Made in the Shade

Color without the commitment. For those clients who like their landscapes to change with the seasons, annual plants are the way to go. Annuals offer contrast against a backdrop of perennial plants – and when used in comination with perennials, you can diversify the landscape at will without having to completely replace beds. Plus, annuals are less expensive than perennials, so you can give your clients a big color show for very little money.

If you’re worried that you won’t be able to find annual plants in colors beyond blue and purple for shady areas, don’t be. There are annuals that offer a variety of other colors, including bright reds, vibrant oranges and sunny yellows. Use the list below to get you started, and see how many options you have for lighting up the landscape.

Pansies are an excellent option for cooler weather. While they can’t take the heat, I’ve had them weather an ice storm and come back strong. Partial shade is best for these flowers, which need an hour or two of morning or evening sun. In ideal conditions, these plants will grow up to 8 inches tall, and bloom in rich colors ranging from dark, saturated purples to brighter hues. They prefer well – drained soils.

Begonias are best known for their pinkish-red flowers that stand out against green leaves, but they also come in varieties that feature flowers of white, pink, salmon and bi-color. There is also a bronzed-leaf variety that is more sun-tolerant if you have a location that is part sun, part shade. These popular annual plants will grow to be 10 – 12 inches, or you can choose a dwarf version that will grown no larger than 8″ tall.

Salvia is just too good to not include in this short list. Yes, it’s a very traditional plant that has been criticized for being overused in flowerbeds – but for good reason. Its’s simply an interesting plant with its tall, spiked shape and flowers in red, purple, orange and cream colors. To help offset the fact that you’re using such a “common” plant, blend in other annuals with your salvia so that is is not your main focal point but more of an accent. A member of the mint family, make sure this flowering annual gets a few hours of sun a day.

Coleus, also known as painted nettle, doesn’t flower, but it can still add a lot of color and interest to a shady area. Its leaves feature colors ranging from deep purple to a barely-there pink, and the light- and dark-green leaves typically offer more than one color, with a lot of variegation. The textured foliage on this plant is a bonus. It performs well in the heat, but needs moist soil.

Wishbone flower (Torenia fournieri) is an often overlooked shady annual. With a long flowering season that extends from early summer to late fall, this plant offers snapdragon-like blooms of white, yellow, purple, and blue that are contrasted by bright green foliage. The wishbone flower is low-maintenance and even attracts hummingbirds.

Sweet alyssum (Lobularia maritime) works especially well in dry, shady areas, which can be a real challenge for most landscapers. They are a good groundcover, as they stay low to the ground (3 – 5 inches tall), and feature clusters of white or purple flowers. In several regions of the US, these flowers are used as perennial plants because they are exceptionally hardy for an annual, withstanding some light frosts.

By Cindy Ratcliff From The Total Landscape Care Magazine

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