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Yews: Shade-Loving Plants

Whether Trees or Shrubs, They're "Yews-ful" in Shady Areas


Photo of the berry or

Photo of yew berry or "aril."

David Beaulieu

On Page 1 I mentioned yews as evergreen shrubs that grow in shade. These plants can be trees or shrubs. They are shade-loving plants with a long history behind them.

The hybrid cultivars of the Taxus x media group are crosses between Japanese yews and English yews. All parts of this plant are poisonous, except for the red berry, or "aril." But since the seeds are poisonous, and the seed matures within the berry, even the latter can be considered off limits. Keep small children away!

Taunton yews (Taxus x media 'Tauntonii') are the best yews for regions with severe winters, because Taunton yews are resistant to winter burn. These shrubs aren't affected so much by the severe cold as they are by the snow. Taunton yews grow about 3'-4' x 3'-4'. The plants require a soil with good drainage.

The short, flat needles of yews are dark green on top and light green on their underside. New foliage in spring is bright green and soft. Taunton yews are hardy to Zone 4. Yews are relatively slow growing and can either be left unpruned, or pruned into a hedge. Additional information is available from my article, "Japanese Yews and English Yew Bushes."

Shade-tolerant red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Allemans') blossoms in white in mid-spring. But it's really not about the flowers with this plant, which can mature to a height of as much as 10 feet (and to a width of about the same). What follows the flowers is more interesting: the white fruit. But even the berries take a backseat to what red osier dogwood is really all about: namely, its red bark. Grow it in hardiness zones 3-8. A similar plant is red twig dogwood. While both tolerate shade, superior color may be attained by furnishing more sunlight.

Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) has been at or near the top of the list for annual gardening plants in the U. S. for some time now, due to its ability to bloom continually -- and in shady conditions. Impatiens grows to 6"-24" tall, depending on variety. This shade-loving plant comes in various shades of pink, rose, red, lilac, purple, orange and white.

In addition to the bleeding heart plants most commonly seen in people's gardens, other varieties do exist. Dutchman's breeches is one. Another is the fringed bleeding heart. All three are shade plants.

Fringed Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) has a feathery foliage and whimsical, heart-shaped blooms of a rosy pink color. This old-time perennial blooms continuously in the garden from April to October. Height 12"-18", width 12". Zones 3-9.

Deadnettle (Lamium galeobdolon) is a shade-loving perennial for zones 4-9. Deadnettle grows to a height of 1'-2', with a similar spread. It puts out a yellow bloom, but is more often grown for its medium green foliage that is splashed with silver blotches. Not only does deadnettle love shade, but once established, it is also drought-tolerant, making it an ideal plant for rock gardens. The silver in its foliage plays well with the bluish-green foliage of rock garden plants such as sedum. Just give it a soil with good drainage and let it go!

On Page 3 we turn to shade-loving and shade-tolerant ground covers, ornamental grasses and lawn grasses....

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