presence. Here I like to use grasses and ferns. Japanese Forest Grass is a favorite, as is Purple Fountain Grass. The sky’s the limit with ferns, but I’ve had great luck with Ostrich Fern. You can also go with Bleeding Heart, or the slightly more unusual Solomon’s Seal.
In the middle zone I really love to use a red oxalis. This is a plant that my grandmother is partial to and I have one in my house that she gave me when I was a girl. It’s a rockstar in a container – with a little bit of time it will neatly grow into the space. A begonia would also do nicely here – Carmen is partial to the gorgeous Dragon Wing begonia – and the columbine featured in the last post is another plant that can thrive in the mid-story section of your container. Bergenia (some of you may know this as ‘Pigsqueak’) is another option.
Two slightly more unusual options for your mid story include Lady Slipper and Checkered Lily. These are both stunning.
Down in your understory, you might consider something like Sweet Woodruff, smaller ferns (Japanese Painted Fern is a favorite of mine), a beautiful Wishbone plant, or one of the many beautiful sweet potato vines available these days.
Lastly: coleus. I am such a huge fan of coleus. It can pretty much operate at all levels of your container, so be sure to read the height information on your plant tag. Note that you can encourage your coleus to bush out instead of up by pinching the growing tips. Like the oxalis I mentioned, coleus will usually be more colorful in the shade. There are soooooo many options for coleus (see here for several pages worth), so you will be guaranteed some all-season color if you choose a few of these for your container.
Obviously there are many, many more choices – we’d love to hear what has worked for you or what you might be trying for the first time this year. We created a Pinterest board with here that has tons of additional suggestions for your shady spot – take a peek here!
Quick reminder: Annual Market Garden: April 20, 21, 22, with special events happening on the 19th. More details here.