Deep shade shrubs? Will these work?

BabyHelpful(z6a Ohio)May 19, 2005

Sorry to ask about shade shrubs like everyone else, but I can't find quite what I need in other threads....

I'm helping my mother-in-law replant her front yard in z6a, southern Ohio. The foundation receives ZERO direct sun for about five feet out from the two-story house. The soil is clay, the pH is about 7-7.5. Her foundation is concrete and leaches lime into the soil. I have a preference for native plants, but after weeks of searching, but will take anything that is non-invaisive. (No asian honeysuckles, barberry, jetbead, etc.)

I have considered amending the soil for acid-loving shrubs, but this would require constant upkeep, something I can only do in small amounts on visits from Chicago. Perhaps something that required mildly acid soil could be maintained by yearly mulching and Miracid? I am willing to amend the soil with sand and peat and compost for initial texture improvement.

There are two areas of the foundation to plant: under the windows, no more than 5ft, and near the door, no more than 10 ft (around eight would be best).

Can people suggest things or advise on any of what I have been considering?

Some things I have been considering are:

Symphocarpos albus (Snowberry)

Sarcococca var humelis (Sweetbox's 2 foot, hardy ground-cover incarnation)


Viburnum trilobum (American Highbush Cranberry)


Itea Virginica (Sweetspire)

Hydrangea (prone to be chlorotic?)

Ribes, various species. Alpine especially?

I am concerned about things looking properly suburban and compact in her neat, tidy neighborhood--many of these things are said to tolerate deep shade, but will they become leggy and unattractive?

I would prefer to use shrubs instead of perennials to give the foundation a little texture and softness in the winter months.

Your help is much appreciated!

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BabyHelpful(z6a Ohio)

Forgot, also, Clethra and Calycanthus. Any thoughts?

    Bookmark   May 19, 2005 at 11:54AM
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linrose(6b KY)

I will tell you that, from experience, the only shrubs I know will survive and thrive are Taxus, Ilex, and Itea. I have all of them in 90 to 100 percent shade on the north side of my foundation (the front of my house.) The yews will do OK in full shade, which restricts their growth but on the other hand requires less pruning. Likewise I have the China series hollies under my windows, under a Japanese maple, and they accept the shade, and shearing to keep them under the windows BTW they are very slow growers, also a plus for maintenance. Both the yews and the hollies are 12 years old. The sweetspire is new to me last year so time will tell. I've heard great things about this plant so I expect a lot. If you are going to get it, remember it is deciduous, and a lot of people like evergreen plant around their foundation. It's hard to break out of that thinking sometimes. I like a mix of both. 'Little Henry' is supposed to be a more compact version of 'Henry's Garnet' Itea so it may do under windows. I have both varieties (again new last year) so I can't comment on height yet.

I forgot to mention I have a pH of 7.0 in that bed and everything does well. If you feel you need to you could sprinkle some sulphur in the bed in the spring but research shows that pH wants to revert so it must be applied every year. The only plants in my foundation bed that need that extra sulphur treatment are my azaleas who are primadonnas anyway!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 6:22PM
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I have a VERY shady yard-what about aucuba, clereya and anise? All are evergreen & easy to maintain. As far as more formal perin. go- there are the reliable cast iron plant, lirope, ajuga, hostas and sarocca (sp?)
Good luck :)

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 8:14PM
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BabyHelpful(z6a Ohio)

Thanks for your replies!

Linrose, good to know at least SOMETHING shrubby will grow there, although Taxus does seem fairly boring. I will look into the Ilexes. Has your Itea bloomed in that much shade? Is it staying nice and dense, anyway? Just to clarify, did you mean you have tried other plants there and feel the three you listed are the only things that will grow?

Yardbird, I love Florida Anise (it's at my own mom's house in FL), but the anises (like the other shrubs you mentioned) are only hardy to zone seven I think? Ajuga is highly invasive, at least in Ohio. It would take over the yard and then some! Too bad; it's so pretty.

