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Publication #ENH1196

Landscaping in Florida Shade1

Sydney Park Brown2

Trees and the shade they cast provide welcome relief from Florida's intense sun and heat, but gardening in shade can be challenging.

Lawn grasses in particular are difficult to grow in moderate to deep shade. They typically need at least 6 hours of sun, although certain species and cultivars can adapt to less. Additionally, most vegetables and fruit crops demand extended periods of full sun to produce well.

Shade shifts daily, seasonally, and over time as trees grow. Carefully analyzing where and when shade occurs is a first step. Also, recognizing types of shade is important as some kinds of shade are suitable for growing plants while other types are very problematic.

For example, many shade-tolerant plants prefer the following conditions:

    • Four or fewer hours of full sun, preferably morning or evening

    • Dappled shade all day

    • High, shifting shade (pine shade)

Examples of difficult shade include the following areas:

    • Dense and dark (no sun)

    • In the shadow of buildings

    • Dominated by tree roots

    • Very wet or dry

Sometimes difficult shade can be improved by lifting or thinning the tree canopy or large shrubs so more sun or indirect light can penetrate. Keep in mind that there are right and (very) wrong ways to prune trees. Rely on a professional, such as an ISA Certified Arborist, to do the job. See http://www.isa-arbor.com/faca/findArborist.aspx to find an ISA Certified Arborist.

Sometimes the best solution for difficult shade is to convert it to an outdoor garden room enhanced by seating, garden art, mulch, hardscape, colorful containers, a water feature, a birdbath, or other focal points. Leave the leaf litter that falls and allow these areas to be “self-mulching.”

Generally speaking, the following types of plants are potentially good candidates for shade:

    • Plants with broad leaves

    • Foliage plants (houseplants) for cold-protected areas of South and Central Florida or for use as cold-tender annuals (Table 3)

    • Most ferns

    • Numerous tropical perennials in the Acanthaceae family (Table 2)

    • Woodland native plants

Tables 1, 2, and 3 list some plants that tolerate reduced sunlight. These lists are not exhaustive.

Every plant has cultural needs besides light. Make sure to select plants that are suited to the site ("right plant, right place").

A few other considerations when growing plants in shade include the following:

    • Areas under tree canopy tend to be warmer, frost-free spots more amenable to cold-tender plants.

    • Digging among the roots of trees and shrubs is difficult, so use smaller plants that don’t need a large planting hole.Water them frequently until they’re established.

    • Fertilizer cannot compensate for inadequate light. It is not a substitute for photosynthesis.

    • Shaded lawns should be mowed higher and receive less fertilizer, water, and traffic. See Growing Turfgrass in the Shade (http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu/ep072).

    • For color in shady areas, use plants that produce light-colored flowers. Dark flowers don't show up as well.

    • The local county Extension office can verify the reliability of a plant in your county (http://solutionsforyourlife.ufl.edu/map).

Additional Resources

Chaplin, L. T., and M. M. Brandies. 1998. The Florida Gardener's Book of Lists. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing.

Dehgan, B. 1998. Landscape Plants for Subtropical Climates. Gainesville: University Press of Florida.

UF/IFAS. 2010. The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design. http://fyn.ifas.ufl.edu/pdf/FYN_Plant_Selection_Guide_v090110.pdf.

Acknowledgements

The author wishes to thank Ed Thralls, Orange County Extension horticulture agent, for reviewing this publication and Alachua County Extension horticulture agent, Wendy Wilber, for her contributions.

Tables

Table 1. 

