5 Native Plants For Shade

The catalogs made me do it. My intention was to add only a few new plants this spring. But then the catalogs came. Before I go to sleep, I like to leaf through the garden catalogs. I find it soothing, and I told myself I was only looking. There’s no harm in looking.

Marsh Phlox. Photo from Prairie Wildflowers of Illinois.

But after they were put aside, the catalogs whispered to me.  They reminded me that I still had holes to fill in the shady back garden: Along the south wall of the back porch, along the hedge to the west and the fence to the east, not to mention the fence along the alley.  This was especially the case in areas that were filled with spring ephemerals in April and May, but then left rather forlorn for summer.

No gardener can long withstand the enticements of whispering plant catalogs. And so I ended up giving in, and ordered a whole bunch of new plants, including the following:

Poke Milkweed. Photo from Prairie Nursery.

Marsh Phlox (Phlox glabberima). I don’t have a lot of Phlox – just a couple of clumps of the white-flowering cultivar ‘David’. This species likes moisture, as the name suggests, and it is supposed to be quite shade tolerant, and mildew tolerant as well. I’m going to try it in the border along the back porch, where the soil tends to be quite moist. I’m hoping it will bring more hummingbirds for our viewing pleasure. Native from Ohio to Illinois, and from Georgia to Arkansas.

Culver’s Root (Veronicastrum virginiana). This is the white-flowering straight species. I have a lavender cultivar in the Driveway Border out front. The straight species is very adaptable as to soil and sunlight. It blooms in summer, so I’m going to plant it along the west hedge, among the ‘Purple Sensation’ Alliums that flower in May and then gradually collapse. Native from Connecticut to Minnesota, south to Arkansas.

Poke Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata). This is a Milkweed that tolerates full shade. It’s not what I would call a beautiful plant, but it’s interesting – and hey, anything for the Monarchs. It has a taproot, so it’s not an aggressive spreader. We’ll see how it does. Native from Maine to Minnesota, and south along the Appalachians to Tennessee.

Culver’s Root at the Eloise Butler Wildflower Garden in Minneapolis.

Golden Groundsel (Packera aurea). This is a groundcover-type plant that is also highly adaptable in terms of shade and soil – however, it doesn’t like overly dry conditions. I’m going to try it along the back fence near the ‘Golden Raindrops’ crabapple. It has bright yellow flowers in late spring and early summer. Native from Maine to Minnesota and from South Carolina to Oklahoma.

Mistflower (Eupatoreum coelestinum). I tried and failed once already with this plant, so this is a second effort. Mistflower blooms look like the blue annual Floss Flower (Ageratum houstonianum). A plant that likes moisture, I think my first effort failed because I put it where it was too shady and the soil dried out in summer. Mistflower likes partial shade, but not full. It spreads by rhizome if happy, and can form a groundcover – though it grows up to 3′ tall. I’m going to put it with the Marsh Phlox by the back porch. Native from Pennsylvania to Illinois, and from Florida to Texas.

I ordered all of these plants from Prairie Nursery. And now I’m done – no more new plants for this spring. At least, no more plants for shade. Definitely no more for moist shade. I mean it.


35 Comments on “5 Native Plants For Shade”

  1. I’ve grown Gregg’s Blue mistflower in central Texas for years, in full sun, and high shade, (in Texas we have many different types of shade). It seems to take our droughts in stride, dying back a bit but returning each year. I have a drip system in my garden but it doesn’t get a lot of water. What do you think of the idea of forming a ‘plant shopping anonymous’, for those of us fighting the addiction to plant buying?

  2. I planted Culver’s Root and Mistflower year before last. The Mistflower did very well almost immediately and I am thankful. The Culver’s Root is in a place that’s been hard to keep anything growing except for a huge hosta, but I’m hoping it establishes itself. I still have to subdue the tiger lilies that came with the house. I love the Culver’s Root. I also planted Tall Bellflower but am not sure it’s going to succeed either.

  3. Hello Jason, I’ve managed to resist the temptations of the catalogues so far because I don’t have any border space to plant up. I’ve also got a greenhouse full of increasingly impatient plants, waiting to have their own allotted space in the garden. I’ll allow myself something new once that queue has gone down!

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