Articles in Category: Shade Plants

Mahonia species

on Monday, 04 April 2022. Posted in Winter Interest, Berries Attract Wildlife, Attracts Pollinators, Native, Evergreen, Shade Plants, Deer Resistant, Shrubs, Drought Tolerant, Flowering Plants

Oregon Grape

mahonia_compacta

Being a local native plant, Mahonias can take both our winter wet and summer dry, and can be very drought tolerant once established. Their thick leathery leaves and spiny edges also make them unpalatable to deer.

Most species of Oregon Grape are evergreen, but still turn a rainbow of colors in the fall and winter, giving them more interest than your average evergreen shrub. Spikes of cheerful, fragrant yellow flowers emerge early in spring and turn to blue-black fruit that are edible but more appealing to birds than humans. Most varieties spread via underground runners and make a nice colony, so best to give them room to shine and do their thing! 

The ones we use the most here in the Rogue Valley are:

Mahonia flowerMahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape) - This is the taller species of our native Oregon Grape, getting to 6' or more and spreading by underground runners. They look best as a mass planting in a native woodland situation and perform best in shade, but will take some sun. Can be pruned hard if getting too leggy and will quickly fill in. Mahonia aquifolium is resistant to oak root fungus - it's a great plant to grow under native oaks, as it also doesn't need much water. 

Mahonia aquifolium 'Compacta' (Compact Oregon Grape) - Pictured above left. This variety will stay about 2' tall  and makes a nice, broad colony. New foliage is glossy and becomes matte with age. This plant always looks good, staying full to the ground and cheering up the dark days of winter with its bronzy red winter color.

Mahonia repensMahonia repens (Creeping Mahonia) - This native has a spreading habit and will get about 2-3' tall. It tolerates more sun the the taller Oregon Grape, as well as growing well in part shade, and is very drought tolerant. Its leaves are usually more matte than the upright Mahonia but get the same yellow flowers and blue fruit. Great choice for mass groundcover or under oaks.

Mahonia nervosaMahonia nervosa (Longleaf Mahonia) - This Mahonia is a little more particular than the other native species; requiring more shade. But it's every bit as drought tolerant as M. aquifolium and M. repens.  The leaves are more stiffly upright and bit longer. Makes a nice low shrub or groundcover - around 2' tall - for a shady, woodland garden.

Pieris 'Cavatine'

on Wednesday, 23 March 2022. Posted in Evergreen, Shade Plants, Deer Resistant

Pieris japonica Cavatine cropWe really, really like Pieris. They’re evergreen, deer resistant, relatively low-maintenance shrubs that grow well in part sun to full shade. They even grow well in containers! In short, they’re pretty versatile plants that come in a variety of sizes - from just 2’ tall up to 8’ tall.

Of all the Pieris varieties out there, though, there’s one that is our hands-down favorite (even though, like parents, we’re not supposed to have favorites...): Meet Pieris ‘Cavatine’.

Cavatine detail cropCavatine is a gorgeous dwarf variety, reaching roughly 2’ – 3’ tall and wide. The dark green foliage really sets off the abundant spring bloom of white, lightly fragrant bell-shaped flowers that look a bit like lily-of-the-valley. Even when the bloom is finished, the dark green leaves are a wonderful complement to other shade-loving perennials including Heuchera, Aquilegia, Erica, and Hellebore.

Another thing in Cavatine’s favor? It provides year-round interest in the garden. Pale green flower buds appear in the winter, contrasting nicely with the evergreen foliage. Cascades of pure white flowers arrive in early spring, followed by bright red new growth that gradually changes to dark green as the plant matures.

Pieris ‘Cavatine’ is available right now 1-gallon, 2-gallon, and 5-gallon sizes. We’re guessing it will quickly become a favorite of yours too!

 

Sarcococca

on Monday, 28 February 2022. Posted in Winter Interest, Fragrant Blooms, Attracts Pollinators, Evergreen, Shade Plants, Ground Cover, Deer Resistant, Shrubs, Flowering Plants

Fragrant Sweetbox

Sarcococca ruscifolia

Dark and shady places - like the north walls of a home - can be extremely challenging sites to plant. Sarcococca, or Sweetbox, is an ideal shrub for low-light situations like this. Thriving in everything from part sun to deep shade, Sweetbox is an attractive, broad-leafed evergreen with glossy dark green leaves that provides a good backdrop for airier ferns and flowering shade perennials. 

There are a handful of different species ranging from upright shrubs to slowly spreading groundcovers. They all have simple leathery leaves and are for the most part deer resistant, making this genus a true problem solver in a myriad of ways. Not to mention they bloom in late winter when most plants haven't even broken dormancy! 

Even though their small fringy flowers are not what you would consider showy, they amply make up for it with a powerfully sweet, vanilla-like fragrance that is sure to get attention. Add in red to black berries that lend a festive quality later in the year, and you've got a great four-season plant!

