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Sunday - March 28, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Austin Shade Plants for Pots
Answered by: Dean Garrett


I live in a condo in Austin Texas so I don't have any flower beds or yard space. I would like to put a few large pots of plants and flowers on my front patio but it's mostly shaded during the day. What types of shade plants would flourish well in pots in the climate where I live?


Mr. Smarty Plants has been in exactly the same situation before and found several native plants that did well in pots in dappled shade.

A favorite was Chile Pequin (Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum), a 2-3 ft. deciduous shrub with small, red or orange chile pepper berries preceded by small white flowers. I trimmed it each winter to keep it at a size I liked and it produced spectacularly, delighting the mockingbirds. A plus is that you can use the chile peppers yourself in cooking - if you can stand the heat. They are exceedingly hot.

Another semi-woody plant that can get somewhat larger is Turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii), a common local native with hand-sized deciduous leaves and hummingbird-attracting red flowers in spring and summer. It should have a large pot and should be cut back each winter to keep it from getting too tall for the space.

A locally native plant that can lend a tropical lushness is River Fern or Wood Fern (Thelypteris kunthii). I massed it in pots and used it to foreground or background other plants.

Another plant to mass is a grass, Inland Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium), a common native landscaping grass for shade that also does well in pots. Grows to two or three feet. Cut it back at the end of winter and use the cut stalks in dried arrangements.

Another favorite was Cedar Sage (Salvia roemeriana), a scallop-leaved salvia with brilliant red flowers in spring and intermittently through the summer. Plant several in a large pot or single ones in smaller pots to attract hummingbirds.

The ferny foliage of Eastern Red Columbine (Aquilegia canadensis) makes it a good accent plant and its red and yellow flowers are a delight in the spring.

At the base of the Chile Pequin, I planted the spring-blooming perennial, Fragrant Phlox (Phlox pilosa), which spilled over the edge of the pot and perfumed the air when in bloom. It needs at least dappled sunlight, though.

All these plants will either die to the ground or lose their leaves in winter, but unlike the nursery tropicals normally planted in pots, they can survive our cold winters and will reappear in spring.

Capsicum annuum var. glabriusculum

Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii

Thelypteris kunthii

Chasmanthium latifolium

Salvia roemeriana

Aquilegia canadensis

Phlox pilosa


Thelypteris kunthii

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