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Where Bright Ideas and Shady Characters Meet


A good chunk of most gardens is shady, and in that space, you see the same old selection: azaleas, camellias, begonias and impatiens.

What many home gardeners don't know is that there are plenty of lesser known shade plants that make attractive--even impressive--additions to the garden. Malee Hsu, owner of Upland Nursery in Orange, suggests expanding your shady repertoire to add diversity and interest to your garden.

Shade-loving perennials include meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium), a 2- to 3-foot-tall plant with bluish green foliage and white, lilac or purple airy flowers. Another little known perennial vine is blue sky flower (Thunbergia grandiflora), which twines to 20 feet or more with heart-shaped leaves and slightly drooping clusters of tubular, pure blue flowers in fall, winter and spring.

Among shade shrubs you'll find the cestrums, which have showy, tubular flowers in red, pink or purple. The night-blooming variety, night jessamine (C. nocturnum), has creamy white berries and flowers and is very fragrant.

Siamese angel's trumpet (Brugmansia Siamese), is an evergreen shrub that can withstand dense shade and has a scented, trumpet-shaped white and purple flower in spring, early summer, and again in fall.

Keep the following in mind when planning, planting and maintaining your shady areas.

* Observe. What you may think is a shady area may actually be in full sun at some time during the day. Before planting, note how much shade the area actually gets throughout the day so that you can choose the right plants.

Also keep in mind that the sun exposure will change with the seasons.

* Experiment. Shade comes in endless varieties, says Jeff Garton, co-owner of Paradise Designs Inc., a Dana Point landscape design firm.

Some areas will get morning sun and afternoon shade, which is ideal because the plants don't get the intense heat that the afternoon sun brings. Other plants may be under the canopy of trees or bigger shrubs, which means they get filtered sun all day long.

Some gardens get some very late afternoon sun, while other locations may have dense shade all day long. Experiment to find out what grows best in your shady areas.

* Provide well-drained soil. Many shade plants don't like wet feet, so amend well before planting, says Hsu, who suggests adding a mixture of peat moss and planter mix at a rate of 40% to 60%. If the area has especially poor drainage, replace 60% of the soil with a mixture of peat moss, compost and perlite.

* Containerize. Many shade-loving plants are slow growing and therefore do well in containers, Hsu says. Use an acid potting soil.

* Watch watering. While most shade plants don't need as much water as those plants in sunnier areas, they do need average amounts and few are drought tolerant (no containerized plants are). Although shaded areas tend to dry out more slowly, make sure the plants receive adequate water, Hsu says.

"When you water, soak the soil around the root ball," she says.

After watering, check the plants to make sure that the root ball area is moist. With containers, make sure to thoroughly soak the pot.

At the same time, don't over-water shade plants. A sign of over-watering is yellowing leaves from the bottom up. If the over-watering continues, the plant will eventually die of root rot.

* Feed regularly. Many shade plants thrive on fertilizers for acid-loving plants, while others do well with a standard flower food. Ask a nursery person what to feed your particular plants. Fertilize shrubs three or four times a year and other plant types, including those in containers, about once a month.

* Watch for pests. Snails, slugs, earwigs and other insects that like moist, dark places tend to wreak havoc on shade plants. Manually remove pests on a regular basis.

You can also use snail bait, or for an organic alternative, diatomaceous earth. To prevent snails and slugs from climbing up containers and infesting them, cover the outside of the pot with pennies, which can be glued on in a pattern.

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