Different Types of Shade in the Garden
Shade gardening doesn’t produce good results with a one-size-fits-all approach, because there is more than one kind of shade.
When planning what to plant in a shady spot in your garden or yard, be confident about what kind of shade you are working with. Some indoor conditions also can be considered shade locations for houseplants.
Heavy or deep shade, also called full or dense shade, is found in spots where it’s significantly cooler on hot days, where no sun is peeking through leaves or lattices, and often is found in the shade of buildings or heavy tree cover, such as in thick forest.
Partial or dappled shade, also called light shade or filtered light, is more common in yards and gardens, and is found where the leaves of trees let a pattern of sunlight in beneath the branches, or below an arbor or other open structure.
A spot also can be considered partially shaded if it has shade for part of the day; the general guideline is that full shade locations get less than four hours of sunlight per day, while partial shade is anything less than six hours of sun each day.
Soil Tips for Growing a Garden in the Shade
One possible problem with shade gardening is that locations that are shaded also often don’t have the best soil for growing. The soil may hold moisture too long, resulting in wet areas, because the sun isn’t evaporating as much water as it would in sunny spots.
Shade also frequently occurs under trees, which compete with whatever you plant for nutrients. If your trees are large and well-established, they may even have stripped the immediate soil of nutrients and moved on, spreading their roots out to other locations.
Plan on adding soil amendments to any location you are preparing for a shade garden. Dig up the soil, being careful not to chop through large tree roots, and add compost mixed with a loose, light material like peat moss, vermiculite or even dry mulch. This will help create rich, well-drained soil and give you a wider variety of plants to grow successfully in the shade.
Plants That Grow in the Shade
The good news about shade gardening is that you have a long list of plants to choose from that will do well in partial and even full shade.
Many ground cover plants are great in the shade, but you also can plant shade-loving flowers, bulbs, ornamentals and even a few herbs and vegetables.
Partial shade is perfect for a variety of colorful annuals like impatiens, begonias, and dwarf salvias.
Bulbs you can plant in shady areas in the spring include daffodils, crocus and snowdrops, which bloom so early they can take advantage of the lack of tree foliage.
If you want perennial plants that will return in following years, try evergreens like juniper, ivy or vinca minor, or hosta lilies, all of which thrive in partial shade.
Deep shade is good for planting woodland flowers like lily-of-the-valley, violets, bleeding hearts, black snakeroot, or wild ginger.
Ferns also do well in dappled shade areas with enough humidity.
Light shade will also let you grow mint, kale, spinach, and other greens if the spot gets at least six hours of sun during the day.
Want to learn more about shade gardening?
Check out these sites for more information on gardening in the shade.
The University of Minnesota Horticulture Extension has a great list of shade plants.
Texas A&M University provides a PDF guide to shade gardening.