For The Answer
Week of October 20, 2003
Submitted by Calvin Finch, Ph.D., Conservation Director, San Antonio Water System, and Horticulturist
PLANTS FOR THE SHADE
Autumn is the time to plant. Your favorite nursery probably has a sale going on right now. Here are some plants to consider if you have shade.
Loquats are also called Japanese plum. The exotic looking trees are evergreen and reach 30 feet tall in sun or shade. They bloom in the autumn to produce fruit in mild winters that is a favorite of the opossums, raccoons, and birds. In my yard near Loop 410 the fruit survives the cold about half the time and freezes the other half. Loquat grows fast and is a distinctive evergreen tree for the shade.
Redbud is inconspicuous most of the year but in early spring the small deciduous tree is covered with small pink blossoms that are very attractive. Use the tree under large shade trees at the edge of the yard. The Mexican and Texas selections are the most drought tolerant. The Eastern selection loses its leaves some summers.
Mexican buckeye blooms look a lot like redbud blooms and they occur in the same season. Buckeye is shrubbier. They make nice thickets at the edge of the forest or a yard dominated by large shade trees. The fruit of the Mexican buckeye is a chambered nut capsule that adds interest and is useful in crafts work.
Mexican plum tolerates considerable shade or can grow in full sun. It only reaches 12 to 15 feet tall and can be either gnarly or well shaped depending on its genetics and growing conditions. Whatever shape it turns out, birds like to nest in the crown. With white blooms in early spring and a small amount of fruit, it is an asset to the yard edge of a landscape where birds are encouraged. Deer do not seem to eat Mexican plum.
There are several Viburnums from which to choose. Most are very large deciduous shrubs that have dark green leaves and dense foliage with white blooms and blue berries in early spring. The birds eat the berries before they ripen. In my yard I have Spring Bouquet, Sweet, and Sandakwa in the shade.
Pittosporum has taken criticism in recent years because it has been overused but the standard selection, in my opinion, is a good choice for the shade. The plant can be 12 feet wide and tall with evergreen foliage (green or variegated). Pittosporum bloom very fragrantly in the early spring over a 2 to 3 week period and then produce a berry that the birds eat. In some neighborhoods, including mine, the deer do not eat pittosporum. Avoid the dwarf pittosporum, it is very sensitive to cold and will have damage that shows up in late spring in the mildest of winters.
Turk’s Cap comes in two versions. The native selection with nickel-size blooms makes a small (usually 3 to 4 feet) shrub that offers red blooms for the hummingbirds all summer in the shade. A well-adapted exotic selection has larger blooms (quarter size) and makes a larger shrub. The plants at the Schultze House (514 HemisFair Park) in HemisFair Park each 7 or 8 feet.
Shrimp Plant is another season-long blooming shrub for the shade that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Its foliage is light green and the pinecone shape blooms can be rust colored or yellow. Deer eat the new growth in my neighborhood but ignore the older growth.
Firespike is worthy of its name. The red tubular blooms borne on stalks that rise above the foliage are striking. The leaves are also showy. So showy that the plant has been used as an indoor foliage plant. Fire spike in the garden or in a container in deep shade on the patio will bring in the hummingbirds. They freeze back to the ground every year and grow back to about 3 feet tall to bloom in the autumn.
Dwarf Ruellia comes in three color versions: violet, white, and pink. The plant makes an excellent groundcover for sun or shade and blooms long into the autumn. The more sun the plants receive the more blooms. Deer eat new growth during a drought but it is not a favorite food.
Texas Gold Columbine is a spectacular groundcover for areas under deciduous trees. The light green foliage reaches 18 inches on fertile sites and resembles maidenhair fern. The flowers appear in March and/or April. They are golden shooting stars that arise out of the foliage. Deer eat columbine in a drought. In poor soils during hot summers the foliage declines in midsummer. It is most attractive in the fall, winter, and spring.