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University of Nebraska–Lincoln

UNL Extension in Lancaster County

Horticulture

Helping Nebraskans enhance their lives through research-based education.

Benefits of Shade Gardening

by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator

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Gardening in the shade has some benefits. First of all, moisture doesn’t evaporate as rapidly in the heat of summer reducing the need for watering. Pests seem to be less of a problem in the shade. This includes weeds because weed seed germination is poor in shady situations. Once established, a shade garden is fairly low maintenance. The biggest problem in shade gardening is selecting the right plants. You may be familiar with hostas and ferns, but there are other shade tolerant plants that are worthy of attention.

One of the best plants for dry shade is Epimedium, otherwise known as Barrenwort. There are several species of Epimediums, some of which are evergreen and others are deciduous. All are hardy in USDA zones 4-8, making them an excellent choice for Nebraska. Epimediums prefer a rich, well-drained soil in part shade, but will produce flowers for years even in poor soil. The foliage is usually a light green, but often the new growth has a pinkish tint. The leaves are small and heart shaped. The flowers, which appear in mid-spring are four-petaled and dangle in clusters. Flower colors range from white to cream, rose, lavender or yellow. Plant height varies from 6 to 20 inches, depending on the variety.

With all of the varieties, planting can be done in spring or fall, and plants will benefit from an all purpose fertilizer applied in spring. Epimediums can be found at some local nurseries, and are available through some of the popular mail order catalogs.

Another great plant for shade is Helleborus orientalis or Lenten Rose, so named because it blooms in the early spring. Hellebores are evergreen and hardy to USDA zones 4-9. The leaves are dark and leathery and divided into 7- 9 segments. The plant produces masses of nodding 3- 4 inch flowers which vary in color from purple to pink, as well as maroon and white. The showy yellow stamens in the center of the flowers add to the display. Plant height is approximately 18 inches, with a similar spread.

Since flowering is so early, plant it in the shady border where you'll be sure to notice the beautiful blooms. This plant was selected by the Perennial Plant Association as the Perennial Plant of the Year for 2005. Hellebores are widely available in the nursery industry, both locally and by mail-order. So if you'd like to add some unusual plants to your shade garden, consider planting Hellebores or Epimediums. Either one will compliment your garden with both color and texture.

(This resource was added June 2007 and appeared in the Lincoln Journal Star Newspaper Sunday edition. For information on reproducing this article or using any photographs or graphics, read the Terms of Use statement)

University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office


Contact Information

University of Nebraska-Lincoln
in Lancaster County
Web site: lancaster.unl.edu
444 Cherrycreek Road, Suite A,
Lincoln, NE 68528
| 402-441-7180