Gardening Tips for a Shaded Backyard

Originally Published on March 8, 2020. Last Updated on February 29, 2024.

While gardening in a shaded backyard requires more care and maintenance, you can create a lush landscape just as beautiful as one in full sun. Put your green thumbs to work with our shade gardening tips and advice.

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Types of Shade
The Right Plants for Shady Spaces
Mulching Advice to Nurture Shade-Loving Plants
Turf Alternatives for Shaded Lawns
Watering and Pruning Techniques
Styling Suggestions for Shaded Backyards

Types of Shade

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There are different kinds of shade that you need to know about. So before planning a landscaping layout, familiarize yourself with the varying types. Then study the shady spots in your backyard to know what’s possible when buying plants. Here is a general guideline:

Light/Open Shade 

This shade is bright and fairly even. It 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, areas in partial shade receive direct sunlight for less than half a day. Partial shade also refers to spots where the sun is blocked during the hottest part of the day.

Filtered/Dappled Shade

Filtered shade typically applies to areas of your garden situated beneath tree canopies. Some sunlight passes through the leaves, dappling the ground with its rays. These parts of your garden can generally support plants that thrive in partial or light shade.

Full/Deep Shade

Very little (if any) direct sunlight touches a fully shaded area. The floor of a gazebo or the ground beneath a grove of evergreens is in deep shade. Your foliage options will be limited in these low-light regions.

The Right Plants for Shady Spaces

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Here is a list of annuals and perennials that grow well in different types of shade. 

  • Light shade: Hostas, lungwort, bigroot geranium, ajuga, and bleeding heart.
  • Partial shade: Meadow rue, blood sorrel, mirror plants, Japanese forest grass, and elephant ears.
  • Filtered shade: Begonias, Japanese barberry, carpet bugle, coleus, and hydrangeas.
  • Full shade: Impatiens, hemlock, lenten rose, spotted deadnettle, leopard plants, and yew bushes.

Shop for Native Plants

Before heading to your favorite garden center, take the time to research your region’s hardiness zone. You’ll have the most success with native flora that grows in your zone because they’ve already adapted to the climate.

Read Plant Labels 

Always check the labels when plant shopping. They contain watering and pruning tips, shade preferences, the correct hardiness zones, and other helpful tidbits.

Remember Changing Light Conditions

The direction and amount of sunlight a shady garden gets changes as the growing season progresses. Keep this in mind when designing your landscaping layout, and strategically arrange foliage that needs more light in areas that will get more sun as late spring turns to early summer. 

Mulching Advice to Nurture Shade-Loving Plants

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Here’s how to properly mulch a shaded garden:

  • Spread 3–6 inches of mulch in shady spots. 
  • Use organic mulch. Its nutrients will ensure moist soil, prevent weeds, and make less work for you. 
  • Keep mulch away from stems or trunks to prevent rot. 
  • Re-mulch once a year to keep your blooms healthy and happy.

Turf Alternatives for Shaded Lawns

Maintaining a lawn in a shaded backyard takes extra effort. Make your life easier by replacing portions of turf with these alternatives:

  • Shade-loving perennials. Hostas, ferns, and ornamental grasses do well in a shaded outdoor space and cover a lot of ground.
  • Hardscapes. Expand your small patio or lay a pretty brick path lined with benches. 
  • Ground cover. Let low-growing flora like periwinkle or lily of the valley spread in shady areas.

Watering, Pruning, and Fertilizing Shade Plants

These plant care and maintenance tips set your shaded backyard up for success.

Low Nitrogen Fertilizer

To promote growth below and above ground, apply a slow-release fertilizer with minimal nitrogen at the beginning of planting.

Reduce the Shade

If you want more sunlight in your yard, prune the tree canopy. We recommend hiring an arborist or other landscape professional for the job—they know how to correctly and safely trim tall trees.

Container Gardens

Use plants in pots or containers around trees to protect the roots and leave the soil undisturbed. Plus, you can move the containers if that environment isn’t working for them. 

Water More

Water shade plants more frequently than those under the open sky. Tree canopies and overhangs block rainfall, and the roots of large trees will drink up most of the water that lands on the ground. You don’t want dry soil, so check it regularly and water accordingly.

Click to Learn how to Conserve Water Outdoors

Styling Suggestions for Shaded Backyards

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Design a delightful garden with these shade garden design ideas.

Change Up the Texture

Grace your garden with foliage featuring contrasting textures and colors. Filling corners and sides with a variety of flowering plants like coral bells, anemones, and golden meadow rue will create a striking sensory treat.

Brighten Dark Corners

The corners of your garden will experience low light levels. Zhuzh up dark and dreary corners with leafy garden plants that pack a pigmented punch. Use these blooms to build a bright plant palette:

  • Caladium
  • Foxglove
  • Fuchsia
  • Columbine
  • Spiderwort
  • Begonia
  • Lamium

Gardening Tips for any Size Backyard


What do you put in a shaded backyard area?

Fill a shaded backyard area with flowers that don’t need a lot of sun. You can also put non-living things here, such as furniture, water features, a shed, a small pond, or an outdoor office.

What can I do with the side of my house that gets no sun?

Instead of a shade garden, design a relaxation area on the side of your house that gets little or no sun. The space will be cooler throughout the day, making it the perfect place for family to kick back in hot summer weather.

What vegetables can grow in full shade?

Here’s a list of fruits, vegetables, and herbs that grow in full and part shade:

  • Greens: Kale, lettuce, spinach, arugula, and Swiss chard
  • Root vegetables: Broccoli, carrots, beets, turnips, potatoes, and onions
  • Herbs: Mint, chives, oregano, parsley, and chervil
  • Legumes: Beans and peas
  • Berries: Blueberries, currants, gooseberries, lingonberries, and elderberries
  • Pomes: Pears, loquats, and quince
  • Stone fruits: Blackberries, raspberries, sour cherries, and plums

11 thoughts on “Gardening Tips for a Shaded Backyard

  1. I have been planning to beautify my garden, that’s why I’m also planning to install a wooden fence in it. I’m glad you shared this; I’d make sure to consider the partial shade because as stated here, this type of shade receives direct sunlight for part of the day which is just convenient. I’ll also keep in mind to use mulch because according to you, this will help conserve valuable moisture and enrich the soil.

  2. About to get started on yard renovations. This blog gave specific and clear recommendations. My local nursery and Polywood will be included In my future landscaping project.

  3. This is a brilliant post, thank you for sharing about gardening tips for a shaded backyard. We always tend to change something or the other in our house, thanks for this great advice.

  4. I really appreciate you for publishing this blog here about gardening tips for a shaded backyard; it’s really a helpful and very useful for us. This is really appreciated that you have presented this data over here, I love all the information shared. Great article!

  5. Wow! That’s really sounds good. I would like to share with my friends about gardening tips for a shaded backyard.

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