Southeast Regional Reports

Plants That Take Sun and Shade for the Southeast

Fine Gardening – Issue 218


1. Plumleaf Azalea

Plumleaf Azalea

Name: Rhododendron prunifolium

Zones: 5–9

Size: 8 to 12 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Southeastern United States

Who doesn’t love a native azalea, especially one with summer blooms that range from orange to salmon to apricot? Just when you think rhodies are done for the season, this one goes all out. Native to Georgia and Alabama, it is a moderately sized shrub that typically grows to about 8 feet tall and wide over time. Plumleaf azalea will be happiest planted in free-draining soil with consistent moisture and some afternoon shade as a respite from the intense heat. All parts of this plant are poisonous, so be extra cautious when planting it in locations where livestock, pets, or children might be tempted to sample it.


2. ‘Evergold’ Sedge

Evergold Sedge
Photo: Nancy J. Ondra

Name: Carex oshimensis ‘Evergold’

Zones: 5–10

Size: 12 to 18 inches tall and wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average to moist, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan

‘Evergold’ is one of those “duct-tape plants” that can be used to hold any plant combination together. Its cheerful, gold-striped leaves create a tidy mound of long, arching blades that will cheer up any sunny or shady corner that needs a little something. It is more tolerant of drier conditions than some other sedges, but if you are growing it in full, blazing sun, don’t hold back on regular water; it just doesn’t want to be water-logged. The color of ‘Evergold’ is not quite as neon as that of ‘Everillo’ (Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’, Zones 5–9), but it is still bright enough to really make a statement.


3. ‘Black Dragon’ Japanese Cedar

Black Dragon Japanese Cedar
Photo: Antonio Reis

Name: Cryptomeria japonica ‘Black Dragon’

Zones: 5–9

Size: 6 feet tall and 4 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; moist, fertile, well-drained soil

Native range: Japan, China

‘Black Dragon’ is unmistakable and even slightly mysterious, with its irregular pyramidal growth habit, dark green color, and malleability to a wide variety of growing conditions and garden aesthetics. Given full sun to partial shade bordering on full shade in the ground or in a container, this conifer will slowly reach around 6 feet tall. Like most conifers that can be grown in the South, it appreciates consistent moisture and an application of lime a couple of times a year, and it dislikes heavy clay. The habit of ‘Black Dragon’ Japanese cedar has enough structure to fit into formal landscapes, but it is irregular enough for even the most irreverent garden designs. If you are looking for a conifer that thrives in shade, you couldn’t do better.


4. Variegated Spanish Dagger

Variegated Spanish Dagger
Photo: Garden Gate staff

Name: Yucca gloriosa ‘Variegata’

Zones: 6–10

Size: 3 to 6 feet tall and 3 feet wide

Conditions: Full sun to partial shade; average to dry soil

Native range: Southeastern North America

Many Southerners know Spanish dagger as a side-of-the-road plant, but that does not detract from the value of this sculptural variegated cultivar. For me, the creamy yellow edges surrounding green centers make its foliage infinitely more striking, and the fact that it is a deer-resistant native plant doesn’t hurt either. Its ability to grow virtually anywhere makes it a low-maintenance garden staple. You just need to make sure not to overwater it. The foliage usually doesn’t get much larger than 3 feet tall and wide, but when the hummingbird-attracting flower spikes emerge, they can add another 3 feet to the plant’s height.

Amanda Bennett is vice president of horticulture and collections at Atlanta Botanical Gardens in Georgia.

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