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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - April 28, 2010

From: Toledo, OH
Region: Midwest
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Plants for a shady front border in Ohio
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

My front flower bed faces the North. For the past 2 yrs. I lost 5-6 perennials. What can I plant that will make it with little sun. I don't want hostas nor ferns, nor short ground covers. I want colorful flowers that will show from the road in various heights. I already have 1 hydrangea, 2 daylilies, 1 salvia, 1 veronica & 2 bleeding hearts that all came back.

ANSWER:

You have already learned from experience that not all plants do well in full shade and you do not mention whether your soil conditions are wet, dry or moist; that will have a huge impact on your plant choices.  If your soil is pretty damp, your salvia and veronica will probably struggle for a few years and then give up the ghost.

Native plants are very well adapted to the conditions where they originate.  So the trick for you is to find plants that are native to conditions like those at the front of your house.  You can start by visiting our Native Plant database. If you do a Combination Search for Ohio, selecting full shade, the appropriate soil conditions and then shrubs or herbs (herbaceous plants: perennials & annuals) it will generate a list of plants (with links to detailed information pages and images).

You can also select bloom color and time, but you will have to realize that there are regional differences that can skew computer generated results.  For instance, a yellow sunflower that will want to grow out in the middle of a sunny field in the north might actually do well in the shade/part shade in Texas where the sun can be blazing hot and relentless.

You may be disappointed by the lists our database generates.  You will not find many plants with large, colorful flowers.  That is simply because there is not enough light available in the shade for a plant to expend the energy required to produce such flowers. For instance native woodland shade plants have a short flowering season in early spring, to take advantage of the sunlight available before the forest leafs out. Many of them then go dormant for the summer while there is little light and water available to them. It might be helpful for you to investigate parks and gardens in your area to see what plants growing in the shade you find attractive; nature can be a great inspiration.

Sorry we cannot be more helpful. As that famous English philospher (Mick Jagger) said, "You can't always get what you want"!

 

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