Selected shade-tolerant plants for North (N), Central (C), and South (S) Florida

Plant

Region

Turf

St. Augustinegrass dwarf cultivars ('Sapphire', 'Seville', 'Delmar', and 'Captiva')

NCS

Zoysiagrass cultivars (e.g., 'Empire')

NC

Centipedegrass

N

Small trees (under 30')

Devil's walkingstick (Aralia spinosa)*

NC

Dahoon holly (Ilex cassine)*

NCS

Dogwood (Cornus florida)*

NC

Pond apple (Annona glabra)*

S

Red buckeye (Aesculus pavia)*

NC

Redbud (Cercis canadensis)*

NC

Silverbell (Halesia spp.)*

N

Snowbell (Styrax americanus)*

NCS

Sparkleberry (Vaccinium arboreum)*

NC

Spicewood (Calyptranthes pallens)*

S

Swamp dogwood (Cornus foemina)*

NCS

Walter's viburnum (Viburnum obovatum)*

NCS

Yaupon (Ilex vomitoria)*

NCS

Palms/cycads

Bamboo palm (Chamadorea spp.)

CS

Blue-stem/dwarf palmetto (Sabal minor)*

NCS

Coontie (Zamia floridana)*

NCS

Formosa palm (Arenga engleri)

CS

Lady palm (Rhapis excelsa)

CS

Needle palm (Rhapidophyllum hystrix)*

NCS

Saw palmetto (Serenoa repens)*

NCS

Shrubs

Arrowwood (Viburnum dentatum)*

NC

Azalea (Rhododendron cultivars)

NC

Aucuba (Aucuba japonica)

NC

Anise - Florida (Illicium floridanum)*

NCS

Anise - yellow (Illicium parviflorum)*

NCS

Banana shrub (Magnolia figo)

NC

Beautyberry (Callicarpa americana)*

NCS

Camellia (C. japonica, C. sasanqua)

NC

Cleyera (Ternstroemia gymnanthera)

NC

Crape jasmine/pinwheel jasmine (Tabernaemontana divaricata)

CS

Dwarf schefflera (Schefflera arboricola)

CS

Dwarf Walter's viburnum (Viburnum obovatum– dwarf cultivars)*

NCS

Fatsia (Fatsia japonica)

NCS

Firebush (Hamelia patens)*

NCS

Florida azalea (Rhododendron austrinum)*

N

Gallberry (Ilex glabra)*

NCS

Gardenia (Gardenia augusta)

NCS

Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

NC

Mahonia (Mahonia fortunei)

NC

Marlberry (Ardisia escallonioides)*

CS

Myrsine (Rapanea punctata)*

S

Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)*

NC

Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida)*

NCS

Pinxter azalea (Rhododendron canescens)*

NC

Pipestem (Agarista populifolia)*

NC

Sandankwa viburnum (Viburnum suspensum)

NCS

Scorpion tail (Heliotropium angiospermum)*

NCS

Simpson's stopper (Myrcianthes fragrans)*

NCS

Snailseed (Cocculus laurifolius)

CS

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

NC

Strawberry bush (Euonymus americanus)*

NC

String lily (Crinum americanum)*

NCS

Sweetshrub (Calycanthus floridus)*

NC

Tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans)

NC

Umbrella sedge (Cyperus alternifolius)

NCS

Virginia willow (Itea virginica)*

NC

Walter's viburnum (Viburnum obovatum)*

NC

Wax myrtle (Myrica cerifera)*

NCS

Wild coffee (Psychotria nervosa)*

CS

Witch hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)*

NC

Yesterday, today and tomorrow (Brunsfelsia spp.)

NCS

Grasses

River oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)*

NC

Tiger grass (Thysanoalena latifolia)

CS

Ferns

Autumn fern (Dryopteris erythrsora)

NCS

Chain ferns (Woodwardia spp.)*

NCS

Cinnamon fern (Osmunda cinnamomea)*

NCS

Hart's tongue fern (Asplenium scolopendrium)

NC

Holly fern (Cyrtomium falcatum)

NCS

Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum 'Pictum')

N

Leather fern (Acrostichum danaeifolium)

CS

Leatherleaf fern (Rumohra adiantiformis)

