Thunbergia erecta
Thunbergia erecta

CQ Gardening: Shrubs for under a canopy

It does not matter if you live along the coast or in western areas of Queensland if you have a large canopy tree you can grow understorey shrubs.

One of the best has to be the Croton or Codiaeum variegatum.

Crotons Darwin
Crotons Darwin

With its hot strong colours that will brighten up a dark area of the garden. These are stunning shrubs that grow up to 2m tall.

Crotons are another colourful tropical-style plant available in yellow, orange and red tones. The colouration is simply stunning, and it adds an exotic touch to your home or garden.

Belonging to the Euphorbiacae family, Crotons were introduced to tropical gardening in the 17th century by Dutch naturalist, Georgius Rumphius.

These days Crotons can be found in nurseries across the world.

Mass plantings of garden crotons are an excellent way to provide colour year-round.

For an accent planting use a three to one ratio to give a garden area a real splash of colour.

There are many hybrids available to gardeners.

Some that are highly recommended are Captain Kid, with leaves of red and dark burgundy and spots of yellow; Mammy, with twisted leaves of rich red, orange green and gold; and Norma, with large leaves of red, orange, yellow and burgundy.

These colourful foliage plants can be more colourful than flowering plants because they provide colour all year round, not just at flowering time.

You may have noticed how some gardens with large shade tree have lush under plantings, this can be easily achieved with right plant selection.

The following are some of my recommendations to brighten up that shady garden.

Cordylines in the last few years there have been many new varieties released, with vibrant red, pink or cream leaves that can provide huge splashes of colour.


Some hybrid varieties to consider include Red Picotee, with a new growth of cream leaves with red edges which change to green with red edging as the leaves age, Cardinal Stripe, with pinkish-red stripes changing to a reddish green with age and Baby Thai, with green and red leaves.

Graptophyllum pictum Tricolour is a native to Indonesia/New Guinea and forms an attractive foliage plant for either sun or shade.

Graptophyllum pictum CQU
Graptophyllum pictum CQU

The attractive leaves are marked with irregular scrawls that resemble a kindergarten ink blot drawing.

Three main foliage colour varieties are available – pink and red; white and green; and yellow and green.

All have small heads of purple-crimson flowers during summer.

Graptophyllum pictum flower
Graptophyllum pictum flower

It grows to 1.5m high and 1.5m wide in most Central Queensland gardens.

Justicia carnea alba or Brazilian Plume Flower is a small shrub has large, glossy dark green foliage that contrasts well the striking beauty of the white plume flowers.

Justicia carnea alba is fairly tolerant of most soil types but does require a more protective part shaded position.

Justicia carnea alba
Justicia carnea alba

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys or Brazilian Red Cloak is a beautiful dense tropical shrub.

This shrub is perfect for those damp partly shaded areas where plants do not always grow successfully.

Megaskepasma erythrochlamys
Megaskepasma erythrochlamys

With its flame red flowers and bushy growing habit makes it an excellent flowering screen plant.

Odontonema strictum or Red Justica is a dense shrub growing to 1.5m high with a tropical appearance, while not suitable for frosty or very hot areas.

Flowers are borne on showy spikes of tubular red.

Odontonema strictum
Odontonema strictum

Though useless for cut flowers, in the garden it is quite spectacular.

Orthosiphon stamineus or Cat’s Whiskers is a small bushy shrub 1m x 1m with beautiful feathery white flowers tipped with blue or mauve flowers tipped with white covering the plant in summer.

Orthosiphon stamineus
Orthosiphon stamineus

It requires a sunny or lightly shaded position and is hardy.

Spent flowers are best pruned off, helping it to flower better the next season.

Pentas lanceolata or Egyptian Star Flower is a very colourful compact garden shrub.

Central Queensland is perfect for growing Pentas with hot wet summers and warm winters.

Pentas lanceolata flowers are commonly a rosy-mauve, other colours include white, blue/mauve, red, pink and even an orange.

Pentas group
Pentas group

Pentas lanceolata will grow to about 60cm high for a part shade to sunny position in a frost-free climate.

To have the best growth it prefers well-drained sandy soils and a regular pruning.

Syzygium wilsonii is an attractive spreading shrub 1.5 – 2m x 1.5m with broad leaves and deep pink new growth.

Beautiful deep crimson 10cm pompom type flowers are borne during spring, followed by white fruit.

It grows well in light or heavy shade in a well-watered position and is very attractive to honeyeaters.

Thunbergia erecta or Sky Flower is an upright tropical shrub growing to 2m high with masses of dark purple trumpet flowers with yellow throats.

Thunbergia erecta
Thunbergia erecta

Even when not in flower the shrubs glossy green foliage makes the shrub an impressive addition to a garden.

You should remember that your shady area in winter might get more sun because of the different angles of the sunrays in different seasons.

Shade-loving plants may be able to handle some weak winter sun but not the fierce summer solar rays.

Be observant of not only the time of year of shade, but also the time of day.

Shade loving plants may still be able to handle some early morning or late afternoon sunshine.

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