Shade-loving Perennials

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Q: I am an amateur when it comes to gardening and my flowerbed is proving to be a challenge. First of all, it is is full to partial shade, plus the soil is clay like. I’ve been told to try to find zone 4 shade loving perennials but I really don’t know what to look for! I’m about to give up and just grow some grass there instead, but I love color and how flowers and plants look in a yard! It’s not a big area but I would like to expand as I know what I’m doing. I’ve tried for 3 years now and all my perennials turn to annuals…can you please help with some easy to look after but nice shade loving plants for zone 4!

You don’t mention trees – is this bed underneath some huge old trees? If this is the case, the trees are sucking all the moisture and nutrients out of the soil, and you might just have to settle for a nice bark mulch groundcover. (Lawn won`t grow there either.) Otherwise, you can have a lot of fun!

All these plants may need some watering (more often if you are in the dry south-central interior), and will benefit from mulching to keep the soil moist and cool until the plants fill in.

Try these:
Fernleaf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) – early blooming and long-blooming, usually rose-pink; white, pale pink and dark pink forms also exist.

Hostas – from minis to giants, lush green or wildly variegated – there are hundreds to choose from. The larger varieties tend to be more vigorous, and can grow into huge clumps over the years. The groundcover varieties are less expensive, less fussy, and just as nice as some of the many new

Coral bells (Heucheras) – most of the green-leaf forms (‘Firefly’,’Vivid’, ‘Bressingham’) are hardy, as are the green and white variegated leaf cultivars ‘Snow Storm’ and ‘Snow Angel’, both of which have bright pink flowers. Of the dark leaf cultivars, ‘Stormy Seas’ and ‘Pewter Veil’ have done very well for me; none of the new fancy colours have survived our Zone 3 winters.

Meadowrue (Filipendula) – all the ones I’ve tried have been hardy; some have a tendency to spread, but this can be a good thing if you’re filling in space. Flowers are usually either white or pink.

Ferns – there are many good hardy ones – many Dryopteris (Male fern) and Athyrium (Lady fern) species and cultivars, as well as Gymnocarpium (oak fern), Osmunda (Royal fern and Cinnamon fern), and Matteuccia (Ostrich fern).

Not to mention the many fine native groundcovers Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) and Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uvi-ursi)… the list could go on….

For drier shade, try Deadnettle (Lamium), Yellow Archangel (Lamiastrum), or Goutweed – but be warned that any of these can become annoyingly persistent, even invasive in some climates.