CS

Southern shield fern (Thelypteris kunthii)*

NCS

Royal fern (Osmunda regalis)*

NCS

Southern woods fern (Dryopteris normalis)*

NCS

Sword ferns (Nephrolepis biserrata and N. exaltata)*

CS

Swamp fern (Blechnum serrulatum)*

NCS

Silver-leaf brake fern (Pteris ensiformia 'Victoriae')

CS

Virginia chain fern (Woodwardia virginica)*

NCS

Groundcovers

African hosta (Drimiopsis maculata)

NCS

Algerian ivy (Hedera canariensis)

CS

Artillery fern (Pilea microphylla)

CS

Asiatic jasmine (Trachelospermum asiaticum)

NCS

Aztec grass (Ophiopogon intermedius)

NCS

Lilyturf (Liriope spp.)

NCS

Carpet bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

N

Cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior)

NCS

Creeping yew (Cephalotaxus harringtonia ‘Prostrata’)

CS

Florida violets (Viola spp.)

NCS

Mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus)

NCS

Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

CS

Spider plant (Chlorophytum comosum)

CS

Strawberry begonia (Saxifraga stolonifera)

NCS

Swedish ivy (Plectranthus verticillatus)

CS

Turtle vine/Bolivian Jew (Callisia repens)

CS

* Native Florida plant

Table 2. 

Colorful annuals and perennials

Common name

Scientific name

Begonias

Begonia spp.

Bromeliads

Aechmea, Bilbergia, and Neoregelia spp.

Blood lily

Haemanthus multiflorus

Blue ginger

Dichorisandra thyrsiflora

Blue sage

Eranthemum pulchellum

Butterfly gingers

Hedychium spp.

Caladium

Caladium x hortulanum

Charmed wine

Oxalis 'Charmed Wine'

Coleus

Solenostemon scuttellarioides

Crossandra

Crossandra infundibuliformis

Firespike

Odontonema strictum

Dancing girl ginger

Globba bulbifera

Ground orchid

Spathoglottis spp.

Hostas

Hosta hybrids, such as 'Sunhosta', 'Royal Standard', 'Elegans', 'Patriot', and 'Frances Williams'

Impatiens

Impatiens spp.

Jacobinia

Justicia carnea

Jewels of Opar

Talinum paniculatum 'Variegata'

Kaffir lily

Clivia miniata

Leopard plant

Farfugium japonicum

Nun's orchid

Phaius tankervilliae

Ornamental sweet potato

Ipomoea batatas

Peacock gingers

Kaempferia spp.

Persian shield

Strobilanthes dyerianus

Polka dot plant

Hypoestes phyllostachya

Red flame ivy

Hemigraphis alternata

Sanchezia

Sanchezia nobilis

Shell ginger

Alpinia zerumbet

Toad lilies

Tricyrtis spp.

Walking irises

Neomarica spp.

Wishbone flower

Torenia fournieri

Yellow shrimp plant

Pachystachys lutea

Table 3. 

Assorted foliage plants (houseplants) for South Florida and cold-protected areas of Central Florida

Common name

Scientific name

Chinese evergreen

Aglaonema spp.

Amazon lily

Eucharis amazonica

Anthurium

Anthurium spp.

Aralia

Polyscias spp.

Calathea

Calathea spp.

Ti plant

Cordyline spp.

Dumbcane

Dieffenbachia spp.

Dracaena

Dracaena spp.

False aralia

Dizygotheca elegantissima

Prayer plant

Maranta spp.

Peace lily

Spathiphyllum spp.

Philodendron

Philodendron spp. and hybrids

Snake plant

Sansevieria

Triostar

Stromanthe sanguinea 'Triostar'

ZZ plant

Zamioculcas zamiifolia

Footnotes

1.

This document is ENH1196, one of a series of the Environmental Horticulture Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. Original publication date February 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Sydney Park Brown, associate professor and Consumer Horticulture Extension Specialist. Environmental Horticulture Department, Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.