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Many garden areas remain unplanted by gardeners who think that nothing really colorful can grow in very shady spots. But these gardeners are typically thinking of colorful flowers, forgetting that some plants are prized for their colorful foliage. So take another look at the bare, shady nooks in your garden to discover the untapped design potential that’s waiting there for your artistic touch. You can make shady areas spring to life with the simple addition of two plants: caladiums and heucheras.

Caladiums

These plants add a tropical touch to any shade garden. Large, heart-shaped leaves sprout from bulblike tubers and grow quickly into clumping plants that are a snap to maintain. The primary secret to growing healthy caladiums is moist, but well-draining soil. The tubers will rot if you keep them overwatered…or try to grow them in waterlogged soil. A perfect solution is to grow your caladiums in containers. Scattered under trees, pots of caladiums are also a no-dig way for gardeners to enjoy a garden. Containers also make it easy to bring the tubers – pots and all – inside for the winter, because this plant is only winter-hardy outside in USDA plant hardiness zones 9 and 10.

  1. Rosebud. You can’t grow roses in the shade, but Rosebud Caladium (Caladium x hortulanum ‘Rosebud’) is a terrific alternative. Aptly named to evoke the pretty-in-pink look of a rosebud enveloped in green, Rosebud Caladium’s leaves have pink centers and green margins.
  2. Candidum. When you think “colorful” for your shade garden, do you think of white? Underneath the darkness of shade trees, white is sometimes the best color choice to brighten the area. And you can’t find a better white caladium than Candidum (Caladium x hortulanum ‘Candidum’). The huge elephant-ear-shaped leaves have green veins and green edging that trace the white inner sections.
  3. White Queen. If you need a predominantly white caladium for especially dark spots, but you also want a bit of vibrant color, look to White Queen (Caladium x hortulanum ‘White Queen’). As its name hints, the leaves are primarily white, but bright-red veins give White Queen a color pop.
  4. Fannie Munson. The bright reddish-pink leaves of this caladium will give depth and drama to your shade garden. Fannie Munson Caladium (Caladium x hortulanum ‘Fannie Munson’) is a tried-and-true caladium that has graced gardens for many years. Hot-pink veins and green accents give each reddish-pink leaf a second layer of color interest.
  5. Florida Cardinal. Like the beloved bird, Florida Cardinal Caladium (Caladium x hortulanum ‘Florida Cardinal’) is clothed in vivid red. Framing each heart-shaped leaf is a border of rich green – spectacular.

A darling of the shade-garden world, heucheras are also known by their common name, “Coral Bells,” because of the color and shape of the flowers on the original species plants. And even though these plants do produce dainty flowers, it’s their breathtaking foliage that steals the show. These garden treasures are cold-hardy perennials to USDA plant hardiness zone 4.

Four Fabulous Heucheras

  1. Caramel. One of the most heat- and humidity-tolerant cultivars, Caramel Heuchera (Heuchera ‘Caramel’) has buttery caramel and apricot leaves.
  2. Obsidian. Such a deep shade of purple that it’s almost black, Obsidian Heuchera (Heuchera ‘Obsidian’) stands out even more when interplanted with a lighter cultivar, such as Caramel or Peach Flambe.
  3. Palace Purple. When heucheras became all the rage in the early 2000s, Palace Purple (Heuchera ‘Palace Purple’) had already been introduced a decade earlier as the original purple heuchera; in fact, it won the 1991 Perennial Plant Association’s Perennial of the Year award. And it’s still an enduring favorite.
  4. Peach Flambe. Here’s a sizzling knockout of a plant that will entice you with its changing color palette! In spring and summer, Peach Flambe Heuchera (Heuchera ‘Peach Flambe’) sports leaves that are primarily peach but with red accents! But the color show is not over yet. By autumn, the leaves change colors to shades of plum!

Design Tips

  • Plant Caladiums or Heucheras in “color bowls” – round bowl-shaped planters with different cultivars of each plant in each bowl for a multi-colored effect, or with a single cultivar massed as a unified color.
  • Grow Caladiums and Heucheras in raised beds. This gives both types of plants the superior drainage they need, plus it elevates them to give you a closer look and make caring for them easier.
  • Cluster odd-numbered groupings of plants together for a fuller look. For example, three plants grouped together — in a triangular shape — command attention better than a single plant.
  • Plant Caladiums around a shady water garden for a tropical retreat.
  • Plant Heucheras around a shady sitting area to enjoy the hummingbirds that will inevitably visit the plant’s flowers!