By REBECCA SLOAN
Toiling in a sun-drenched flowerbed during the dog days of summer can send even the most enthusiastic gardener into the house to sit under a ceiling fan.
But if your garden is planted under a cool canopy of shade trees, you can still exercise your green thumbs while thumbing your nose at the sun's sweltering rays.
Philip Steiner, president of Mellinger's garden center in North Lima, said shade gardens are a refreshing alternative to traditional, sun-loving flowerbeds, and there are a variety of perennials and annuals that are made for the shade.
A common choice
"Hostas are probably the most common shade garden plant. There are actually hundreds of varieties of hostas, but the most common color choices are green and white, yellow and white and blue. There's even a blue and yellow type called Frances Williams," Steiner said.
Because hostas are hardy, they are easy to grow and won't object to being transplanted.
"It's best to transplant them in the spring, but if you have a neighbor who wants to give you a start, you can do it now. The plant might look a bit wilted after you put it in the ground, but just keep watering it, and it will come back," Steiner said.
Besides their showy leaves, hostas also produce stalks of blue or white flowers, some of which are fragrant.
Ferns are the second most popular choice for shade gardens, Steiner said.
"When planting ferns, just remember to consider the height of each variety before you put the plants in the ground," Steiner said.
For example, the ostrich fern can grow to be six feet tall, and thus should be planted in the rear of the shade garden, while shorter varieties, such as the 18-inch Japanese silver painted fern, can grace the front of the bed.
And remember, ferns come in more colors than just plain old green.
"Some types have a reddish frond, such as the cinnamon fern," Steiner said.
Speaking of color, astilbes can add delicate splashes of color to any shade garden. These perennials produce soft, feathery plumes of pink, white, red and purple, and bloom from mid-June to August.
Melanie Congelio, of Tabor's Landscaping and Garden Center in North Lima, said astilbes can tolerate a few hours of morning sun, but won't do well in afternoon sun.
"The important thing to remember with the astilbe, or any type of plant, is to keep it watered well the first year. Plants are always more sensitive the first year, but after they become established, they don't need to be watered as often," she said.
Congelio said people are sometimes surprised at the number of perennials that will flourish in shade or part shade.
Some of her top choices for shady spaces include:
ULady's mantle (produces spikes of yellowish-green flowers, good for borders)
UJapanese toad lily (an unusual looking plant that produces a brownish, speckled flower)
UFoam flower (a small, delicate plant with stalks of tiny, delicate white flowers)
ULily of the valley (very fragrant)
UJacob's ladder (reaches a height of 18 to 32 inches and produces a purple flower)
ULirope (a green or variegated ornamental grass that produces purple flowers)
UPulmonaria (has green and white spotted leaves and gets pink or purple flowers)
UVariegated brunnera (it has green and white leaves and delicate blue flowers)
Steiner said that many types of wildflowers native to Ohio and Pennsylvania also make wonderful additions to shade gardens.
"Many people plant native wildflowers such as trilliums, jack-in-the-pulpit and violets in their shade gardens," Steiner said.
And don't forget the annuals.
Annuals such as impatiens and begonias can add bold, bright color to any shade garden.
"Impatiens are by far the most popular choice because they are colorful and easy to care for. They flower continually and require no dead-heading," Steiner said.
Whether planting perennials or annuals, shade garden soil should be rich and moist.
"You should add compost or aged manure to the soil," Steiner said.
And remember that just because the garden is in the shade doesn't mean it is not susceptible to drought.
"People forget that if the garden is shaded by trees, the garden plants are competing with the trees for water. And of course, the trees have bigger, deeper roots, so they are going to win," Steiner said.
One way to help the soil hold in moisture is to mulch around plants, but Steiner advised against a layer of mulch that is too thick.
"Although mulch will help keep the soil a constant cool temperature and help hold in moisture, too much mulch will lead to problems with fungus," Steiner explained, adding, "It will also attract slugs, which love to eat hostas."