Shady Characters: Plants For Shade & Part Shade

golden spur columbinegolden spur columbine
Golden Spur Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) hosts a long display of fragrant yellow flowers in late spring. It does best in partial shade, but is quite sun tolerant at higher elevations.

By David Salman

I've been gardening in the high desert of New Mexico for more than three decades. And I've gained a healthy respect for the strength and intensity of our sunshine. A shade loving plant in too much sun quickly becomes a puff of smoke. So early on, I found it to be very important to define what sun or shade conditions mean to gardeners here, especially to those who've moved from areas with more benign and less sunny climates.

The intensity of sunshine varies considerably as one moves across the U.S. This is a huge continent with pronounced regional differences in elevation, heat, humidity, cloud cover, and the resulting intensity of the sun's rays. Full sun conditions in Ohio are radically different than in New Mexico. In Ohio, cloud cover is more consistent. Along with the humid, hazy skies, the strength of the sun's rays are greatly diluted by the time they reach the ground, whereas in the high elevation areas of New Mexico, our 300+ days of cloudless skies and lack of humidity and haze fail to dull the strength of our intense sunshine.

Elevation generally has a huge effect on the sun's intensity; the higher above sea level, the stronger the sunshine, and the higher the ultra-violet wavelengths. You don't tan at 7,000 ft. elevation; you burn.

Definitions for Sun or Shade During the Growing Season

In the Western United States:

  • Full sun - all day sunshine or a full afternoon of sun.
  • Part shade - morning sun and afternoon shade after 12 p.m. Or all-day dappled shade under small-leaved trees, such as honeylocust (Gleditsia) or desert willow (Chilopsis).
  • Full shade - no direct sun during the day because of dense overhead foliage or buildings.

In the Eastern United States:

  • Full sun - 8 or more hours of sun.
  • Part shade - up to 4 hours of sun (during any part of the day).
  • Full shade - little (morning only) or no direct sun.

Bottom line: study the light in your yard and become familiar with when the sunlight hits the ground and plant accordingly.

soapwortsoapwort
Soapwort is an Old World wildflower and an outstanding groundcover for sun and part sun areas.

Some Miscellaneous Factors that Affect Plants and Sun Intensity

Variegated Plants - Plants with variegated foliage will always need less sun that the same species with green leaves. So variegated plants will do best in part sun, dappled, or full shade.

Hot Summer Weather - When day temperatures begin to regularly exceed 90◦F, many plants will benefit from afternoon shade.

New Homes - In new housing developments, sunlight conditions will change over time as trees mature. What was once a sunny spot may gradually change to part or full shade conditions. So plant for current sunlight conditions and understand that in five or more years, you may need to change out your plants as conditions become more shady.

Sunny Winters in Cold Areas of The West - During winter, the sun is lower in the sky, and the angle of the sunlight shifts. This can change a sunny location into a shady location. This is an important consideration for broadleaf evergreen plants in cold climates. Too much sun during Western winters can result in burned foliage. High-intensity sunshine combined with frozen soil prevents the foliage from transpiring (losing moisture through the leaves to cool the plant). So be sure to plant your broadleaf evergreens and evergreen perennials, such as Helianthemum (Rock Rose), in a spot where they are more shaded during the winter.

Shop Plants For Shade

  1. Festuca Siskiyou Blue, Siskiyou Blue Idaho Fescue Grass

    This is a new selection of the native Idaho Fescue, notable for its enticing spruce-blue foliage. The thin leaves are much longer than the more familiar Festuca glauca, giving 'Siski...

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    Siskiyou Blue Fescue Grass Siskiyou Blue Idaho Fescue Grass Festuca idahoensis Siskiyou Blue
    As low as $11.99 Sale $11.39
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    This is a new selection of the native Idaho Fescue, notable for its enticing spruce-blue foliage. The thin leaves are much longer than the more familiar Festuca glauca, giving 'Siskiyou Blue' a softer, more graceful look.
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  2. Tanacetum densum ssp. amani, Partridge Feather

    4-6" tall x 18-24" wide. 2010 Plant Select® Winner. This fabulous ground cover is perfect for beautifying hot, dry areas of the garden with its attractive gray, ferny foliage and la...

