In the golden state of California, it’s sometimes hard to believe that every garden isn’t blessed with daily, bright, warm sunshine.
The reality is that Bay Area landscapes have plenty of areas that only get limited or no direct sunshine. So if that sounds like your challenge, it doesn’t mean that a shady garden has to be dreary or uninspiring.
Shade plants can be an attractive addition to many Bay Area landscapes. You just have to know about the wide variety of plant options that can make a sun-starved garden both attractive and beautiful.
An important role for shade plants in areas out of the sunShade-tolerant plants play an important role in providing needed contrast, texture, and interest in garden areas that can sometimes be neglected or overlooked. Many shade plants also provide aesthetic design benefits of dramatic structural forms, colorful blooms, and unusual leaf sizes.
According to the California Native Plant Society | CNPS, there are a wide variety of native California plants that are perfect for a shady or mostly shady location. CNPS points out that there are important questions that you need to answer about your particular site and location before you plant anything.
- How much sun is there? | Full shade, dappled shade, partial sun
- How hot is the site? | Over 100°F, frequently—rarely
- How cold is the site? | Below 32°F, frequently—rarely
- What are the water sources? | Automated, spray, drip, hose, bucket, marsh, etc.
- What’s the elevation? | Sea level, < 5000’, +5000’
- What’s the topography? | Flat, hillside, streamside, curbside, drainage channel, cliff-face, knolls, etc.
- What’s the soil? | Clay, sand, silt, gravel, rocky, loam, planter’s mix, contaminated
- What’s the ph? | Acid, alkaline, neutral
- Is there drainage? | Poor—good, no standing water
- What’s the proximity to walls? | Too reflective, too hot, foundation damage potential from root systems
At Pacific Nurseries, we have a wide selection of plants that prefer shade in our over 36 acres of inventory. And we offer them in many container sizes from 4” to 15 gallons—and even larger for some items.
Great shade plant solutions within reachCheck out these featured specimens below that may be particularly attractive and inspiring for the shady areas in your project.
This dramatic, big leaf, shade-lover grows in dry areas and does well in rocky and bushy places too. The large leaves and dramatic flower spike offer a great contrast to many backgrounds or small leaf hedges and screening plants. It’s also drought tolerant.
This miniature fuchsia produces a profusion of pink and red mini-flowers with glossy dark green mini-leaves from early spring until early winter. It prefers partial shade but it will also grow in more shady areas. It can grow to +60” in height in the right location but looks better if it’s trimmed up to be more condensed and less leggy. And if you’re looking for a pollinator magnet, Hummingbirds especially love this plant.
Evergreen currant will survive dry to moderate water as long as it has good drainage. It is extremely drought tolerant in clay and is a great ground cover for dry shady areas.
Lomandra longifolia Breeze
Originally from the diverse habitats of rainforests to arid areas in Australia, Lomandra has very low water requirements and is considered drought tolerant. It also grows more rapidly with regular watering. This very flexible and versatile plant appreciates being cut back hard to tight mounds no more than 6 inches tall. This aggressive cutting back cleans up older foliage and promotes new growth. ‘Nyalla’, ‘Seascape’, ‘Tropic Bell’, ‘Little Con’ are all varieties worth a look over.
Clivia plants are native to South Africa and have always been quite popular in Bay Area gardens. These unusual plants derived their name from the Lady Florentina Clive and are slow-growing stars in shady gardens.
Clivia’s feature stunning blooms, which vary in color from pale orange to electric red. The fragrant, trumpet-like flowers are similar to that of amaryllis but smaller. And unlike amaryllis, clivias retain their foliage year round. They prefer somewhat moist soil and do best when they are slightly dry between deep watering’s. Fertilizing once a month is also a good idea.
These dramatic beauties also do well with some sunlight especially in the cooler costal areas. They are hardy when the temperature drops in the winter and they appreciate well-drained soil and constant moisture.
They look best when planted in groups in a shady area or woodland setting. Their distinctive foliage persists throughout the year and the flowers and foliage are fairly deer resistant. Heleborus blooms in early spring and tolerates a wide range of soils from neutral to acidic.
Pieris shrubs will grow in full shade but generally don’t flower as well there. In addition, new foliage growth is usually not as brilliant. Some partial sun with shade provides a better environment to make this plant thrive. Pieris shrubs also prefer soil with good drainage and rich in organic humus.
Sedum makinoi 'Ogon'
With bright gold foliage that turns chartreuse in late Summer, it blooms midsummer with yellow flowers that are nearly unnoticeable against the golden foliage. This plant looks great in rock gardens between crevices and also along a shady border path.
These beauties flower in late summer or autumn producing simple saucers in white and various shades of pink. The flowers open from round, silk-covered buds, and pollinators just love them. Japanese anemones, like many Asian plants, prefer good drainage and fertile soil that does not become waterlogged in winter. Once established they can be difficult to eradicate, so consider where you plant them in a landscape.
Geranium cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’
Masses of 5-petaled white flowers (3/4″ diameter) which are tinged with pink at the base of each petal (pink throat-like centers) and pronounced pink stamens appear in late spring through summer. ‘Biokovo’ runners extend to spread this shade-tolerant beauty to form a soft foliage carpet. This plant requires occasional watering and can tolerate full sun. But it also does quite well in shade.
Commonly called fragrant sweetbox or fragrant Sarcococca, it is a dense, low-growing, broadleaf evergreen shrub with a compact habit that typically grows to 3-4′ tall and as wide. It features sharp-pointed, somewhat leathery, glossy deep green, evergreen leaves that are 2 1/2″ long. Sarcocca stays very green in dense shade and it does well when located in the darkest corners. It prefers acidic, organically rich, moist, and well-drained soils. It’s also relatively water-wise once established. Sarcococca ruscifolia, confusa and hookeriana var. humilis are all great options.
Want to know more about shade-tolerant plants?If you want to discuss or learn more about great shade-tolerant plants for your project, feel free to contact any of our experts at Pacific Nurseries or call 650.755.2330.
As both a grower and a plant broker, we’re ready to work with you to provide just the right plants that will make your shady landscape location a smashing success. We can also provide an Estimate for any item just by attaching your plant list to our convenient online estimate form.
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We look forward to hearing from you.
As President of Pacific Nurseries, Don Baldocchi gets satisfaction knowing the Bay Area is greener and more beautiful by helping landscape professionals succeed. Email Don or give him a call at 650.755.2330.