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All About Shade Gardens


Explore the World of Shade Gardening


Shady places that provide cool, refreshing areas of beauty during summer's heat can contribute color and interest to the landscape throughout the growing season. Large trees and shady areas in your yard can be provide a perfect spot for a beautiful shade garden.

Don't think you have any shade in your yard? The east side of every home or taller structure is shaded in the afternoon.

Gardening in the shade doesn't have to be frustrating, that's why we designed this section of the website. There are many plants that will tolerate relatively low light, and a few, such as Cast Iron Plant thrive in total shade.

You can choose from an array of flowering annuals such as impatiens or coleus. Hosta lilies, hardy ferns, and heucheras are a few perennial plants that love the shade. A host of woodland plants and trees like it shady as well. Many groundcovers, such as Ivy and Vinca Minor (Periwinkle) do great in shade and help tie together all of the other plants and trees in the shade garden.

In light, or afternoon shade you might even be able to grow a few herbs or leafy vegetables. Roses, such as the Knockout Rose and the newest introduction Carefree Sunshine appreciate some relief during the hot summer afternoons as well. The trick is to know which plants are most likely to succeed. We've done that research for you and have provided descriptive listings with photos of some of our favorite shade plants and trees in the following categories:

Shrubs I Trees I Perennials I Annuals I Groundcovers I Roses I Hedges & Screens I Spring Bulbs

If you have enough ceiling room in your garden or woodland area make sure to plant lower growing understory trees and shrubs such as dogwoods, red buds, and native azaleas. Florida anise, an excellent larger growing evergreen shrub or small tree, is excellent as a backdrop or tree form specimen in the shade garden. Florida lecouthoe is another excellent backdrop for a shade garden. If your shade garden is on the east side of your house, and there is a tall blank wall, plant a Little Gem magnolia or a camellia as espalier.

Shrubs - Plant a few evergreen shrubs such as mahonia, aucuba, azaleas, rhododendrons, and nandina into the garden as well.

Annuals - If you're looking for a continuous display of color from late spring till frost, shade-loving annuals such as impatiens, green leaf begonias, and coleus work well.

New Guinea impatiens are becoming an increasingly popular annual since they are now available in a wide range of intense flower and foliage colors.

Caution: Wait to plant summer annuals until after Aprl 15th.

Bulbs - Some spring bulbs such as crocus, scillas, snowdrops, tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils bloom and produce leaves early enough, before the trees leaf out, so that they receive adequate amounts of sun to blossom annually in a lightly shaded area. Daffodils naturalize beautifully in an open wooded area. The tuberous begonia is another bulbous plant that grows well in light shade, since its delicate blossoms cannot stand full sunlight. Tuberous begonias are very tender, though, and must be stored indoors over the winter and not set out until frost danger has passed.


Choosing a Site

Under the canopies of large trees or on the south or east side of structures usually are the best area for a shadfe garden. Monitor and assess these areas for a day to find out how much shade they actually receive. You may notice that sometimes on the west side of trees, or under trees that are high branched, there isn't much shade. Just remember to choose a site where the plants will receive at least afternoon shade.

Light is not the only major concern when gardening in shady areas. Frequently, inadequate moisture can be a problem. The thick canopy of a large tree or the overhang of a house will act as an umbrella, deflecting rainfall away from the ground directly beneath it. Drip irrigation systems or soaker hoses can be of benefit. Drip systems allow you to place a water emitter on only the plants that will need it. Many shade-loving plants such as heucheras are quite drought tolerant.


Planting Your Shade Garden

There are different methods for planting various selections of plants in you shade garden. Refer to the following sections to find proper planting techniques:

Shrubs I Trees I Perennials I Annuals

If planting your shade garden under a large tree do not till the area. Tilling could damage the root system of the tree. Instead plant each plant individually. In other areas, such as on the side of your house, tilling is okay - just watch out for buried utility lines.

