Houston has a long growing season and sub-tropical climate. The high humidity and warm temperatures create tropical shady landscapes that remain cool during the hot summers. However, finding plants that thrive in the dense shade created by overhanging trees or structures can be a challenge. Add color and texture in a shady location by choosing shade-loving landscape plants.
Australian Tree Fern
The Australian tree fern, lacy fern or Queensland fern (Cyathea cooperi) grows into a 10-foot-tall tree-like plant with a trunk and fern leaves, or fronds, growing from the top and extending out five feet. It thrives in shady, moist locations and is used as a specimen plant in Houston.
The flowering maple (Abutilon hybridum) is a flowering shrub with maple-like leaves. It grows in shady locations up to 4-feet high with some varieties reaching 10-feet high. Long-lasting bell-shaped flowers of red, yellow or white make this variety outstanding. Flowering maple does not tolerate direct sun, but it thrives in dappled shade. It is often used as a house plant in cooler climates.
Aspidistra, or cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior), grows in dense shade in Houston gardens. It's a foliage plant, with dark-green broad leaves growing to 20-inches tall, and it adds a tropical feel to the landscape. Choose Aspidistra for dry shade as it cannot tolerate water-logged soils. It is one of the few shade plants that thrives under the dense shade of the evergreen live oak tree.
Caladiums (Caladium bicolor) grow from bulb-like tubers planted in early spring. They are strictly a foliage plant with heart-shaped, multi-colored leaves of white, green, pink or red. They are used for colorful borders or container plants, and grow in dense to dappled shade. They will decline in the heat of the summer without sufficient moisture.
Grow coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides) for its colorful foliage. The bushy plants grow in dense, dappled or part-shade, depending on the variety, and reach a height of 4-feet tall with a 3-foot-wide spread. The leaves are usually variegated and colored with burgundy, red, yellow, purple or orange. The stems are brittle and easily broken in windy locations. It can be pruned back to create a bushier plant.
The hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla) grows to 6-feet tall tall and wide. The 8-inch-wide blooms are actually made up of hundreds of tiny flowers of pink, blue, green or white, depending on the variety. Hydrangeas perform best if grown in moist soil amended with organic matter and protected from afternoon sun.
Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana) are grown as an annual plant in Houston. They become leggy when growing in shade if not pruned back regularly. However, impatiens are a reliable bloomer, producing 1- to 2-inch-wide flowers of pink, orange, red or white all season long. Impatiens must be protected from hot afternoon sun or they will wilt even if supplied additional moisture.