Big "flower bed" area--in shade! Help!

gillmankOctober 17, 2013

Hello, all!

I am new to gardening and am not sure what to put on the side of our house. The flower bed area, which is really currently just a mud pit, is currently in complete shade due to being next to a tall house and I'm not sure what to put in there to fill it up.

I have planted 4 burning bushes and have bought some small wintergreen boxwoods to put in front of the empty space between the burning bushes (if that makes sense).

but, look how huge this flowerbed is. I still almost have half of the bed to put stuff in. Is there a nice groundcover (THAT ISN'T IVY!!!) that i could put in front of there? Or maybe some kind of ever green plant that stays short?

I live in Ohio - we're listed as Zone 6.

ANY help would be welcome! We have so much shade, I worry that I can't make things look nice when so much stuff at Lowe's says it needs full sun!!

Thanks, everyone!

This post was edited by gillmank on Thu, Oct 17, 13 at 15:35

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First, you need to stop plant shopping at Lowe's or other box stores :-)) They aren't plant nurseries, carry limited selections and often the tag info is incorrect or misleading.

Second, exactly how big is that bed? Measurements? And how is it oriented? Just because a planting bed is close to tall structure does not necessarily mean it is in lots of shade. To be honest, that location doesn't look all that shady to me.......maybe no direct sunlight but it looks quite bright and that can make a big difference.

I'm also going to question your existing choices. The burning bush, Euonymus alatus, is a listed invasive species in OH and in much of the rest of the Midwest and east coast. And while it can tolerate partial shade, it colors up best in full sun, which is really the only reason to ever grow this pest plant. It can also get huge - 10-15' tall with an equal spread. Pruning is of course possible but affects the natural arching, vase shape this shrub typically possesses. In a space that size, 1 burning bush is likely sufficient - 4 is serious overkill!!

Depending on the size of the bed, you could consider Pieris japonica, rhododendrons and azaleas, Euonymus fortunei, skimmia - all are evergreen and appreciate at least partial shade. Other shrubs you could include are hydrangeas, dwarf fothergilla, spiraeas, red twig dogwood, dappled willow. And lots of perennials - heucheras, brunnera, hellebores, ornamental grasses, ferns, bleeding heart, epimedium. Do some research on these plants before you buy to determine mature size and spacing (don't rely only on the tags) and to develop a little plan of what you want the area to look like. FWIW, there is a rule of thumb in landscape design that encourages front entry planting areas to be as evergreen as possible so it looks as welcoming in winter as it does in summer. This doesn't mean not to include any perennials or deciduous plants but to use them as accents rather than the focus.

Take some good measurements of the area, determine exactly how much shade/sun, bright or indirect light the area gets and visit a local retail garden center (NOT a box store). They should have a section devoted to shade loving plants and those that thrive in something other than full sun. The list is really extensive.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 2:54PM
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I would avoid too many shrubs...all you need in that area is possibly one or two, then fill in with what is mentioned above...which is EXCELLENT ADVICE.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 3:55PM
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Excellent advice above, but a few more suggestions:

1. Those shrubs are planted much too close to the house. Consider the mature size of the plant, allow for some space between shrub and building (for good air circulation and for those times you may need to get back there for building or shrub maintenance), and plant accordingly. Moving those shrubs forward will reduce the empty space at the front of the bed considerably.

2. Rhodies and hydrangeas can get quite large, though there are some dwarf or smaller ones. Again, check the data of the specific variety or cultivar that you are considering.

3. A good local garden center is usually your best bet, but I have purchased some plants at the big box stores that have worked out very well for me, however you have to know what you are looking for rather than relying on their staff for good information. It's best if you can get them just as soon as they are delivered, but I've had good luck with some of the end-of-season-sale material, too ... things I just had to give a second chance and they've paid me back well.

    Bookmark   October 20, 2013 at 4:32PM
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Wow, thanks for the great responses. This is definitely so helpful. I have a few responses and questions:

Measurements: ~12.5' L x ~5' D... and the height from the flowerbed to the posts for the porch is ~4.5ft - which is important, because I want to cover a bit of that space between the horizontal post and the porch floor with a few tall shrubs in hopes to make it a bit more private and less empty looking.