Soil Fertility & Fertilization - Soil fertility can be a concern in shade gardens, particularly those situated under large trees. Some of the plants that prefer shade also prefer fertile soils rich in organic matter. Large trees and shrubs fill the soil with feeder roots that greedily use up nutrients as readily as they are applied. Incorporating a good compost into the mix when planting can help give your shade plants the organic matter they need to thrive well in your shade garden. An additional spring application of organic matter such as mushroom compost, or composted cow manure helps your shade garden plants to thrive.

With few exceptions shade-tolerant plants will do best in well-drained, relatively fertile soil. Both sandy soils and heavy clay like soils will benefit from the incorporation of organic matter or compost. Such materials are particularly helpful in areas of hard, compacted soils.


Step-By-Step Instructions For Planting Your Shade Garden

  • Plot the perimeter of the garden out with marker paint, flour or a garden hose.
  • Then spray to kill any existing weeds or grass with Killzall Super Concentrate. You'll have to wait a week or so to make sure the weeds have been killed. Respray if necessary.
  • While waiting the week or so for the weeds to die use some time to develop a plan by investigating what type of shade plants you will want to use in your garden. While investigating make sure to write down a list of the ones you like. Note height and width so that you will know how to space and where to place them in the garden.
  • Draw out a sketch/garden design. Put taller varieties (48" + height) towards the back (center if the garden will be viewed from all sides). Place mid-size plants (18-48' height) in front or nestled in front and between taller ones. (outside and around taller plants in gardens that will be viewed from all sides.) Place lower plants at the front or along the outside edge of the bed. Scatter groundcovers throughout the shade garden. Our favorite groundcover for shade gardens is Vinca Minor.
  • Once all the weeds have died cut dead foliage back with a lawn mower or weed eater. If you plan to till simply till the dead weeds under. Apply a liberal layer of organic matter such as Claycutter or mushroom compost and till to a depth of 10" or so. Now you are ready to begin planting.
  • Before planting, arrange the plants and trees you have purchased in garden following your skecth. NOTE: When setting the plants out in the bed make sure to space them properly. If a perennial grows 18 inches wide mark out a circle on the ground with an 18" diameter (Orange marker paint works great for marking.) Set the plant in the center of the circle. After placing all of the plants step back to take a look.
  • When you are satisfied that everything is in place, remove one plant at a time from its container and plant it - starting with the largest plants or trees first. For planting, dig holes three times or more as wide as the container the plant came in. Mix in an good composted soil ammendment such as Claycutter or mushroom compost at a 50/50 ratio with the soil removed from the hole.
  • Give your plants a good soaking when you have finished planting.
  • Mulch the garden with pinestraw or wood mulch. We prefer wood mulch at about an inch or two deep.
  • Make sure you check every day to see if your new plants need water.
  • Install a drip irrigation system or soaker hose is convenient for watering when there is drought or periods of dry weather.

The base of your perennial shade garden is now complete. The first year, you might want to plant some shade annuals here and there in the garden for extra-added, season-long color.

Container Shade Gardens

You may also want to plant a container shade garden to go on the deck or porch, or as movable accents in sitting areas around a pond or pool, or in the shade garden.

Maintaining Your Shade Garden

Summer Care of the Shade Garden - Your garden will need attention throughout the growing season. Weed control, which is usually minor, and provision for adequate moisture are two important cultural necessities. When rainfall is less than 1 inch per week, provide additional moisture.

The use of a mulch is an attractive and effective means of controlling weeds and maintaining constant soil moisture and temperature for the root systems of your plants. Mulches that you might consider include bark chips or shredded bark. To be effective, the mulch should be applied at least 2 inches deep around the plants.

Pruning and Deadheading Perennial Plants in the Shade Garden - You may deadhead (remove spent or faded flowers) all season long. Deadheading encourages the development of new flowers. In late fall or early winter, when your perennials have died back, you may remove dead foliage.

After cutting back dead foliage you may want to winterize your perennial garden by applying an inch or two of loose mulch over the perennials.

Free Sample Shade Garden Designs


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