Q: I just purchased a condo, and my small front yard gets no direct sun. What can I plant that will grow? -- Cyndi Heid, Middle Island BY JESSICA DAMIANO
When shade is caused by deciduous trees (those that lose their leaves in autumn) like dogwoods, maples or oaks, then it's a concern only when the tree has leaves. You can take advantage of the sun exposure you get before the tree leafs out and grow some sun-loving early-season bulb plants. Try crocuses, tulips (pictured) and daffodils to brighten the spot. Tulips aren't reliable repeat performers under any conditions on Long Island, but all bulb plants need to soak up sunlight until their leaves die back to store up enough energy to bloom again the following year. Depending on when your shade becomes an issue, you might have to plant new bulbs every year. >> Email this photo gallery >>More Gardening 101
Coleus is a striking foliage plant available in many different colors, but it does best in partial -- not full -- shade. Still, you might want to give it a try.
Some Long Islanders didn't have much luck growing impatiens.
Because your garden is small, you might not be interested in planting shrubs. Should the need arise, Skimmia japonica is a great little plant that's underused in Long Island gardens. It grows only 3 to 4 feet tall.
I also like Ligularia dentata (leopard plant) "Britt-Marie Crawford," which has striking large deep-purple leaves and yellow daisylike flowers. It requires a lot of water in the summer, or it wilts.
I love how yellow brightens up a shade garden, especially when paired with something purple. One of my favorite plants -- Tradescantia 'Sweet Kate' (spiderlily) -- combines chartreuse grasslike blades with purple flowers for an eye-catching display. It performs best in partial shade, however.
Adiantum pedatum (Northern maidenhair fern) has brown stems and thrives in full shade.
Ferns are another shade garden mainstay, but some are more interesting than others. Take Dryopteris (autumn fern) Brilliance, for example. Not only is it evergreen, but it changes color with the seasons, going from orange-red in spring to green to copper.
Then, there's Dicentra spectabilis (bleeding heart), which also blooms in shade from April to May.
Pair Actaea 'Hillside Black Beauty' (previous photo) with Brunnera Jack Frost (Siberian bugloss), which, with its large heart-shaped leaves and delicate blue springtime flowers, could serve as a substitute for the more common hosta.
But you might opt for the more exotic Actaea (baneberry), especially Hillside Black Beauty, pictured, which has cream flowers that seem to float above deep purple foliage in late summer and early autumn. Pair it with ...
Astilbes and Heucheras (coral bells), pictured, are quite common, and there's a reason: They do amazingly well in shade.
Astilbes , pictured, and Heucheras (coral bells) are quite common, and there's a reason: They do amazingly well in shade.
Helleborus (hellebore) is a great choice, too, because it flowers in late winter.
Plant Pulmonaria (lungwort) under and around hostas, pictured, which might be shade-garden cliches, but, hey, they serve a purpose.
Pulmonaria (lungwort) blooms in the spring, but its elongated, spotted leaves command attention all summer long. Plant it under and around hostas, which might be shade-garden cliches, but, hey, they serve a purpose.
As far as perennials go, you're not completely restricted. Tiarella cordifolia (heartleaf foamflower) blooms with airy white flowers in spring and has bronze foliage in autumn. It spreads by rhizomes, so it'll need to be divided after a few years unless you just want it to serve as a 10-inch-tall ground cover. That would work, too.
Check out Ajuga reptans , too. Plant ground covers around a path lined with stepping-stones, because you can't walk on ground covers as you would grass.
Or Lamium maculatum (spotted dead nettle), which flowers spring to early summer. (I like Purple Dragon, pictured, but there are several varieties to choose from.)
Consider Asarum europaeum (European ginger), a slow-growing shade-loving ground cover with deep, glossy, rounded leaves.
Shade can be a gardening challenge. Most plants need some sunlight to photosynthesize. Even grass won't grow properly in deep shade, but you do need some sort of ground cover to keep the area from becoming a muddy mess. The obvious choice would be Pachysandra terminalis (Japanese spurge). It fills in nicely, remains evergreen and does a tremendous job of anchoring the soil, so it's a common choice for hills. But planting pachysandra doesn't take much imagination. Let's see if we can do a little better and help your garden stand out.