Barren shade land. What to do... what to do...

Beth Bamford
July 6, 2019
last modified: July 6, 2019

I need to fill the entire area in front of my house. Path is set n the left. island is set under the tree, sun corner In front of the fence part will be sunflowers but the middle is a big hole of nothingness I can’t seem to find any shade plants that’ll work... or many aesthetically pleasing shade plants anyway :/ I was thinking hydrangea if they can survive in full shade but the one I got 2 years ago has barely grown so unless a fast growing hydrangea exists I don’t feel like waiting 5 years for it to fill in :/ I’m not a big fan of grasses, evergreens or holly so those are probably out. It limits me, I know. Any suggestions?! I have full measurements of that front area if needed. Any help will be much appreciated!!!! Preferably perennials but perennials with full-in annuals are ok too! Without breaking the bank preferably. I know it won’t be cheap but I can’t afford tons and tons of plants. THANK YOU!!!!!!!!

Comments (17)

  • Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

    Hi Beth,

    Picking it up from "the other" thread! I just want to let you know that I WILL be back in a couple days, but for right now I'm gonna wait for the trolls from "the other forums" to disappear since our last posts possibly sent them here too! Just didn't want you to think I was ignoring you!

    In the meantime! Is that the north side of the house? If so it gets a little sun when the sun is high in the sky in midsummer, right? But no "continuous" hot sun even in midsummer!?? Are you looking for/wanting something "big," like a bush-size thing, or are you just looking for "pretty perennials?"

    I will be back--before too long!


  • tomatoz1

    Are you looking for any ground cover in addition to perennials?

  • popmama

    Which way does your house face? Do you have a preference for colors? Meaning do you like a cool palette (blues and whites) or warm (reds and yellows)?

    What type of hydrangea did you try? Hydrangeas can be fickle here. The most reliable one is Annabelle. But there are others that can be tried. Limelight would be a good one.

    My first recommendation are hostas!

    If your house is east-facing and gets some morning sun, you could also plant red-twig dogwood. It's a nice shrub with beautiful variegated foliage and red twigs that create winter interest. The description will say they get huge, but when they are in lower light, the remain fairly small. Mine is about 20 years old and it's only 3' x 4'.

    A dwarf Alberta spruce would also be fine in morning light. They are slow growers and make good structure for other perennials.

    Beyond hostas, I highly recommend brunnera. There are numerous varieties, some solid green, some with silver variegation. Astrantia is pretty. It's like a taller, pinker version of a columbine. Ligularia is a yellow shade-tolerate perennial.

    The other plant that would be great is heuchera. They come in an endless variety of color and leaf shapes. There is a color to fit either the cool tones or warm tones. Planted en masse, I think they look beautiful and provide great contrast to hostas or brunneras.

  • popmama

    Also this can be an excellent time to plant a big space like that as there are often sales on perennials as the summer season is on the decline. Just be sure if you plant, that you give extra water for a while and my mom always puts an umbrella or large bucket over her transplants for a few days to keep them from immediate sun exposure.

  • Beth Bamford

    Such great advice, thank you!! My house is north facing and due to the awning part there is really like no sun :/ The edge of the bed gets a little bit but not closer to the house. I like cooler colors I think. I’m going to write all of these down and take a trip to the garden center tomorrow! I think I’ll do hostas as a border. Love those. Hopefully I can find some that aren’t super expensive to get a bunch at once. Thank you so much!!!!!!

  • Beth Bamford

    Oh and Skybird thanks! I’m looking for anything that’ll look nice in the blank space. If it’s a bush that’s fine, if it’s just plants that’s fine too! It’s just so blank right now

  • popmama

    If you are looking to create a border, look for hostas that can be divided. Look for multiple eyes in one pot. When you plant, divide them and plant them near each other and they will fill in. That way, it's like getting multiple plants for the money!

  • Skybird - z5, Denver, Colorado

    Hi Beth,

    When I saw Popmama's suggestions I remembered there was a thread not too long ago where I had posted and "seconded" most of what she had already posted, so I went looking for it--and I found it! What I didn't remember was that it was your thread! Easier than trying to repeat it all here, I'm just gonna link the thread. I just looked it over and virtually everything I was gonna say is already in that thread!