    Bookmark   May 20, 2005 at 9:00PM
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linrose(6b KY)

My Itea does bloom in the shade. They were only planted last year so it's too early to tell how dense they will be. As babies now they are kind of leggy, just putting out lots of new growth. Just to let you know, they are reported to sucker and colonize (if given enough moisture) so give them a bit of room to do so. I know Taxus can be boring, but I have mine in front of the hollies and I don't shear them, only lightly prune them to keep their shape. They actually can be very elegant if allowed to grow naturally. Just make sure you get a low growing variety. The Merserve hollies I do shear to stay under my windows and they don't mind at all. They are so slow growing it's not a big chore. I also have Japanese holly in the shade and again it does well and stays about 3 feet high and needs minimal pruning. I would definitely check out the hollies for low maintenance - and they have that great lustrous evergreen foliage.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2005 at 11:04AM
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davek913(Z5 Northern IN)

I have a similiar situation in our back yard. In our case, the back faces west, but the sun is mostly obstructed by all the trees in the yard. My areas are 4'x9' and 4'x13' on either side of my ugly-soon-to-be-disguised central air unit.

I was looking into these:

Nandina Nana 'Purpurea'
Nandina 'Moon Bay'
Clethra Alnifolia 'Hummingbird'
Dwarf Fothergilla
Itea Virginica Sweetspire'

I've seen varying opinions on how much shade they can thrive in, and some seem to be borderline for my zone but should be fine in yours.

As an aside, could anyone suggest how well any of these might do in our situation? I'm far from a pro. :-)

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 2:48AM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

Hi there. My new property is almost entirely shade gardening, around my 2 storey house and in the woods but also in the shade of my wooded area too.

In the woods (deep shade) I have planted many natives that are thriving just fine:

Redbud (treeform and shrub form)
Red Osier Dogwood (but any dogwood will do as well in shade as in sun)
Witch Hazel
American Hazelnut
Highbush Cranberry

Outside of my woods I don't stick strictly to natives and plant largely for fall colours instead. In those areas I have the following:

Fothergilla (save this one for the space that gets some sun as it will give you spectacular fall colour - neon orange, red and gold all at the same time..."google" fothergilla under "images" and you will see what I mean)

Serviceberry (also spectacular colour in fall - neon orange)

WitchHazel (gold)

Burning Bush (crimson red but not so much in the shade)

Then I mix all these with plantings underneath that contrast in colour such as a wide variety of shade loving:

Hostas (MANY variety of colours(blue,lime green, yellow, dark/med/light greens, green&white etc.), patterns and sizes)
Ferns (osterich, royal, painted, autumn, maidenhair, lady, man, Christmas etc)
Bleeding Hearts (pink variety and white variety)
Trolius (gold or orange) Globe Flower blooms in the shade just fine
Violets do well for a splash of purple or yellow
My orange lilies (not sure what variety) bloom like mad in the shade.
There are a few varieties of ornamental grasses that do well in shade too but I'm not sure of the names, maybe others can help with that.

At any rate, what I'm getting at is that you can make a nice ornamental planting all along your foundation that will suit city living by mixing your shade shrubs with shade plantings below them.

Use slug bait as you will find slugs will love all your luscious plants once you get them in the ground in the shade.

Let us know how you do and post a photo after you finish as we'd love to see the garden :o)

Ontario, CANADA

    Bookmark   May 27, 2005 at 9:07AM
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BabyHelpful(z6a Ohio)

Thanks for your help everyone! We're going with Itea, Cornus Racemosa, and some kind of US Mahonia. We may try a few other things one at a time.

Dave, please be advised that Nandina, like most other miracle plants from Asia that grow in deep shade and poor soil, can be extremely invasive. I'm not sure if it is problmatic in Indiana, but you probably want to check ahead of time. As I understand it, Clethra and Fothergilla do quite well in full shade, but need nice loamy, acid soil.

Barb, wow, that's quite a list! I'm glad to hear Cranberry Viburnum is doing well in shade...we may put that in a western corner. And I'm definately going to be planting perennials, too; I just want to get the shrubs out of the way first. I was surprised to see Burning Bush on your list. Is that Wahoo, our native burning bush, or Eunonymus alata, the infamous invasive exotic? I only mention it because it seems like you have made an effort to plant native or native-freindly plants elsewhere.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 12:18PM
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Dieter2NC(z7b NC)

For easy maintenence nothing is easier for me than leatherleaf wiburnum (viburnum rhytidophyllum) zones 6-8. It has no pests or diseases and will grow in a closet (figuratively speaking).

