Growing Plants in Dark, Dry Spaces

 

Less Is More: Plants and Flowers That Thrive on Less Sunlight and Water

cactus flower

It seems that everything is restricted these days: budgets, diets, free time – you name it and we’re probably trying to cut back on it! Fortunately, this is not a deal breaker for many in the plant kingdom. Indeed, there are tons of flowers, plants and shrubs that are thriving in this “less is more” environment. If you are looking to plant a garden of these hardy troopers, here are a few of our favorites to get your green thumb going.

Know Your Zone

The first step to choosing a flower or plant with the best chance of survival in your climate is to identify your gardening zone. Zone maps were created to provide a way for gardeners to match up their climate with plants and flowers known to grow well in similar conditions.

The USDA Hardiness Zone Map is the go-to zone map for most national garden magazines, catalogs, books, nurseries and eastern-state gardeners. Dividing the United States into 11 separate zones, the USDA Hardiness Zone Map, available here, is a great place to start for planning your hardy garden.

Top Shady/Part-Sun Plants and Flowers

First of all, since you are working with little sun coverage, you need to figure out which type of “shade” you have. Yes, there are “shades” of shade! But no matter which category of shade you have, whatever you plant must be able to thrive without any direct sunshine.

“Full shade” refers to an area that has little or no sunlight at all and is almost always shady. For example, areas under stairs and covered porches and patios (most often those on the north side or facing north) are typically areas with full shade.

“Dense shade” is also considered “full shade” but some light can stream through the thick trees and groves where you most often find dense shade plants and flowers.

If your garden will have limited access to sunlight due to tree cover in the yard or because you are growing on a porch, you don’t have to sacrifice the pops of color that are more traditionally associated with full sun gardens. Here are a few of the most vibrant options for shady spots.

Hosta
Boasting beautiful shades of lavender/pink/red and white with full fragrance, hostas are perennials whose flower stems can grow up to four feet tall and are hardy in USDA zones 3-8.

Azalea
Thriving in the South with varieties hardy in zones 5-11, the beautiful azalea comes in shades of pinks and purples and is suitable for part sun locations. Blooming from spring to summer, the azalea is also a good choice for light watering, only requiring a drink once or twice a week. While there are various sizes, some azaleas can grow to 8 feet tall!

Fern
If you want to bring some of the outdoors in and add a touch of the woods to your porch, look no further than the hardy fern. Versatile, adaptable and shade-loving, ferns come in a vast array of sizes and colors. If you want variety, try the Japanese painted fern – adored for its colorful greenish-gray leaves with purple tints and dark red stems. But if you’re looking for that classic green fern, look at the lovely lady fern, also one of the easiest ferns to grow. If you want the best of both worlds, go for a Japanese painted/lady fern hybrid! These two types of ferns are hardy in zones 4-9.

Top Choices for Water Conservation

Whether your reduced water supply is by choice (if you are looking to save on your water bill or lower your overall water consumption) or by necessity (restrictions based on area governmental decree or due to general climate constrictions), you do not have to reduce your expectations of a luscious and beautiful garden. The desert cactus is not the only plant that survives on little water; there are plenty of options for greenery when you are going green and here are two drought hardy options that pull double duty.

Russian Sage
Like its name implies, the Russian sage is tough – and one beautiful plant. It comes with lovely violet-purple blooms and fragrant silvery foliage. Hardy in zones 5-9, this full sun plant is heat and drought resistant and can grow up to 4 feet tall! The best part is what it can do for the rest of your garden: plant Russian sage around the perimeter of your garden because it is a natural repellant to deer, rabbits and most other pests.

Lavender
Multi-purpose lavender is a fabulous addition to any garden. Growing up to three feet tall and hardy in zones 5-8, it not only looks great and smells wonderful, but it adds a tasty flavor to whatever you’re cooking and baking! These blue, lavender, purple and white flowers are also great for drying and using in crafts.

When to Water?

Even though you may have planted “drought hardy” options, it is always best to check and make sure they’re not thirsty. The easiest way is to test with your finger – insert your finger about a half-inch into the soil. If the soil is dry, go ahead and water (if you can, of course). However, do not water your plant if the soil is moist.

If you notice the stem is shriveling but the soil is dry, your plant is telling you that it is in need of a drink. But, if the stem is shriveled but the soil is moist, put the bucket down! Your plant is overwatered and the only way to save it is to snip all of the dead, shriveled ends and let nature take its course.

What are some of your favorite hardy plants and shrubs? Any tips you can pass on to first time growers?

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This has been a guest post for Easy Ways to Go Green. Mike Tuma works at a Home Depot in the Chicago area, and writes for the Home Depot website. He writes on outdoor products, ranging from wood chipper tips to the latest and greatest in chainsaws.

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