    I will add this! The "tall things" I recommended don't bloom very long, so unless you really want a "tall thing," or unless you're gonna put in a good mix of things so you have flowers all/most of the time, you wouldn't have color for very long. Also, especially with the Thalictrum, after it finishes blooming (the "purple fluff" one) the foliage "deteriorates" slowly over summer, so it doesn't look all that great as a "foliage plant!" My Aruncus is just finishing blooming now, and it is definitely pretty cool when it's blooming!

    If you decide to go with all perennials I highly recommend sticking Bergenia in there somewhere because it's evergreen, so you have "something" out there in winter. It's one of my favorites in my shade bed on the north side of the house.

    I also love my ferns, and they add great textural variety. In the linked thread, but the Autumn Fern is also "semi-evergreen" so helps add winter interest.

    And a quick comment about hostas! When you're shopping for them be sure you're checking the heights and not just the "colors." They can range anything from a tiny one I have, Hosta minima, which is only a couple inches tall, to ones that are up to three or possibly even four feet tall, so be sure you get a variety that fits the height you're looking for. Also, hosta is one of the last things to put in an appearance in spring, and one of the first to freeze in the fall, so consider that in your plans too.

    Everything else I can think of to recommend is in the linked thread--which was on a thread you posted on three forums--but I "took a chance" and decided to post on it anyway! But, like "yesterday's" thread, you had the "same problem" there when the first response, instead of trying to answer your question, suggested that you widen and move your sidewalk! A helpful reply, indeed!

    Oh, I almost forgot! Your original question on "the other thread" was about hydrangeas! On that I will also second what Popmama said! When I moved into this house there was an Annabelle Hydrangea in the front of my house, which is FULL sun, and........

    I just remembered that this is another thing I had posted about at some point in the past, and I was able to find that thread too! See my post in this thread for the Hydrangea info! But, an update! "My" Hydrangea, which is now growing in Longmont at Cheryl's house, is in almost complete shade and it does beautifully for her every year! I don't know if she's ever had a problem, like I did, where the flowers get saturated in rain and "fall over" but I'm pretty sure she hasn't because she's never mentioned it to me. I believe the stems are growing "stronger" now that it's out of the hot sun! And after you read my post in that thread that'll all make sense to you!

    After you read all this stuff, if you have any questions about any specific plant, listed on this thread or not, just ask!


  • gardenchloe

    I second that now is a great time to look for bargains at the nurseries. There are lots of perennials and shrubs that are on clearance. Best of luck!

  • treebarb Z5 Denver

    I agree with all said above. While it looks like this area slopes away from the house, I notice you don't have covers on your window wells. Consider getting covers before you get this planted out or you may end up with water against the house and in your basement. It's hard to be careful enough when watering to not splash around a bit. I also suggest you don't plant right up against the house. You'll want to wash a window or paint at some point, so leave yourself access to the foundation of the house. Happy plant shopping!

  • Beth Bamford

    Hi Skybird again. Thanks for the heads up on the Thalictrum. Actually that's a pet peeve of mine. Gorgeous for a bit then ugly. Hate that. Haha. Oh and thanks for the thread link! Almost forgot about that!!!! And yeah, oh my goodness, some people (eye roll). Ask a question about a plant and get "constructive" criticism on my path... which would be a giant project to change (eye roll again. lol). You've got to wonder what goes through peoples heads sometimes. Haha

    Hi Treebarb - Thank you, great advice! I actually thought of getting covers quite a while back and then completely forgot until you mentioned it so I appreciate that!!

    Popmama- I'm researching how to separate hosts now. GREAT tip!!!! That'll certainly help a lot.

    Time for a trip to the Garden Center! Wish me luck! Thanks again! :)

  • mmmm12COzone5


    One way to save a ton is to wait until the fall swap and then post on the thread that you want shade loving plants. You will likely get a ton of free plants.

    For summer color my own suggestion is a Chuckles rose. I have 4 that I moved from full sun to almost full shade and they are blooming fine. They take a while to get established but they are a bright pink that I like. The spot they are in now is under an enormous tree and has the house to the east. So they get very little sun.

    Here is one picture each of all 4 of the moved plants. We moved them last fall so this is their first year in this new location. This one was the biggest before the move.

    They were all different sizes when we transplanted them so the growth isn't necessarily a reflection of the sun they get. However the right one is likely the only one that gets a little over head sun. They all get a little setting sun as it comes under the tree branches. The two left ones had been eaten by rabbits so have more recovery to do. If you wanted a spot of summer color you might want to give one a try.

    We've got them on their own so I hope they fill out, but as they are they would look fantastic in a more English Cottage style garden.

