Though I love to garden with perennials, shade perennials are my favorite. Walking among my large gardens of hostas, ferns, astilbes and dozens of other shade tolerant plants, I generally have a sense of peace, serenity and stability. And that’s mostly because being a shade plant means generally minimal care while providing beauty in a green space with splashes of color here and there.
But this summer, the summer of 2021, when we were beginning to shed our fears and worries over the pandemic and slowly but surely getting back to normal, a heat wave of almost epic proportions for Minnesota hit our yards and gardens hard. And many of my shade plants were “screaming” for more moisture, less wind and less oppressive heat. I can’t imagine what my water bill would have been if I had to use city water instead of our rural well water because my gardens aren’t just big, they’re really big.
Interestingly, among all those plants doing their best to stay healthy, there were some real survivors that seemed to “beat the heat” better than other shade plants. The native soil on our property is naturally very sandy and over these 30-plus years of living here, I’ve amended the soil as best I can but it still doesn’t hold moisture very well especially in hot weather with little to no rain for weeks on end. How I envy those with a little clay or that nice rich loamy soil and I haven’t a spoonful of it.
So what plants seemed to take the heat in stride? Well most of my hostas did well especially the ones with thicker leaves and have a greener color. But those exposed to mid afternoon sun got a good deal of leaf scorch on the edges. My lovely but somewhat invasive Snowdrop Anemone and all my sedums in the shade took no notice of the heat. A few years ago I started adding Aralia “Sun King” to the shade gardens to add height and color. Since it dies back to the ground in the fall, it doesn’t really get going until mid June and now, even with all the heat, it’s a burst of chartreuse about 3 feet tall and flourishing.
Almost all shade perennials can tolerate a few hours of morning sun no matter how hot it gets. Things like Bleeding Heart, Ligularia, Astilbe, Hydrangea, and Jacobs Ladder are among those that can take the morning heat. And for the most part, natives are evolved to survive harsh conditions so they do well too. And keep this in mind when planning a foundation garden next to a building, make careful plant choices because those buildings pull in a lot of heat which can really stress out your shrubs and perennials.