Easy Container Combos: Made For the Shade

Easy Container Combos: Made For the Shade
  • Posted May 11, 2015

Container plants often end up in places with very little sun — on a deck beneath a large shade tree, for example, or under an overhang by the front door. Sometimes we want a plant that can live outside on a patio in the summer, but survive indoors in low light levels during winter. Whatever your shade situation, you've probably realized that there are relatively few options for container plants that will thrive in it. If you're dealing with deep shade — places where even filtered sunlight is lacking — the pickings really get slim. You may have found out the hard way that putting a part shade plant in deep shade inevitably leads to its slow, sad demise.

Not to worry, for there are a few reliable shade-lovers that grow well in containers (and look stellar while they're at it). To make it interesting, I've offered some ideas about how to combine them in a single pot for a more visually compelling effect.

Ferns with Baby's Tears

Ferns are shade specialists and with their shallow, fibrous root systems they are predisposed to container culture. Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata) is a classic choice to hang in a basket from the porch rafters and easily switches to indoor mode in winter. Baby's Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii) is an ultra-lush, super reliable groundcover that grows about 2 inches tall to form a tidy light green mat under the deep green of the fern fronds.

Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)Baby's Tears (Soleirolia soleirolii)

Coleus with Begonias

There are two plants that tolerate full shade and share equally stunning colored foliage. All coleus varieties have an upright growth habit, so try pairing them with one of the smaller, trailing begonias. A deep red coleus floating over one of the dark-leafed tuberous begonias is a heavenly example.


Japanese maple with periwinkle

Dwarf Japanese Maples (such as the 6-foot variety 'Red Pygmy') are arguably the most elegant shade tree for containers. Don't skimp on the container however — they grow reliably only if the root system has sufficient space to spread out. Periwinkle (Vinca spp.) is an equally elegant groundcover with its purple flowers and glossy green leaves spilling over the edges of a container.

Dwarf Japanese Maple Periwinkle (Vinca spp.)
Brian Barth
About the Author

After 15 years as a professional landscape designer and horticulturalist, Brian Barth embarked on a second career to share his passion—and the knowledge he's accrued—through writing. His love of plants is all-encompassing, but he has a particular soft spot for culinary crops.

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Easy Container Combos: Made For the Shade