Sun or shade?

Lisa K. Hair
Master gardener
Many Oklahoma plants that are marked as part sun part shade actually thrive in nearly full shade.

OK, everyone! Welcome to summer! Humid days and frizzy hair, sunburned arms, and allergies flair, yet we love this season. Our plants are growing well, weeds are getting under some sort of control, and our trees we planted a few years ago are finally making shade. However, with shady areas you have an entirely new set of challenges. At least they are for me.

For a number of years now I have planted Xeriscapes. I searched for and used plants that could handle our scorching heat and still look pretty. Xeriscape plants all fit the bill, but now my trees are large enough that they will completely shade out my space in another year. Well, time to shift gears and see what I can do to help my garden transition over from sun to shade.

Many Oklahoma plants that are marked as part sun part shade actually thrive in nearly full shade. Dogwood trees do very well, and you can even plant a few Redbuds on the edges. Viburnums, especially Burkwood Viburnums, (my dream plant!) will help ease the transition from sun to shade. These bloom super early in spring (think February!) and have the most heavenly aroma to them. They are creamy white, with numerous tiny blooms making up the flower head itself. I always use it as my aromatherapy during a dreary February day. It gets about 10’ to 12’ tall, and the leaves are pretty sparse, giving it a light, airy appearance.

Some varieties of Hosta are capable of living in part sun too. The deep blue ones that have puckered leaves are the ones I’ve used to transition over. Save the delicate ones with white edges for later. Delphiniums are another favorite of mine. They are tall and stately with blue, purple, pink, or white blooms. You can get them in plain or cutleaf types too.

Just as you fill gaps in your beds with annuals sometimes, you can do with shade gardens, and with a surprise! Plant a few Crotons, the variety with the huge multi-colored leaves. That will make your garden pop and your neighbors take notice.

Ferns will grow wild in Oklahoma! My mom lived near Macomb years ago, and we noticed after she moved in that in her small canyon was a tiny grove of ferns. They were each about a foot tall and wide, and were just thriving down where our super scorching sun couldn’t get to them. She never watered them or fed them and yet they still grew. You can underplant them with purple Ajuga. The leaves are stunning enough, but they bloom a short spike of cobalt blue blooms that looks awesome! Another ground cover plant is Dead Nettle. It is a pale green with whiteish edges. You can plant Spanish Bluebells in the fall for a great spring show, and Helebores will put out their waxy blooms shortly thereafter.

Many Oklahoma plants that are marked as part sun part shade actually thrive in nearly full shade.

For a striking focal point, a Crimson Queen Japanese Maple is hard to beat. Their heavily-cut red leaves give some fire to the garden, and in winter the stems and trunk are even pretty! Hydrangeas are always a big hit for mom’s, so why not plant both a pink and blue variety for her?

You might also use this as an opportunity to beef up your irrigation system too. Use some drip irrigation like Netafim, a hard plastic hose that has tiny holes every 12”. Behind the holes are hard plastic barriers that keep the water from spewing out. You space the hoses parallel to each other a foot apart, and plant the plants near the water holes. That way every plant can access the right amount without overwatering. You’ll still need to mulch, but you may not need quite as much as your full sun beds.

That’s all for now, I still have plants on my porch to get installed, so until next time,


Lisa K Hair is a local Master Gardener with a degree in Horticulture from OSU/OKC, and was the campus landscaper for OBU for 18 years. She is also on the Shawnee Beautification Committee.