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Top 10 List of Shade Plants

Best in Show: Flowering Dogwood Trees

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Picture of the flower of pink dogwood trees.

Picture of a pink flower from a dogwood tree.

David Beaulieu

Flowering dogwood trees are among the hottest landscaping trees out there. But while they are a hot item, they prefer a spot in your landscaping where it stays cool, a spot with dappled shade. For reasons I discuss below, I place dogwoods at the top of my list of shade plants.

Flowering dogwood tree wants to have it "made in the shade." Homeowners eager to garden in shady areas with their favorite plants -- but frustrated by the challenges posed by such conditions -- probably wonder why this phrase has such a positive connotation. They find their garden design plans thwarted again and again by the lack of sunlight in their gardens. But there's a shade plant or shade-tolerant answer to almost any landscaping need, as this Top 10 list for the shade shows. For trees, not only does the list include flowering dogwood tree, but also hemlock (in case you prefer an evergreen). Quite simply, the following list is composed of ten different categories of plants, all of which are shade plants -- or at least shade-tolerant.

For those who prefer images to text, I have also made available a sample landscape plan for shady areas.

Top 10 List of Shade Plants, by Category:

  1. Deciduous Trees: Flowering Dogwood Trees
  2. Evergreen Trees: Canadian Hemlock Trees
  3. Deciduous Shrubs: Red Osier Dogwood or red twig dogwood
  4. Evergreen Shrubs: Yew Shrubs
  5. Annuals: Impatiens Flowers
  6. Best perennials for shade include: Bleeding Hearts, Fringed Bleeding Hearts and Hosta Plants
  7. Rock Garden Plants: Lamium
  8. Vines: Periwinkle Vinca (ground covers) and Climbing Hydrangeas (climbers)
  9. Ornamental Grasses: Northern Sea Oats
  10. Lawn Grasses: Fine Fescue or Turf Type Tall Fescue

Eastern or "Canadian" hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are shade plants that do not tolerate heavy winds, heavy clay soil, or drought. Hemlocks are best known as forest trees that reach enormous heights (60' or more). But if pruned faithfully, they can be maintained at the height you desire. A properly pruned row of hemlocks can form a dense and attractive privacy hedge, for instance. Hardy to zone 3.

'Cherokee Chief' flowering dogwood tree (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief') won my top ranking for spring flowering trees and shrubs, with an impressive array of landscaping benefits. Its lower branches have a horizontal branching pattern, which in itself lends interest to the landscape. This flowering dogwood grows to a height of 20'-25' and spreads 12'-15'. Cherokee Chief dogwood puts out red blooms in spring, while its fall foliage is bronze-colored. Zones 5-8. An understory tree in the wild, flowering dogwoods are an excellent choice in shade plants for the landscape.

On Page 2 we'll continue down the Top 10 list, looking at shade plants and shade-tolerant shrubs, annuals, perennials and rock garden plants....

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