Flower gardening is always easiest when you have plenty of sun to work with, but this is not always possible. Especially in small landscapes or urban environments where homes are closely positioned, a deck or patio often experiences shade or semi-shade conditions that call for container gardening with plants suited for such environments.
Containers are normally planted with annual flowers planted anew each season, but there are also some perennials that work well in container gardens.
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Coleus (Coleus spp.)
If you have a spot that just does not get much sun? Get coleus.
You may think of coleus as fusty and old-fashioned, but it is worth another look. With all the new colors and leaf forms, you may become a total addict. Coleus is a good-natured shade plant—not at all fussy and some will even thrive in full sun. The color choices are jaw-dropping, and the leaf shapes are varied and exciting. Even an ordinary coleus, when paired with the right companion in the right container, can be spectacular.
The colors of coleus are often so intense and sometimes downright weird that you do have to be a little careful when mixing them with other plants. Have some fun and try improbable color combinations—sometimes they work beautifully.
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Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.)
Fuchsias are positively awesome shade plants. The flowers are spectacular and drape beautifully. They are especially great for containers. There are many colors and flower forms. Fuchsia has a reputation for being fussy, but under the right conditions, it can be very easy to grow.
Fuschia will flower all summer, and, if you live in a cold climate, you can bring it into to house in the fall and overwinter them. Fuchsias are classic in hanging baskets, but can also look awesome in mixed containers. They look great paired with either complementary or contrasting colors.
Fuchsias can be a little particular about food and water. The plants like lots of both, though prefer soil that is moist, not wet. Fuschias do not like hot and dry conditions, so if you live in a dry climate, it might not be a good choice for you.
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Wishbone Flower (Torenia fournieri)
Torenia, also known as wishbone flower, is an elegant and cheerful plant, which will flower all summer even in full shade. It is heat tolerant and very easy to care for. This gem will thrive with regular watering and fertilizing until frost and you do not even have to deadhead it.
Wishbone flower is great in combinations, or, in the right container, it can be beautiful on its own. You can use it in hanging baskets, window boxes, or in any container with good drainage. It is relatively short, 2 to 6 inches, and will trail over the side of your container.
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Coral Bells (Heuchera)
Heucheras, also known as coral bells, are great perennial container garden plants for shade. They are gorgeous and almost indestructible and come in a huge array of colors. Although they thrive in the shade, most coral bells will also tolerate some sun and are drought tolerant. Coral bells come in fabulous and unusual colors, ranging from an almost black-purple to a peach to a bright key lime. Coral bells will attract hummingbirds and butterflies and some are hardy to a spectacular -25 F and look amazing right up until the snow flies.
While deadheading is not necessary, remove flower stems after they have bloomed to keep your plant looking great. A few favorite varieties are "Dolce Licorice," "Dolce Key Lime Pie," and "Dolce Creme Brulee."Continue to 5 of 11 below.
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Begonias (Begonia spp.)
There are so many kinds of begonias that your eyes can glaze over from all the types and colors. They range from not terribly interesting to totally, incredibly, fabulous. Some tuberous begonias are so beautiful that you want to eat them (but you should not). The colors are neon in their intensity. Rex begonias can have leaf colors, shapes, and textures that are bordering on psychedelic.
There are all kinds of new trailing, angel, and dragon wing begonias that will bloom like crazy all summer. Most begonias need great drainage and do not want to be too wet. Some will be happy in full shade while some prefer filtered shade. Almost all flowering begonias need to be fed regularly and generously with a diluted fertilizer.
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Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)
Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) is a gorgeous foliage plant. A combination of purple and silver, it stands out in any container. It is a total thriller. It is exceptionally easy to grow, and it is a little unusual, so you do not see it everywhere. It can get pretty big but can be controlled by pruning. While Persian shield prefers a little bit of sun, you can easily grow it in the shade. Buy it early, because it often will sell out.
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Oxalis (Oxalis spp.)
Oxalis is another large genus of plants which includes many species that are good performers for shady containers. These plants have delicate shamrock-shaped leaves and tubular flowers that open and close as light exposure changes. It comes in several gorgeous colors (orangish to purple), is easy to grow, and is beautiful all season long. It plays well with others and also looks good all by itself in a beautiful pot. The flowers are pretty, but this plant is all about color and texture. It looks lovely combined with fuchsia or torenia. If in partial shade, it also looks great with bacopa.
If you are located in a cold climate area, you can bring your oxalis inside for the winter and turn it into a houseplant.
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Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
The old standby, Impatiens walleriana, has been a shade favorite for many decades for good reason—it is one of the few bright-flowering plants that positively thrives the deepest, darkest shade. A tender perennial generally grown as an annual, impatiens are available in a wide spectrum of white pink, salmon, red, and purple hues, with both single and double-petal flowers. These mounding plants are great in mixed pots and hanging baskets.
The related New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) likes a bit more sun, but it will do well in partial shade.Continue to 9 of 11 below.
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Trailing Lobelia (Lobelia erinus var. pendula)
Lobelia is a very large genus of plants, with many species that prefer direct sun. But the trailing version (Lobelia erinus var. pendula) is an ideal plant for shady containers. L. erinus is commonly known as "edging lobelia," and the pendula variation puts out long, cascading shoots that are ideal in hanging baskets and pots.
Various cultivars are available in many different flower colors including blue, violet, purple, red, and pink.
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Dichondra (Dichondra argentea "Silver Falls")
Dichondra is a spiller plant that is grown for its foliage, not its flowers. "Silver Falls" has shimmering silvery foliage and stems. It grows only about 4 inches high, but sends out shoots up to 4 feet long, making it ideal for hanging baskets, tall containers, and window boxes. A hardy perennial in warm climates, it is grown as an annual in most regions. Although a sun-lover, it tolerates partial shade and works well if it gets just an hour or two of sun each day. Make sure to keep it well watered.
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Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Not all container plants need to be flowering plants. Creeping Jenny is a mat-forming perennial with round lime-green leaves that works well in tall containers or hanging baskets. It grows only 4 to 8 inches tall but sends out in shoots up to 2 feet long. It is a perfect spiller plant for the outside edges of containers or hanging baskets, where the light-green foliage can brighten shady areas.
Creeping Jenny is perennial in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 3 to 9, but container planting is an ideal use since the plant can be invasive if planted in the garden.