In return, this understated plant merely asks for moderately fertile soil with decent drainage and regular water throughout the hotter months. That is not to say Sweetbox wouldn't prefer rich, humusy and acidic soil, but it is quite adaptable once established. 

 Here are some of our favorite types:

Sarcococca confusa gets 3-5' tall and wide at maturity, with a moderat growth rate; perfect for a low hedge or evergreen border in a shade bed! It is such an easy, reliable shrub to grow that it has received an Award of Garden Merit from the Royal Horticultural Society.

Sarcococca ruscifolia or Fragrant Sweetbox is the largest of the more common species reaching 3-6' high and wide with an arching habit and more rounded leaves. It is known to naturally espalier itself against a house and thus can be useful in tight spots and under windows. Its growth is slow to moderate and can easily be kept at 3’.

Sarcococca 'Fragrant Valley' is a compact yet vigorous selection growing to 18-24" tall and 3-4' wide. 

Sarcococca 'Fragrant Mountain' attains a slightly larger size at 2-3' tall and 3-4' wide, making it a great alternative to Skimmia japonica. 

Sarcococca humilis (Dwarf Sweet Box) is the smallest member of the group, reaching just 1-2' tall and 8-12" tall at maturity. It's an elegant little shrub though, with slender, tapered, glossy dark-green leaves.

All of these varieties are disease resistant and tolerant of drier soils and less than ideal conditions. Sarcococca species are great supporting cast members for the shady garden (…we can't all be stars...) - and a must have for lovers of fragrant plants!

Mahonia 'Soft Caress'

on Friday, 19 November 2021. Posted in Winter Interest, Berries Attract Wildlife, Attracts Pollinators, Evergreen, Shade Plants, Drought Tolerant

Threadleaf Mahonia

Mahonia Soft Caress edIf you’re looking for a compact, easy care evergreen shrub that provides year-round interest - and will thrive in a dry shade garden - consider Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’!

I like to think of Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ as the gentler, more approachable relative of our beloved native Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium). Like Oregon Grape, ‘Soft Caress’ is a drought-tolerant evergreen shrub with fragrant sunny-yellow flowers. However, unlike Oregon Grape, its leaves and stems are thornless and soft rather than sharply poky and leathery.

‘Soft Caress’ is a great plant to use if you’re looking to bring a bit of texture into your dry shade garden. Its leaves look a bit like palm leaves – with slender, thread-like leaflets arrayed along a graceful central stem. For maximum effect, try planting it with some of the broader-leafed shade loving shrubs like Hosta, Hellebore, Osmanthus, and Viburnum davidii – or underplant it with dry shade-loving perennials like Epimedium and Heuchera.

From late fall to early spring, flowers appear in long ‘candles’ held above the foliage. These flowers not only help to brighten the winter garden, they’re also a great source of nectar for pollinators and other beneficial insects during the winter and spring, when few other plants are in bloom. The flowers are followed by decorative silvery-blue berries that add to the visual interest of the plant – and are popular with songbirds.

Mahonia ‘Soft Caress’ gets about 3’ by 3’ and maturity. It prefers part shade (morning sun is ok) to full shade and well-drained soils, and does well in containers as well as in the ground. This graceful, low maintenance shrub will be a welcome addition to your shady garden!

Polystichum munitum

on Thursday, 21 October 2021. Posted in Winter Interest, Native, Evergreen, Shade Plants, Perennial, Deer Resistant, Drought Tolerant

Western Sword Fern

Western Sword FernThe sculptural fronds of ferns provide lots of winter interest, and Western Sword Fern is one of the toughest, most drought tolerant, and easiest ferns to grow in the Rogue Valley. 

This native fern can tolerate our dry summers and wet winters and even take a little sun. It prefers to be an understory plant but established ferns in good, composty soil will tolerate quite a bit of sun. The key is to get them well established with deep waterings the first few summers and applications of yearly leaf mulch or compost mulch. Western Sword Fern has a courser texture than some more delicate ferns but that makes their fronds last longer, allowing them to be used in cut flower arrangements. The leathery, dark green fronds can be 2-4' tall depending where they are grown and can be used alone or look especially good in clumps or drifts. 

Polystichum detailWe like to use Western Sword Ferns under large trees - like oaks, combined with Euphorbia purpurea, Heuchera sanguinea or the purple leafed varieties of Coral bells, Mahonia repens, and other dry shade perennials and shrubs. All ferns are deer resistant and the Western Sword Fern is no exception. They are evergreen but will look their best with an annual shearing of the oldest fronds in spring to allow the new fronds to uncurl. Leave the old, pruned fronds as a natural mulch.  Ferns are always interesting to watch throughout the seasons and Western Sword Fern makes an especially nice evergreen specimen in the shade garden.