In an ideal world, every yard and garden would be blanketed in warm sunlight so your plants, shrubs, and flowers could reliably blossom throughout the season. However, the reality of gardening is that sunlight is far from given. Many apartments, condos, and homes are surrounded by structures or trees that block sunlight from huge portions of the garden. If you want your yard to look reliably green every month of the year, you’ll have the perfect the art of gardening in the shade.
Don’t despair — shade gardening isn’t as complex as you may think! Before you sell your gardening boots and switch to rock landscaping, adjust your watering and planting strategy by following our top tips for gardening in shaded areas.
Assess Your Shade
Before you begin planning your gardening strategy, it’s important to note that no shaded yard is the same. Collect as much information as possible about your backyard before you invest in new plants or decide on a landscaping strategy.
Draw a rough grid of your yard and mark the type of shade in each section so you know what’s possible when buying plants. Here is a general guideline.
- Light Shade (or open shade) — This shade is bright and fairly even. This type of shade exists in gardens that are directly open to the sky but are affected by shadows from trees, structures, and walls.
- Partial Shade — As the sun moves across the sky during the day, areas in partial shade receive direct sunlight for part of the day and obscured by shade for half a day or more. Partial shade also applies to areas that are shaded for three hours during the hottest part of the day.
- Filtered Shade (or dappled shade) — Filtered shade typically applies to areas of your garden that are above the canopy of a tree through which partial sunlight passes. This pattern of light and shadow is also called “dappled” sunlight or shade. Parts of your garden with filtered shade will typically support plants marked as partial shade or light shade.
- Full Shade (or deep shade) — Very little (if any) direct sunlight reaches an area of full shade. Think of a grove under a structure, or a garden underneath a thick evergreen canopy. Your plant options will be most limited in these regions of low light.
Roughly measure each “zone” of different shading so you can draw out a plan and know how much square footage you’ll need to cover with plants.
Shop for Your Situation
Alright, you’ve analyzed your shade and measured your yard. Now, what plants do you buy?
Depending on your personal taste and budget, here are a few popular plants that are ideal for each type of shade. Mix and match based on how much space you have and based on the theme or overall feel you’re aiming for with your shade garden.
- Light Shade — Hostas, lungwort, bigroot geranium, ajuga, and bleeding heart.
- Partial Shade — Meadowrue, blood sorrel, mirror plants, flowering maple, and amethysts.
- Filtered Shade — Begonias, Japanese barberry, carpet bugle, coleus, and hydrangeas.
- Full Shade — Impatiens, hemlock, lenten rose, spotted deadnettle, leopard plants, and yew bushes.
Before you head to the store take the time to research your region’s hardiness zone. The plants you choose for your garden must be adaptable to your climate!
While you’re at the garden center read the labels on each plant to verify its ideal amount of light and shade.
Always Use Mulch
Gardening in shaded areas requires more upkeep and maintenance, but by attending to your shade plants you will create a lush backyard that looks as beautiful as one in full sun. One rule you must abide by: always mulch your shaded areas with three-to-six inches of organic mulch (derived from plant material).
The nutrients in the mulch will conserve valuable moisture and enrich the soil composition, preventing weeds and saving you work down the line. Take care to keep the mulch away from stems or trunks; otherwise, rot can occur. Re-mulch once a year to keep your shaded garden plants healthy and happy.
Change Up the Texture
When sun-hungry flowers aren’t a viable option, fill your shade garden with plants that feature contrasting foliage texture and colors. Filling corners and sides with a variety of plants like coralbell, anemone, golden meadow rue, and umbrella plants will create a striking and delightful sensory treat.
Other great options for different texture include lily-of-the-valley shrub, winter daphne, and whatever variegated plants you can find at your local garden center.
Brighten Dark Corners
The corners of your garden will be particularly susceptible to shade. This isn’t the time to get meek — make a bold splash in dark corners with brightly-colored leafy plants that pack a punch.
Colors like lime, gold, and yellow really zap the dreary dark from your shaded corners. When shopping consider brightly colored plants like:
- Hinoki false cypress
- Golden Japanese forest grass
- Gold Coast juniper
- Chardonnay Pearls® deutzia
- Japanese sweet flag grass
Reduce the Turf
One part of your backyard that is sure to struggle — even if the turf you bought was labeled as “shade-tolerant” — is your lawn grass. With low light, you will constantly be caring for trouble patches that turn brown and die any time the sun is obstructed.
Solve this problem and reduce the overall size of your back lawn by replacing portions of turf in full shade with shade-friendly alternatives. You’ll save water and maintain a greener, more manageable backyard.
You can replace lawn grass with shade-loving plants like hostas or ferns, or you can segment the yard by laying a path or installing a couple of benches.
Complement the Garden With Furniture
Reducing your plant footprint will allow you to focus on the rest of your shade garden more easily. By installing paths or garden furniture you can create idyllic retreats within your garden while visually breaking up the space.
Shade gardens always need a little extra TLC, so if you decide to add a garden bench or glider among the foliage consider materials that are designed to withstand the elements. All POLYWOOD® garden furniture is constructed with solid HDPE lumber so it won’t crack, rot, chip, or split after a wet spring or a hot summer.
A simple way to add dazzling pops of color beyond the plants you choose is to select vibrant hues for your garden furniture. Choose between a variety of attractive, fade-resistant colors to further defy the shade and make your dream backyard garden spring to life even if the sun is completely obscured. Infuse more personality with bench cushions that match your favorite flower bed.
Successful gardening in the shade requires a bit more planning and patience, but if you choose the right types of plants and follow these guidelines, every corner of your garden will pop with color and life. For best results, continue to monitor your plants and gauge how much light they are receiving.
How is your backyard or shade garden looking? Share your shaded gardening tips in the comments below!