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Published June 15, 2015, 07:59 AM

Growing Together: Enjoying the shady side of gardening

FARGO -- Do you live in a shady neighborhood, and aren't sure how to cope? No, I don't mean you're living next door to riff-raff, I mean you're puzzled knowing what to plant because trees or buildings are casting shade.

By: Don Kinzler, Forum News Service

FARGO -- Do you live in a shady neighborhood, and aren't sure how to cope? No, I don't mean you're living next door to riff-raff, I mean you're puzzled knowing what to plant because trees or buildings are casting shade.

We can embrace shaded locations and create cool retreats that will rival full-sun landscapes. Shade isn't an obstacle, but an opportunity. Instead of searching for shrubs and flowers that merely "tolerate" shade, we can grow plants that relish low light, thrive and bloom profusely in non-sunny spots.

Try these suggestions for successful shaded landscapes and flower plantings.

1. Analyze the depth of shade. Shade varies in light levels, and plants are often described as preferring light, moderate or heavy shade. If shade is cast because the area is on the north side of a building, it's categorized as moderate shade, which often receives a little angled sun in early morning and late afternoon. If shade is created by trees, it might be dense and heavy under large spreading trees, or light and filtered from smaller, lighter foliaged trees. If caused by a combination of large trees over a home's north side, shade may be very heavy.

2. Analyze hours of shade and sun. Observe your yard morning, noon and evening to determine if some sunlight reaches the location and for how many hours. For example, plant literature describes certain plants as requiring six hours or more of sunshine.

3. Understand that low light is not the only challenging factor in shade gardening. Soil may be very dry, with moisture being sapped by roots of large trees underlying the area. Or the soil may stay overly moist if air circulation and drainage are limited. Soil may be hard-packed or powder-dry. Trees causing shade may be robbing soil of fertility, creating areas starved of nutrients.

4. Most shade-loving plants prefer soil rich in organics (think shady forest floor). Add compost, peat moss or manure to enliven shaded soil.

5. Annual and perennial flowers growing in shade should be fertilized every two to four weeks during the first half of the growing season to compensate for nutrients being heavily mined by large trees. Use all-purpose, well-balanced water soluble or granular fertilizer. Stop July 4, because fertilizing during summer's last half can stimulate growth that won't become "toughened in" by fall.

6. Moisture must be carefully monitored so plantings are neither too wet nor too dry. Underlying roots can sap all moisture, causing drought conditions. Alternatively, low air movement and lack of sunshine can create swamp-like situations.

7. If areas underneath trees, especially evergreens, seem impossible, try container gardening beneath. You can control moisture and provide good potting soil. Arrange pots of varying sizes for mass effect. Colorful annuals in multiple containers will create a flowerbed appearance in otherwise difficult spots.

8. Shaded landscapes need not be dull. Flowerbeds filled with shade-loving varieties provide season-long color. In shaded perennial beds, locate annuals intermittently for splashes of brilliance.

9. For a lush lawn, choose grasses that thrive in shade. Check the ingredient label on grass seed mixtures. Creeping red fescue and shade-tolerant Kentucky bluegrass varieties should predominate the blend.

10. Now we're ready to select plant material that thrives in shade.

- Annual flowers provide important season-long color. You might need to experiment to select the right combination for your shade level. Try coleus, begonias, impatiens, browallia, lobelia, pansies, alyssum, torenia, fuchsia, heliotrope, balsam, cleome and caladium.

- Spring flowering bulbs like tulips, daffodils and crocus can be planted in shade if treated as annuals. When planted in the fall, the bulbs already have a flower inside. After their winter cold treatment, they'll bloom in spring. But for yearly repeated bloom, foliage must receive full sun most of the day.

- Herbs and vegetables grown for edible leaves are more successful than plants grown for fruit or roots. Try lettuce, spinach, kale and most herbs.

- Houseplants love a summer vacation outdoors. Shade or filtered shade is ideal. Foliage plants in groupings can decorate a backyard space under a tree.

- Shrubs that grow well in shade include redtwig dogwood, viburnum, alpine currant, yew, arborvitae, aronia, sorbaria false-spirea, hydrangea and diervilla.

- Groundcovers that thrive include ajuga, lamium, bishop's weed (aegopodium snow on the mountain), lily of the valley and wild ginger.

- Perennial flowers are best used in combinations, selecting types that bloom at different times through the growing season for extended color. In light shade try astilbe, platycodon, baptisia, monarda, campanula, heuchera, daylilies, polemonium, alchemilla, aconitum, physostegia, tiarella, lobelia cardinalis and thalictrum. Medium shade: bergenia, bleeding heart, columbine, foxglove, arunculus, chelone and actaea. Heavy shade: tradescantia, pulmonaria, epimedium, athyrium and polygonatum.

If shade gardening sounds so enticing you're tempted to relocate, be sure your Realtor understands what you mean by a desire to live in a shady neighborhood.

Don Kinzler, a lifelong gardener, worked as an NDSU Extension horticulturist and owned Kinzler's Greenhouse in Fargo. Tune in to his weekly radio segment from 11 to 11:30 a.m. Fridays on WDAY Radio 970. Readers can reach him at forumgrowingtogether@hotmail.com.

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