- I was originally wanting to make everything in that bed be evergreen, just because I love having greenery around especially in winter, but I was very much deterred by all the "full sun" tags in the Lowe's gardening center. But, I'm very glad to know that that's not always necessarily correct at a store like that--AND that I don't think I understand what full shade / partial sun / full sun specifically entail.

- I'm in assumption nurseries cost a lot more. I am definitely on a budget and don't have much to contribute to an award-winning garden, but I LOVE what work I can put into it, and really still want to make it look fantastic. Are nurseries open year round? For some reason I was under the impression they're open seasonally?

- What SPECIFICALLY is meant by "full shade" "partial sun" and "full sun"? I thought this to be very self-explanatory, but if you're saying that even a brightened area that doesn't get direct sunlight can mean it's not full shade, maybe I'm eluding the fullness of those definitions.

- I'm surprised to hear someone call burning bushes pests! Though I'm not as much as a green thumb as some people I know, most of everyone I've met adores burning bushes and do not consider them invasive. However, a 15' burning bush tall and wide MIGHT feel that way, yes, hahahah.

- These shrubs were 50% off at Lowe's because it's the end-of-season-clearance, hence my excitement to buy SOMETHING to fill up the space. But it seems I didn't go for the best. Does anyone have any suggestions?

Again, thanks for all the information and time you have put into your comments.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 12:20AM
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I like the idea above of Hellebores...they are green all year and wonderful flowers very early. then you could have dwarf conifers which do like sun but CAN grow in some shade. I know because I have them. Looking at that area and knowing the size, you really cannot have too many things and the more different plants you put in there the more confusing to the eye.start out simple and then add if you think it is not enough. low growing ground cover such as dwarf mondo grass will cover the ground.

    Bookmark   October 21, 2013 at 7:58AM
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The term "full sun" typically is considered to mean 6 or more hours a day of direct sunlight. "Part sun" and "part shade" are pretty much interchangeable - somewhere between 3-6 hours of sunlight. Less than 3 hours of direct sunlight is considered "shade". But shade can be further defined by the type and its source - filtered shade, dappled shade, full shade, bright but indirect light, etc., and whether that shade originates from a deciduous tree canopy, an evergreen or heavy tree canopy, a tall structure, a large overhang, etc.

IME (and I do this for a living), planting beds on the north side of a structure that does not have a broad overhang or eaves are generally considered 'indirect light' and if the structure is very light colored, even 'bright but indirect light', which can translate to a part shade situation. Depending on what's happening around this area (tall trees or shrubs, other buildings, tall fences), a north facing planting bed usually receives a bit of very bright (perhaps even direct) sunlight in the morning and again in late afternoon.

Nurseries do not have to cost more. And it is sometimes helpful to keep in mind that you get for what you pay for :-) Retail nurseries and garden centers will always offer a much large plant selection than a home improvement or hardware store because plants are what they specialize in. And they are usually much better taken care of (higher quality) and the staff will typically be far more knowledgeable. Consider your landscape to be an investment -- it is -- and treat accordingly. One way you can ease your budget a bit is to do the research at the nursery and then see if the home improvement store offers the same plant. But be aware of quality.......end of season sales at the home improvement stores can be just a waste of money if the plant is exceedingly rootbound or has been neglected for months during the growing season.

The popularity of burning bushes has absolutely nothing to do with their invasiveness. That is a characteristic determined by ecologists and conservationists by assessing populations of these plants in natural or noncultivated settings. A listed invasive means it is a plant that should not be planted even in a very controlled garden setting because it has an extremely prolific tendency to spread, usually helped along by wildlife populations. Burning bush - Euonymus alatus - is one of the most widespread invasive species of any common garden plants.

Here is a link that might be useful: Invasive burning bush in Ohio.

    Bookmark   October 22, 2013 at 3:18PM
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It isn't your fault you bought an invasive plant - plant breeders, growers and nurseries stand to make money selling them, so they do. Unfortunately. These plants often pose no real problem in the garden, as young seedlings or shoots are mowed, or pulled. They are, as Gardengal said, spread by birds (along with a dollop of helpful fertilizer) and can completely out-compete native plants in natural areas, the very areas our wildlife like birds, bees and butterflies depend on for survival.