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    Partridge Feather (Tanacetum) Partridge Feather Tanacetum densum ssp. amani
    As low as $8.49 Sale $8.07
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    4-6" tall x 18-24" wide. 2010 Plant Select® Winner. This fabulous ground cover is perfect for beautifying hot, dry areas of the garden with its attractive gray, ferny foliage and late spring display of yellow button-shaped flowers. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
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  3. Phlomis cashmeriana photo courtesy of Plant Select

    Kashmir Sage is an amazingly beautiful plant with showy spires of bright lavender-pink flowers. The huge leaves and stately flower spikes give the perennial great architectural value...

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    Kashmir False Sage (Phlomis) Kashmir False Sage Phlomis cashmeriana
    Sale Price I Save 10%
    $10.99 Sale $9.89
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    Kashmir Sage is an amazingly beautiful plant with showy spires of bright lavender-pink flowers. The huge leaves and stately flower spikes give the perennial great architectural value in the waterwise landscape. A 2004 Plant Select winner. Drought resistant/drought tolerant plant (xeric).
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  4. White Iberis sempervirens Purity, Iberis sempervirens Purity, Purity Dwarf Candytuft

    6" tall x 12" wide. Iberis sempervirens Purity is a tidy compact variety of Iberis that blooms in late spring with a profusion of bright white flower clusters. The mounding, evergree...

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    Purity Dwarf Candytuft (Iberis) Purity Dwarf Candytuft Iberis sempervirens Purity
    As low as $10.99 Sale $10.44
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    6" tall x 12" wide. Iberis sempervirens Purity is a tidy compact variety of Iberis that blooms in late spring with a profusion of bright white flower clusters. The mounding, evergreen foliage looks good year-round.
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  5. Blue Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Ceratostigma plumbaginoides, Hardy Plumbago

    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late su...

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    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma) Hardy Plumbago, Leadwort Ceratostigma plumbaginoides
    As low as $8.79 Sale $8.35
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    Hardy Plumbago (Ceratostigma plumbaginoides) is one of the most versatile groundcovers for cold climates growing in both sun and shade and most soil types. Plumbago blooms in late summer with deep blue flowers followed by the foliage that turns burgundy red in fall.
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  6. Orange Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet, Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet, Creeping Hummingbird Trumpet

    2001 Plant Select Winner 4-6" tall x 15-18" wide. Orange Carpet® is a vigorous perennial groundcover that blooms in mid- to late summer with a profusion of bright orange trumpet ...

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    Orange Carpet® Creeping Hummingbird Trumpet (Zauschneria) Creeping Hummingbird Trumpet Orange Carpet® (Fire Chalice) Zauschneria garrettii Orange Carpet®
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $10.99 Sale $10.44
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    2001 Plant Select Winner 4-6" tall x 15-18" wide. Orange Carpet® is a vigorous perennial groundcover that blooms in mid- to late summer with a profusion of bright orange trumpet shaped flowers. Spreading with underground stems, this beauty is perfect for slopes and cascading over the edges of raised beds.
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  7. Limiam White Nancy, Dead Nettle flower close up

    White Nancy is an outstanding Old World groundcover for shade and semi-shade. Blooming much of the summer with bright white flower helod over green and white variegated foliage, this...

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    White Nancy Lamium White Nancy Deadnettle Lamium maculatum White Nancy
    As low as $7.99 Sale $7.59
    Per Plant - 2.5" Pot
    White Nancy is an outstanding Old World groundcover for shade and semi-shade. Blooming much of the summer with bright white flower helod over green and white variegated foliage, this long lived groundcover is the best.
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  8. Aquilegia chrysantha, Golden Spur Columbine flower closeup

    30-36" tall x 18" wide. Golden Spur columbine yellow blooms for months beginning in late spring with a profusion of large, cheerful yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds. Allow th...

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    Golden Spur Columbine Golden Spur Columbine Aquilegia chrysantha
    Sale Price I Save 5%
    $9.99 Sale $9.49
    Per Plant - 5" Deep Pot
    30-36" tall x 18" wide. Golden Spur columbine yellow blooms for months beginning in late spring with a profusion of large, cheerful yellow flowers that attract hummingbirds. Allow the plant to reseed itself to form colorful long lived colonies. (seed propagated).
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