The shade of large trees is one of the most challenging gardening environments. The palette of plants that thrive in low light is limited; plus, the entrenched root systems of mature trees are hard for most other plants to compete with. Whether you want to create a container garden in the shade of a massive old tree or on the north-facing balcony of a towering apartment building, getting to know the shade specialists of the plant world is the key to success.
From dainty maidenhair ferns to towering tree ferns, these prehistoric plants create a lush, enchanting look with little to no direct light and are well-adapted to containers. Water is their universal necessity, so shower them with a watering wand every other day in the heat of summer.
|Relics of a Primeval Forest
Like ferns, many of the plants found on the forest floor have been around a long time, some since the age of dinosaurs. Horsetail, a reed-like plant with stiff, vertical stems is one example with a strong architectural presence. In prehistoric times, it is said to have grown to tree-like heights, though now it keeps to a more manageable 3 or 4 feet. Planted in the ground, it will spread all over the place, so growing in a pot is the only way to go.
Use groundcovers in various shades of green to set off the foliage of larger potted plants. The leaves of English ivy are painted with one of the deepest greens of any plant. Because of the invasive nature of ivy, containers are the only place worth planting it. Baby’s tears are a tiny groundcover with an ultra-soft texture that is useful when a medium green color is desired. For a splash of chartreuse green, try creeping Jenny, a groundcover that drapes gracefully over the edge of pots.
For a flowering focal point in a shaded container garden, camellias, gardenias, azaleas and rhododendrons are hard to beat. Flowers range from pure white to purple and pink to crimson red. These species grow best with a soil pH around 4.5 to 5.5. Be sure to use a potting mix and fertilizer designed for acid-loving plants to keep them happy. For an exotic alternative, grow tea camellias, the species from which green, white, black and all other types of the beloved caffeinated beverage are produced.