    If you think this is something you might like I can let you know how they are doing as the summer progresses.

    I got them from High Country Roses.

    High Country Roses has a bit of a heat problem right now due to their contractor not installing a cooling system on time when they moved locations, so maybe wait until next spring to get one. They are supposed to flower all summer and they did but in full sun the blooms just fried. Hence the move to the shade.

  • popmama

    Oh yeah, I have "Almost Wild" rose and it grows in an area with only morning sun. It's under a pretty big lilac. In fact, it made a baby a couple years back that settled itself on the North side of my house where it also only gets morning sun. It does fairly well. Pretty pink single petal rose. I also think that Japanese beetles aren't as fond of that type of rose as the full sun types of roses. So when we start getting them, there may be hope for those.

    For window covers, I have those plexi-glass ones made by Cover-well. In the wintertime, they are like little greenhouses. I put all my geraniums in the basement window wells and they live there until summer.

  • Beth Bamford

    Hi mmm12! Those are so pretty thanks for the advice!!! I'll see if O'Tooles in Littleton has any, that's the closest center to me. And AWESOME idea about the swap! I think Skybird and Popmama suggested that last season and I totally forgot about it! Maybe I can fill in with some annuals and focus on perennials during the swap. That blank space is driving me nuts so I think I need something. Ok so a bit off topic but... I see you've put up chicken wire for the rabbits, how has that been working for you? Do you do anything else? This is the first year a stupid rabbit family has decided to plant itself in my front yard and they ate ALL my Zinnia seedlings, I think all my Lily of the Valley (I may have planted those in too much sun though. Hahah oops), and I just noticed them in a new location nibbling on my Dahlias that are coming up. GRRRRR!!!! I have dogs so they stay out of the back but the front is an issue. About to go to Home Depot to get chicken wire but there's a ton I'll have to enclose. Are you able to remove the wire after the plants get bigger? Those roses are pretty big though. UGH SO FRUSTRATED WITH THEM!!! I used to think bunnies were cute (eye roll lol). Thanks again!

    Popmama you're funny... "made a baby" lol. GOOD TO KNOW about the beetles! I get lots of those. Thanks for the window cover advice, I'll check them out today. and GREAAAT idea about the window wells for greenhouses!!!!!!!! CLEVER! I don't get much sun in the house so I'll totally be following your lead with the make shift window well greenhouses :) Is that somewhere I can put Dahlia tubers too?

    Everyone - you are all amazing!!!! Every time I post on here you all are so incredibly helpful! I appreciate it more than you know :) Thank you.

  • Beth Bamford

    P.S. I totally thought of a Hosta idea! I have some out in back in the river rock area grown from bulb things which would've been great but my dog has trampled them to practically nothing every time she sees a squirrel so I'm going to relocate them to the front. YAY! Next project after planting Lillies on the side in the back is to fill in the giant back beds under the trees in the river rocks. As suggested in the other post I'll probably do planters. Especially now that I'm realizing I don't think even chicken wire will stop a 65lb agile puppy who's obsessed with catching squirrels. Especially squirrels taunting her which is alllll the time. They sit in the trees above her and just "chirp" the whole time she's outside. It'd actually be pretty hilarious if my plants weren't suffering from it. Haha

  • mmmm12COzone5


    High Country Roses is very near the O'Tooles on Wadsworth. Just a bit north near the Wadsworth 104th interchange.

    Google map High Country Roses, 10195 Wadsworth Blvd, Broomfield, CO 80021

    They will have Chuckles in stock. It is probably not at O'Tooles. I just bought a Winnipeg Parks from them a week ago, so that is when I saw they had some heat stress from their cooling system going in late. Talk to Matt the owner on the phone and ask him if the stock is in good shape.

    In terms of fencing, I do remove it from the bigger plants but find it is good to have for the little ones so we tend to deploy it in the spring. Some still have it and some We've taken off. We had a deer munch half of one of my Pretty Lady Roses the other day. So my little fences didn't help with that. We don't usually have deer in my area but it has been a strange year. I like the green fencing from Lowes.

  • Beth Bamford

    Thanks! Yeah I just went to O'Tooles and they barely have any roses at all. Shame, they are half off. That's probably why! I'll call Matt before I head over to High Country and do that tomorrow :) I got some fish/seaweed spray stuff at O'Tooles that they recommended for bunnies. I'll let you know if it works. Those suckers seem determined though. I'm guessing fencing may be my only option.

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