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Tuesday - July 05, 2011

From: Boone, NC
Region: Southeast
Topic: Shade Tolerant
Title: Native wildflowers for shade in Boone NC
Answered by: Barbara Medford


I have a totally shaded area with tall trees and want to plant some native shade wildflowers beneath the trees. It is fairly level. I'd like perennial flowers. I noticed Flaming Azalea was one option. What else would you recommend? Since it is now June, should I use starter plants or seeds?


We're not sure what kind of weather you have been having in North Carolina this Spring and Summer, but we are pretty sure now is not the right time to plant anything. In Texas, of course, we are just struggling to keep established plants alive in our record-breaking drought and heat. We will try to suggest options for later, and introduce you to our Native Plant Database, so you can make your own selections.

First, so we are all on the same page (or acre), we want you to know that the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is committed to the growth, propagation and protection of plants native not only to North America but to the area in which those plants grow naturally. To bring you into this, read our How-To Article A Guide to Native Plant Gardening. Next, since you wish to have perennials, read this Perennial Club How to Seed and Plant Perennials, which will have some planting times for various kinds of plants at various times of the year. Many of the articles we found on seasonality dealt with vegetables. Since most vegetables are either non-native or so extensively hybridized that their ancestry is obscure, we do not ordinarily deal with them. And, it's obvious that what you want is ornamentals.

When you mention wildflowers, we naturally think of the flowers you see in fields and on roadsides, and you certainly can find seeds for those and plant them. However, when you mention Rhododendron calendulaceum (Flame azalea), we feel we are talking about a different kind of plant. Flame azalea is a deciduous shrub which grows 6-12 ft. tall and equally wide, grows in part shade (2 to 6 hours of sun a day). According to this USDA Plant Profile Map, the Flame Azalea does grow natively in Watauga County, in an unusual sub-tropical highland climate, USDA Hardiness Zone 7a. So, at least to our way of thinking, we are talking native shrubs and herbaceous blooming plants, which will tolerate part shade or shade, but not wildflowers, particularly. Before you begin to select plants, spend a few days charting the amount of shade in the area you wish to plant. You said "totally" shade, but that would be less than 2 hours of sun a day, so get a good idea of the amount of sunlight that will reach your plants over the space of a day. One last thing before we get to plant selection, please read this Mr. Smarty Plants previous answer on the problems of planting under existing trees.

Now, on to our Native Plant Database. Go to our Recommended Species section and click on North Carolina on the map, which will give you a list of 135 plants believed to be good plants native to North Carolina and commetcially available .  On the sidebar on the right hand side of the page, you can further select by selecting "herb" (herbaceous blooming plant) under Habit, "perennial" under Duration, "part shade" and "shade" under Light Requirements. You will get a list of 27 herbs that meet all your criteria. You can expand your requirements, like bloom color and time, or soil moisture and plant height,  but you will get fewer suggestions each time. Follow the plant link with each plant and picture, which will lead you to our webpage on that plant. On that page you can learn the expected size of the plant, color and time of blooming, light and moisture requirements, and preferred soil. Repeat this search, with "shrub" under General Appearance, to get 31 possibilities. We will select some that we think would work well, but the choice is all yours.

Native blooming plants for North Carolina:

Aquilegia canadensis (Eastern red columbine)

Asclepias tuberosa (Butterflyweed)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower)

Phlox divaricata (Wild blue phlox)

Native Shrubs for North Caroliina:

Callicarpa americana (American beautyberry)

Hibiscus moscheutos (Crimsoneyed rosemallow)

Rhododendron calendulaceum (Flame azalea)

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus (Coralberry)


From the Image Gallery

Eastern red columbine
Aquilegia canadensis

Asclepias tuberosa

Cardinal flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Wild blue phlox
Phlox divaricata

American beautyberry
Callicarpa americana

Crimsoneyed rosemallow
Hibiscus moscheutos

Flame azalea
Rhododendron calendulaceum

Symphoricarpos orbiculatus

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