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Jessica Walliser

Not enough sun? No problem with these shade-loving plants

| Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 5:45 p.m.
Shade-loving plants add a lovely pop of color to any garden.
Jessica Walliser
Shade-loving plants add a lovely pop of color to any garden.

Though it's certainly welcome on a hot summer day, shade is often considered a gardener's curse. This is because many gardeners are still under the impression that you need full sun to have a lot of color in your landscape, but that simply isn't the case. Yes, it's tough to grow most vegetables in garden areas that receive less than about six hours of full sun per day, but some of my favorite perennials and annuals do beautifully with minimal sunlight. It's time for gardeners to embrace their shade, and instead of grumbling about it, fill it with plants that thrive in the shadows.

One of the easiest ways to bring a bright burst of color to shady garden areas is with foliage. Now don't get me wrong, flowers are wonderful. But, in most cases, colorful foliage will have a far longer “show time” than flowers do. Colorful leaves don't fade and wither like flowers. Instead, foliage struts its stuff all season long.

Some of my favorite, brightly colored foliage plants for shade are annuals that don't survive the winter, while others are perennials that offer their colorful hues year after year. In my own shade garden, I use a mixture of these annuals and perennials to ensure a constant pop of color every day.

At the forefront of shade-loving annuals that can offer plenty of color to shady landscapes is coleus. It's an old-fashioned plant that's back in vogue, thanks to breeders who are constantly striving to select for richer, bolder colors that really stand out in shady containers and planting beds. Some of my favorite recent coleus releases include “Gay's Delight,” with its chartreuse green leaves accented by deep purple veins, the bright pink and chartreuse “Watermelon,” the copper-colored “Keystone Kopper” and “Solar Flare,” a variety with lime-green leaves edged in yellow with red veins. There are, of course, hundreds of other coleus varieties that can offer a similar shock of color even in dense shade.

Other annuals made for the shade include show-stopping Rex begonias that come in a stunning array of leaf forms and coloration, the elephant ear-like caladium, whose heart-shaped leaves can be found in dozens of different color patterns, and a purple and silver plant called Persian shield that has become a personal favorite. There's also the yellow-green foliage of Thalinum “Limone” and the tropical good looks of the Ti plant, both of which look stunning in shady container combos.

As for foliage perennials that thrive in low light areas, I'll point to the Heucheras first, another “oldie but goodie” plant that breeders are taking to new heights. Try “Cajun Fire” for a burst of red, “Peach Flambe” for a spot of orangey-peach, or “Grape Soda” for a rosey-pink pick-me-up for the shade.

Other foliage perennials for low light areas include hostas, of course, with their broad range of leaf colors, forms and shapes, but also on the list are Japanese painted ferns, golden Hakone grass, “Sun King” Aralia, purple-leaf bugbane (Actaea ramosa “HiIlside Black Beauty”) and “Brilliance” Autumn fern.

Keep in mind that fall is a great time for planting perennials, so adding some of these beauties to your shade garden now means you'll be bursting with color as soon as spring arrives.

Tuck in a few annuals next spring, soon after the danger of frost has passed, and you'll have a whole new appreciation for the phrase “made in the shade.”

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. Her website is

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.

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