Here in NJ we have the NJ Invasive Species Strike Team, which has a lot of information on their website (, including a "Do Not Plant List." Check to see if you have something similar for your region.

There is a pretty good listing of plants for shade at the link below. Beware the houtuynnia they list, though; it is invasive and very, very difficult to get rid of. I have several of the listed plants in my shady garden and they do very well: fothergilla, leucothoe*, Japanese andromeda, rhododendron*, elderberry. Not on that list, but also doing well are dwarf oakleaf hydrangea, calycanthus, spicebush, itea, clethra, tree peony, aucuba*, sweet box*. wintergreen*, glossy abelia*. (* indicates evergreen, and the wintergreen now has bright red berries).

In the herbaceous perennials, I love their recommendations for coralbells, tiarella, epimedium, pulmonaria and Solomon's seal (the variegated is especially nice). Also ferns, hellebore, bleeding heart (the old-fashioned dicentra spectabilis goes dormant after flowering, but the native d. eximia - fernleaf bleeding heart holds its leaves, blooming all season except for the hottest months of summer). Dodecatheon (shooting star) is a delightful ephemeral, blooming in spring then hiding away until next year. Native wild ginger, astilbe, bugbane (cimicifuga), Japanese anemone, hosta.

I'm sure I've overlooked some, but I'm sure you get the picture. You might have to search a little for some of these, but they are well worth it!

A garden, or a landscape, doesn't happen overnight. Give it and yourself some time. Browse books in the library, catalogs, websites, visit public gardens in your area and get some ideas for plants and combinations that suit the area, your taste, and your budget. Remember to allow them room to grow and remember that they usually need a little time to get their root systems established before they really take off.

Like many gardeners, I enjoy the process as much as the end result (What end result? The gardens always seem to be a work in progress!). I hope you will feel the same way :-)

Here is a link that might be useful: Plants for Shade

    Bookmark   October 25, 2013 at 10:35PM
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again, good suggestions for shade plants>>but still, looking at that area I just cannot imagine having more than 3 to 5 of any of them (with low ground cover). a spice bush can get to be huge. variegated solomons seal is a huge spreader, as in sweetbox. Just be careful what you plant and have fun. You can always move, change, start another area>>that is what gardening is all about.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 11:17AM
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Not all of the plants I mentioned are necessarily intended for the OP's situation, she is going to have to evaluate and decide. It is intended to show that there is a huge variety of beautiful, dependable, fairly low-maintenance plants out there for shady locations, many of them underutilized but very worthy of the home garden.

Variegated solomon's seal does spread, but I find the new shoots are easy to pull, and, like mint, can easily be contained by planting in a large, bottomless nursery pot. Sweet box, in my experience, spreads slowly ... as a matter of fact, I wish it would spread a little more quickly! Glossy abelia is another that can get rather large, but I love the summer-long bloom as much as the bees and butterflies do.

If the soil were better drained, even blueberry (if there's enough sunlight): white flowers in spring, good foliage color in autumn ... and imagine stepping out your door to pick some blueberries to add to a meal or just a snack!

We too often accept what is marketed, rather than looking deeper, being open to other possibilities, and planting a landscape or garden that doesn't look like everything else on the block.

    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 12:11PM
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    Bookmark   October 26, 2013 at 12:49PM
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dottie_in_charlotte(z7-8 NC)

You mention 'mud'.
Is this because of your watering the bed ?
Are there any gutters on the house?
From where does this bed and new growing plants get water?

Consider that any shrub that will grow to the size you wish is also going to cover up areas that will need painting.
If that lattice is painted wood, suggest you remove the plants and replace the lattice with the plastic version. It comes in a tone like the present color in your photo.
Then, you can plant as you please without so much future maintainance.
(and it's sold at Lowes/HD)
Whatever you plant , shrub-wise is going to need to be very tolerant of too much moisture.
You can add moisture by watering but you cannot reduce it if the bed is frequently soggy from rain/melting snow in an area that is surrounded and also not getting full sun to evaporate the excess moisture.

