Planting a Shade Garden

If your yard doesn't get the necessary sunlight to grow a regular garden, don't worry - many plants thrive under shady conditions and can quickly transform your landscape into a lush garden oasis. Plus, because shade gardens require less maintenance than sunny ones, you'll have more time to enjoy the fruits of your labor.

Choosing Your Site

The first step in establishing a shade garden is deciding where to place it. Do you want an intimate setting in the corner of your yard or would you like it featured along a walkway? Before selecting a site you should keep in mind the many elements that will affect your shade garden, including soil quality, drainage, existing structures, and trees or hedges that may battle your new plants for water and nutrients.

Types of Shade

Light is critical to the health of any plant and even shade garden plants will generally require at least some type of sunlight during the day (usually in the morning). Shady spots can be divided into five different levels of shade:

  • Light Shade - Bright, open shade that offers indirect light in addition to direct sun.
  • Partial Shade - Shade is present during part of the day but the area generally receives two to six hours of direct sun.
  • Dappled Shade - Sunlight filtering through trees creates dappled shade and may change over the course of the day.
  • Heavy Shade - Solid shade created by tall buildings or large evergreens. Evergreens can be trimmed to allow more sunlight here.
  • Dense Shade - Constant shade with no direct sun at all and no reflected light. Plant selection will be limited under these conditions.
Improving Your Soil

If your property is wooded, your soil is probably rich in organic matter created by tree trunks and fallen leaves or branches. However, areas under trees can have lifeless soil, particularly if the soil is root infested or the ground is covered with pine needles.

To improve the soil, add two parts humus (compost, leaf mold, or peat moss) to one part sand and one part clay soil. Thoroughly work the mixture into the soil with a sharp spade. The humus will make the soil light and porous, the coarse sand helps to ensure good drainage, and the clay will provide necessary nutrients.

Selecting Plants

Since this is a shade garden, be sure to choose plants that love the shade and pay attention to the kind of shade the plants prefer. Some plants will do well in light shade, while others thrive in partial or full shade, so check the plant tag, our online catalog, or ask one of your garden professionals for help.

Since a limited number of shade plants flower, the focus should be on foliage. Instead of blooms, you should plan your garden around contrasting foliage and textures. If one of your goals is to brighten up the space, look for plants with variegated foliage.

Due to the wide variety of colors, forms and textures, perennials are a popular choice for shady areas. While ferns and hostas remain the kings of the perennial shade garden, many varieties of astilbe will provide brilliant blooms and thrive in the shade.

Once the perennials are in place, think about adding bulbs to your garden. Less overhead foliage in springtime allows flowering bulbs, such as tulips, hyacinths, daffodils, and snowdrops to flourish. When everything is in place, fill in the bare spots with colorful shade-loving annuals such as impatiens, begonias and coleus.

By following these simple steps, you'll have a beautiful new garden that you can enjoy all season long while lounging in the summer shade!