Shade Gardening—Making a Dull Landscape Interesting

Trying to get grass to grow under our trees tends to suggest to us that shade gardening is going to be a challenge. However, many gardeners do, in fact, grow plants in shaded areas successfully.  Certain plants actually thrive in the shade. In fact, many people who are successful at growing sunny gardens also set some plants in a shady place just to get away from the heat. Actually, there are many perennials that grow well in the shade, but the soil must be enriched.

A flower bed under a deciduous tree will probably be spring blooming. Plants that thrive in the shade tend to bloom early before the tree leafs out. Flowers can continue to bloom in this environment, but the choices will be limited. However, annuals are a better bet than perennials. For example, impatiens will usually flower all season.

You might consider attractive leaf textures and colors for your shade perennials. Foliage will be the most successful plants you grow under your trees and in the shade. Ground-cover plants should also be considered for these conditions.

You can also grow some plants under evergreens. It gets pretty dry here, but the plants will grow and enliven this area. Adding humus is a good plan; for instance, composted bark and leaf mold. Mulching also helps. You’ll need to water here during dry periods. Hostas, ferns, foam flowers, and sweet woodruff are good choices for these areas.

Planning Your Shade Garden

The first thing you should do is make an assessment of exactly how much light the plants in your shade garden will receive. Dense shade is quite different from partial or light shade. Even if there is sun in a partially shaded area, the intensity can be quite bright. In these locations, you have more choices but not as many as with several hours of direct sunlight.

While light is a major concern when you plan your shade garden, it’s not the only one. Moisture may also be as great a problem. What is providing the shade such as a large tree or an overhang of a building will act as an umbrella. Besides, the trees themselves will compete with your plans for whatever moisture does make it to the ground. The solution is to be very vigilant and water regularly so your plants do not die of thirst.

The quality of the soil is another important consideration for your shade garden. The roots of trees are greedy for any nutrient available and will gobble it up as soon as you apply it. Adequate fertility is vital if you want your plants to thrive here. Otherwise, they’ll be small and weak. If you apply a balanced fertilizer in the spring and follow with one or two more applications throughout the season, that should be adequate. If root competition becomes too strong to overcome, consider planting in containers.

Talk to a gardener in a local garden store or to your local county extension agent for help in determining which plants will grow best in the environment where you want to grow your shade garden.