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Plants for a Shady Balcony

My balcony gets quite a bit of shade. The solid half wall around the outside of the balcony with the overhang above shades the balcony floor from direct sunlight for all but one or two hours per day. If you have a lot of shade to deal with and are looking for a good shade plant reference book, check out Larry Hodgson's "Making the Most of Shade". It has nothing in it about balconies and next to nothing about containers, but it is a wonderful shade garden resource.

Of course, the problem with many container plants is that they are perennials and it can be hard to convince potted perennials to return to life in the spring if you live in a particularly cool climate region. I find that container bound perennials have a better chance of surviving the winter on the balcony if they are protected from the wind. Keep them covered or insulated in some way. In a container, potting soil in an unprotected container will freeze solid really fast. By insulating the plant you can slow this down so it doesn't freeze so suddenly or completely. I also keep mine moist up until their potting soil freezes. And when they thaw out in the spring make sure the soil is damp and not bone dry. To be honest, I've had limited success with overwintering plants on my balcony. But I've never really tried all that hard either.

Listed below are a few of my favorite shade loving plants that are happy in almost any corner of my balcony.

basil

Hostas

 

  • Perennial
  • Perfers full sun to deep shade
  • Enjoys moist, well drained soil conditions
  • Can be inches to feet across
  • Hardy in zones 3 to 9

Hostas are the definitive shade garden plant and they are everywhere. What makes them popular is their ability to liven up areas plagued by deep shade. Although Hostas are not technically a shade loving plant, but a shade tolerant plant. They do appreciate some sunlight.

There are several different Hosta varieties and it's not the colour or flowers that makes then interesting: it's their leaf patterns. They produce stalks with white or pink flowers that last for a few weeks during the summer. Some miniatures make great additions to the balcony while other giant Hosta varieties are best left in the garden.

Hostas need a dormancy period so bringing them indoors in the winter is not an option. When frosty weather does arrive and the green growth turns brown and withers, cut the plants down to the soil surface and prepare the containers for winter.

sedge

Sedge

Carex

  • Perennial
  • Prefers partial to full shade
  • Enjoys moist, well drained soil conditions
  • Height varies by species
  • Hardy in zones 3 to 9 depending on species

Sedge is a very large family of plants so it's rather difficult to characterize them. Generally through they are clump forming and sometimes referred to as grass or rushes although they aren't. This little "ice dance" variety pictured here I purchased to add to a mixed container with some other shade loving plants. This one made a great little ground cover plant. I've grown a few other varieties of sedge in containers, back when I didn't pay much attention to what I was growing. And even in those days when I didn't know what I was doing, the sedge plants always did well.

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coleus

Coleus

Solenostemon

  • Perennial
  • Tolerates a full range, from sun to shade
  • Enjoys moist, well drained soil conditions
  • Grows 8 to 36 inches tall
  • Sensitive to frost - grown as an annual

Coleus have been around in the gardening world for a long time. They are technically perennials but are grown as annuals in areas that experience frost. They make excellent container plants and won't mind being brought indoors for the winter (although I don't think I've ever tried that). Coleus are not fussy about lighting and will tolerate everything from full sun to full shade. Since they prefer moist soil conditions, keeping them in full sun may be a bit more trouble than it's worth. Mine are quite happy in the shade along the front wall of my balcony where they get very little direct sunlight.

Coleus will typically flower between mid to late summer, putting up a flower spike covered with small insignificant flowers. You should pinch these off as they appear to encourage branching and and leaf production because it's the colourful leaves of this plant that liven up the balcony.

heuchera

Coral Bells

Heuchera

  • Perennial
  • Prefers partial shade but will tolerate anything
  • Enjoys moist, well drained soil conditions
  • Up to 30 inches wide and tall, depending on the variety
  • Hardy in zones 4 through 9

Heuchera are evergreen shade loving perennials that have been hybridized into a large array of colour options. Some, like the "Caramel" Corel Bells I have pictured here, are categorized as "PPAF": Plant Patent Applied For. This means the breeder responsible for the Caramel variety has applied for a patent and once approved, only licensed growers may propagate it for resale. But not all Heuchera are patented of course and they can be propagated by division every couple of years.

They flower during the spring or summer by putting up a tall slender shoot with small white bell shaped flowers (hence the name coral bells). Heuchera are quite comfortable in almost any lighting condition but their true preference varies from one hybrid to the next. This caramel hybrid for example, started reverting to green when I left it to grow in the shade but it 'perked' up' again when I moved it to a location with more sun.

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