What are some low-maintenance plants that grow in the shade?
September 22, 2012 9:37 AM   Subscribe

Can you suggest some plants for a shady yard? North of Seattle, brown thumb.

This is for my side yard, which my dining room window looks into. Here's the current view. Currently we have some sticks, some holly, some blackberry vines, several years worth of leaves, a milk crate, a child's rake... what plants should be there instead?

Zone 5 or possibly Zone 4
No direct sunlight in the summer (shaded by maple trees)
No rain in the summer
Interesting-looking as much of the year as possible
Easy to maintain
The fence is to the east of the house
Child-friendly (no euphorbia)
Tall is good
Fast-growing is good
I like bamboo and the neighbors over the fence won't care (they're goats)

posted by The corpse in the library to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Hostas!
posted by elsietheeel at 10:15 AM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: remember to coffer the bamboo, that stuff can spread like blackberries.

We planted a bunch of ferns and hosta in a couple of shaded areas around our house several years ago and they have done well. We dug out the beds completely, like down a foot and a half, and replaced the old soil with N square feet of Mel's Mix.

Haven't had to water it at all beyond the first year's watering in.

Basically, we did some super-informal research to ID plants that natively opulate the ground story in the woods. Go hike down from QFC to the water in Carkeek Park and take pics of the plants you see, then go to Swansons.
posted by mwhybark at 10:24 AM on September 22, 2012

Best answer: I'm a gardener in Seattle, and a few things come to mind.

First off, most of the Puget Sound is in zone 7 or 8 (USDA hardiness zones, that is -- there are some other zone types, which might be where you got zone 5).

Second, you might have to amend your soil in order to get some plants to prosper there, like mwhybark did. When you have a bare patch of fertile soil it tends to quickly fill with weeds. It looks like you have a few stray blackberries and not much else, which could mean that other things you plant there would hang around and maybe grow a bit, but not really thrive.

We have some great native plants in the area, and they are adapted to our climate, so they take minimal care. Two classic low-maintenance natives:
Western sword ferns - in good soil they will grow huge and bushy (fronds up to 5'), and look great all year. They are tough as nails.
Salal - A nice understory shrub with handsome, leathery dark green leaves. Eventually it will spread to fill the whole area. If it starts to grow out of the designated zone you can just mow it or use a weed whacker. Salal will get up to 6' tall in the right conditions, but usually ends up around 4' or so.

Those are both fairly fast-growing, but will take a year or two to really get going.

If you go with bamboo, try to find a non-invasive kind... it can be bad for the environment.

Good luck!
posted by agropyron at 11:16 AM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Oh, that was the Sunset zone map I was looking at. I'm Zone 8b : 15 to 20 (F), according to the USDA hardiness map. Thanks for pointing that out.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2012

Best answer: I'm surprised you don't have foxgloves and clementine. Bleeding hearts should also do well. I've seen all these grow as/like weeds in similar places here on Whidbey.
posted by The otter lady at 1:27 PM on September 22, 2012

Ack, COLUMBINE, not clementine. Need coffee...
posted by The otter lady at 1:28 PM on September 22, 2012

Best answer: I planted some sarcococca last year, it is an evergreen shrub that grows in deep shade. This year we had a very dry summer, and it thrived with only minimal watering. It has beautiful fragrance in January (when it blooms).

Seconding hostas, they are fairly low-maintenance, and very pretty, they do need a bit of watering during the summer.

Sword ferns, amazing, they are incredibly low maintenance, perfect beside hostas.

A few years ago I planted a bunch of pacific was myrtle, it is also evergreen, very drought tolerant and fast growing. Mine is in sun, but it supposedly will also grow well in shade.

Rhododendrons, of course. Classic PNW.

Oak Leaf Hydrangea, very pretty.
posted by nanook at 1:33 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: That should be Pacific Wax Myrtle (native along the PNW coast).
posted by nanook at 1:34 PM on September 22, 2012

Best answer: Thirding Hostas. I have several varieties and there are tons more. The leaves themselves offer lots of colour and texture and some of them even bloom.
posted by deborah at 5:05 PM on September 22, 2012

We miss the Northwest's luxuriant mosses.
posted by feral_goldfish at 11:52 AM on September 25, 2012

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