    Bookmark   June 1, 2005 at 8:22PM
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knottyceltic(S/W Ontario 5b)

Quote: "Barb, wow, that's quite a list! I'm glad to hear Cranberry Viburnum is doing well in shade...we may put that in a western corner. And I'm definately going to be planting perennials, too; I just want to get the shrubs out of the way first. I was surprised to see Burning Bush on your list. Is that Wahoo, our native burning bush, or Eunonymus alata, the infamous invasive exotic? I only mention it because it seems like you have made an effort to plant native or native-freindly plants elsewhere.

The Burning Bush I was referring to is the "Dwarf Winged Euonymous" that is dark green and shiny all summer and crimson red in fall. I understand that it is invasive and considered a "weed", even problematic in some regions but here we find it does well without any spreading. I wonder if our conditions here are just too harsh for it to become even slightly problematic because I have never seen one even produce a single baby nor have I ever seen one naturalized into a field, ditch or woods anywhere and we've done a lot of hiking over the years. I was surprised to hear from folks to the south of us in the USA that this species is considered a "noxious weed" in some areas. Very strange. But you mention a good point in that the native "Burning Bush" would be an excellent alternative IF you can find it. Sadly I find that locating native specimens even in the largest and most reputable nurseries, is very difficult. What a shame that we can't get our hands on plants, shrubs and trees that are "NATIVE" yet we can easily get these other things that come from afar.

Many of the shade loving shrubs are fruit bearing and the birds will LOOOOOOOVE you for planting them. Perhaps you mother (if not already) will become an avid "birder" :o) and most certainly you will need to add some bird houses, a bird bath and feeders to the property to keep the birds that come to feast on the ripe berries. (Christmas and birthday gift ideas for the future)

Yes, when we bought our property which is half woods and half groomed lawn, we agreed (my husband and I) that I could do what I wanted with the groomed area but the woods would be all native. I have stuck to my part of the deal but my husband feels that I've pushed the limits by placing a garden that divides our woods from the groomed area (mix of native and non-native) with almost all non-native shrubs. I'm a sucker for fall colour so I wanted the edge of the woods, before you enter it, to blaze with colour in the fall but he feels I've got my proverbial "toe on the line". Oh well... ;o) I do love my native woods but there are just a few non-natives that I just can't live without simply because of their fall foliage. In my shady foundation area between my house and the house next door I also have non-native, Japanese Painted Ferns and Autumn Ferns... again, for colour. Mixed with the perennial pink and white Dicentra Bleeding Hearts, the Orange Trolius Globeflowers, the various coloured Hostas, some dwarf iris, Columbine, bright Orange Butterfly weed and Blue Oat Grass which are in the sunny bits, this shady foundation planting is VERY colourful.

Now I only wish I had more property to plant but alas I'm running out and will have to carry on in the coming years with container planting on my various porches and decks (we are building phase 1 of our decks this summer and phase 2 next summer along with a little bistro patio area outide my kitchen. I guess with more "land" I should also wish for more MONEY hahaha. ;o) :o)

Oh, PS... if you get a Highbush Cranberry, you might consider putting it nearest to your eavestrough downspout. They LOOOOVE water and will fruit like crazy.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 10:38AM
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I, too, have a shady yard with a good deal of deep shade. On the north side of the house the foundation shrubs our landscaper put in are PJM Rhododendrons (Olga? the pink ones). Although they never get any direct sun, they bloom beautifully. Another foundation shrub I love is Viburnum "Eskimo" & "Summer Snowflake", both of which bloom well in the shade and don't get huge. I have Clethra, but it's in the tall shrub border and gets pretty tall and a bit leggy for me. Itea has been in for about 3 years and is suckering like mad. It's taking up at least twice the footprint of when it was installed. Blue hollies seem to do well in the shade, too, although they don't flower as much. I moved my dwarf Cranberry Viburnum to where it gets more sun because it wasn't doing that well in shade. (We're in Z 5 by the way, under oaks and maples).

    Bookmark   June 2, 2005 at 11:17AM
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