Too much moisture will kill your planting efforts faster than too little moisture so consider that in your plant choices or, fill the bed with planting pots , semi-buried and plant into those.
Then you can control the height of growth, give a little bit more dimensional look with these elevated plant materials and be able to move them as necessary.

Where do you throw the snow you shovel off the walkway?

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 9:52PM
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Some of the small hosta can be used as a ground cover. Lemon Lime multiplies relatively fast, gets no taller than about 5" and is vibrant yellow. Ginko Craig is a bit longer but varigated green with white. both would be excellent shade edging. Heuchera come in wonderful colors and are evergreen.

    Bookmark   November 22, 2013 at 12:41AM
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iris_gal(z9 CA)

Gillmank, I love your side porch. I remember when I was on such a tight budget that $3 for a gallon shrub was an extravagance. I began to learn what plants could be divided, like Hostas. And which ones could root easily from 'starts' (also called 'slips'), like Salvias.

You probably want a plant that will max out at 5' (for the privacy). Generally a shrub that grows to 5' tall will also grow 5' wide. And most shrubs that stay that short are dwarfs. Rosemary looks like a short shrub and may work in your zone. Your porch will give protection. It is also easy to root a piece for a new plant! Which means if a friend has it no need to buy.

Go to a nursery with pencil and paper. Tell them the max. growth size you want, that it is a bright area with no direct sun. Write down the names they suggest. And ask if it is a slow grower or fast. Beware of fast. If you need evergreen let them know that. Put a star beside the names whose looks you like. Then come home and look them up on the internet or ask on a forum. I check our big box store's garden area regularly.
2 years ago they got a shipment of clematis vines. Much cheaper than the nursery. Plus one I wanted. Good luck.

PS: if you don't eat those pumpkins be sure to bury them for compost!

PPS: I do agree with the information given. Those sweet looking plants will become unreasonably large for your delightful bed.

    Bookmark   November 25, 2013 at 12:17AM
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Hostas are always fun. Many, many varieties to choose from. : )

Don B.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Hosta Library website

    Bookmark   November 28, 2013 at 12:21AM
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geoforce(z7a SE PA)

Hellebores, Epimediums, Pulmoneria,

All are wonderful in shade and all have both flowers and leaves of interest. Also would suggest some of the Asiatic podophyllums as possible.

Highly recommend 'Garden Vision Epimediums' for best epimediums available anywhere and 'Pine Knot" for hellebores.

Here is a link that might be useful: Garden Vision Epimediums

    Bookmark   March 26, 2014 at 2:04PM
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I have a front yard on the north side. By about 10 or 11am, it is in shade and pretty much stays this way in the entire growing season until the leaves fall off that big maple tree in the front.

I have some dwarf nandinas, Stella d'Oro day lily, Japanese yew, ferns, liriope, and columbine in this area. They are all doing well.

Before I knew that spot better, I also planted delphiniums there. They grow, bloom, and scatter seed, but I think they would definitely do better elsewhere with more sun. On the other hand, it means that you can achieve some other plants there also, and the shady aspect may help keep them from getting too big or large for the area (however that's not the best way to be picking plants for a shady area)

    Bookmark   April 15, 2014 at 2:05PM
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cyn427 (zone 7)

Hosta (choose several that blend well together-check out Hosta forum for ideas which may lead to addiction), hellebores, bleeding heart (dicentra), Japanese painted fern to start. Maybe an azalea if there is room. Astilbe are lovely, but do best with lots of water. The ones I have near a bird bath do best because the get watered daily when I dump the old and add new. Here is a small example from near my front door. Not all the hosta have come out yet and you can't see the hellebores in this picture. I also have columbine there, but they bloom later.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2014 at 5:32PM
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Here is a little corner, that only gets about a 1/2 hour of early morning light.

Since this pic was taken I've added a few Rothko begonia for color,

Tuberous begonia will do OK if you bury a few pots with potting mix in them. (they don't do well in soil)

Hostas and ferns will rock there.

    Bookmark   June 14, 2014 at 7:05PM
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very nice

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 7:35PM
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