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Throwing Some Light on Shade Gardens

Gardening with native plants can increase your chances of success in challenging areas. Landscapes come in all shapes and sizes; small and sunny, sandy, shady and wet and sometimes tucked in the back corner of a building. In order to ensure success in these potentially challenging landscapes, it is important to start with a well-thought out plan. The UF/IFAS Extension office in Manatee County recently added an exciting new demonstration garden to highlight the impact of native plants in tricky shady areas. Thanks to a grant and donation from the National Garden Clubs and a couple of very generous Master Gardener Volunteers, the Master Gardener Program was able to purchase and install 39 native plants at our office.  

The space chosen for our shade garden receives limited sunlight and is tucked into a corner on the south side of our auditorium building. During the summer months, a waterfall of rain torrents down from the corner of the roof creating a quagmire.  

In order to highlight the availability and beauty of Florida native plants, a list of desired native species was created to meet our tricky site conditions.  (Scroll to the end of the article for plant list and links to descriptions of each species)

Placement 

When deciding which plants to put where, it is important to consider mature height and spread of the species. Each species has a specific range of light, soil, water and space required for optimum performance; these factors were considered when the initial planting plan was created. Of course, planting never goes exactly according to plan, we ran into rocks and stubborn roots and one remnant stump that all demanded our flexibility in plant placement.  

Planting 

We chose a planting day that was quickly followed by some light rain in order to take advantage of free irrigation. 8 volunteers and staff made quick work of placing plants, digging holes and loosening up any root bound plants. In order to ensure successful establishment, it is important to dig a hole that is approximately 1.5 times wider than the size of the root ball and slightly shallower than the height of the root ball. When roots were packed tightly into the pots and circling, they were loosened up to encourage better stability.  

TIP* It is not necessary to add any fertilizer at the time of planting, avoid unnecessary soil additives such as; water holding beads, non-native soil components and mycorrhizae (no documented benefit in normal landscape scenarios) 

Establishment 

Once the native shade garden was in the ground, it became a daily routine to check in on the plants, making sure they were receiving adequate watering. Luckily, the garden is located near a rain barrel, where volunteers and staff can access harvested rainwater. Small plants and shrubs can take between 6 and 12 weeks

to establish. During this critical time, constant vigilance is necessary! Our native Pinxter Azalea awarded us for our hard work with lovely blooms in the second week of February! 

List of Species 

Drier Areas:

Love grass-purple (Eragrostis spectabilis)

Lyreleaf sage (Salvia lyrata)

Creeping sage (Salvia misella)

FL peperomia (Peperomia obtusifolia)

Maidenhair fern (Adiantum filix- femina subspecies asplenioides)

Button Snakeroot (Eryngium yuccifolium)

Velvet-leafed coffee (Psychotria sulzneri)

Bahama coffee (Psychotria ligustrifolia)

Corkystem passionvine (Passiflora suberosa)

Quailberry (Crossopetalum illicifolium)

Wild Plumbago (Plumbago zeylanica)

Bear grass- Adam’s needle (Yucca filamentosa)

Pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens)

Ironweed (Vernonia gigantean)

Carolina Allspice (Calycanthus floridus)

Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides)

Wetter areas:

Giant Leather fern (Achrostichum danaefolium)

Twinflower, lakeside (Dyschoriste humistrata)

Swamp azalea (Rhododendron viscosum)

Coral bean (Erythrina herbacea)

Browne’s Savory (Clinopodium brownei)

Spiderwort (Tradescantia ohiensis)

St Andrews Cross (Hypericum hypericoides)

For more resources check out these websites:  

Gardening in shady landscapes

Florida Yards Plant Database

 Florida Association of Native Nurseries