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Gardening

THE SHADY LADIES OF THE GARDEN

Shade Tolerant Plants That Add Color and Texture to Hard to Grow Areas
By Linda B. Gay, Horticulturist and Gardener

Gardens are all about light and the less light an area receives, the larger the leaf surface needs to be to capture those precious rays of sunlight for photosynthesis. Areas receiving filtered light or short windows of direct sun have this protected exposure due to the large trees shading the area. When gardening around and under large shade trees we not only experience competition for light, but also root competition for soil space, water and nutrients.

We know it is impossible to grow impatiens plants under large trees without watering every single day. The best choice for summer color is the begonia, which often dies from overwatering.  Planting begonias in prepared soil among tree roots allows both to thrive since begonias prefer to dry out between watering.

There are so many choices with begonias: bedding begonias, Dragon Wing™ begonias, Rex begonias, rhizomatous and cane begonias, all of which are perennial and can return from the roots. Bedding begonias with green leaves and pink or white flowers show up best in shaded gardens, while bronze leaves with red flowers show up much better in more sunlight. Remember, when gardening in shaded areas, always use white or variegated foliage as white reflects the sunlight and moonlight back to the eye. Bronze leaves with red flowers or plants with dark foliage have no reflective capacity and just disappear into the shade.

Caladiums provide colorful foliage to complement begonias as they grow from a tuber, making them the perfect candidate to thrive among tree roots. There are two types of caladiums: fancy leaf, which are heart shaped and need less than five to six hours of shade, and strap leaf or angel wing which can take full sun. When caladiums produce spathe type flowers they need to be cut down to the ground as this takes away from leaf production, which is why you are growing them.

Peacock gingers, from the Kaempferia genus, are lovingly referred to as the hosta of the south.  We do not have the winter dormancy and duration of chill to successfully support the northern hosta, so why not plant these precious, patterned pretties instead? Kaempferias grow from rhizomes and go dormant during the winter, normally January or February. Since they grow in deep shade instead of direct sun it takes longer for the soil to warm up for them to sprout. The rhizomes are why they thrive among the tree roots of our garden giants, as storage tubers hold water and nutrients but still require water if low rainfall occurs. If you have Kaempferias in too much sun they will curl their leaves over the top of the plant for protection until the sun retreats. Kaempferias produce lilac or purple iridescent flowers throughout the summer.

Hidden gingers, from the genus Curcuma, come in two separate groups. Curcuma alismatifolia is a sun lover and flowers throughout the season growing 12 to 24 inches tall. Curcuma Scarlet Fever is a late spring bloomer with flowers appearing before the foliage; it needs part shade, will grow two to four feet in height, and resembles a dwarf banana. Another early bloomer is the curcuma Chocolate Zebra; it takes a half day of sun and blooms throughout the summer.

Alpinia nutans is another popular ginger; it will grow from 12 to 30 inches and even to six feet if not frozen. It has a spicy, scented foliage when crushed. This ginger rarely blooms because the flowers are produced on stalks the second spring and can’t have been damaged by frost. Get this beauty to bloom by planting it against the house underneath the eave of the roof and on a south or western exposure. I include this one because many people grow this ginger and don’t understand why it doesn’t bloom.

Plants make us happy and allow us to be creative and in the moment, so take time to visit a nursery, pick up some pretties and enjoy!

Linda B. Gay is a horticulturist and gardener at The Arbor Gate garden and plant nursery, 15635 FM 2920, Tomball, 281-351-8851, www.arborgate.com .

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