What’s the most troublesome area in your garden to landscape?
If you’re like many homeowners, it’s probably the woodland garden under shade trees. This is because:
- The area rarely receives enough morning sun.
- If forest grass does grow there, accessing it with a lawnmower can be difficult.
- The canopy of the tree tends to prevent rainfall from reaching the ground.
- The tree’s roots compete with other plants in the shade for water and nutrients.
Creating a Successful Shade Garden
If you want the crops you plant under full shade in your garden to thrive, you should:
- Plant your shrubs and perennials while planting the trees or shortly after. Some trees have roots lying close to the surface even as they mature. Introducing new crops later, such as coral bells, might damage their roots.
- Choose native plants. They will grow and thrive even as understory plants.
- Reduce the plant competition for water through mulching.
- Install a drip system to supplement rainwater.
- Trim low hanging branches from your tree. It gives you better access to the shaded area and exposes the full shade plants to a little more sunlight.
- Don’t create a raised bed under your trees for the new plants. It might kill your trees. Most trees have surface roots, which need oxygen to survive.
- Dig a hole for each shade plant and add compost to the hole.
What Plants Do Best in Shade?
Before planting, you need to find shade-loving plants such as coral bells.
Most full shade plants and trees complement each other.
While there are thousands of options, plants for the shade fall into five major categories:
1. Shade Loving Shrubs
Azaleas and Rhododendrons. These acid-loving shrubs thrive in USDA zones six through nine. They need a pH between 4.4 and 6.0. Azaleas need consistent moisture to produce foliage.
Oregon Grape Holly. Oregon grape holly is a tough and drought-resistant plant. It is available as an upright shrub or with a trailing form, which is especially attractive in a garden.
Alpine currant. This tough plant can grow as far north as USDA zone three, making it suitable for the cold weather garden. Choose dwarf varieties as understory garden plants.
Hydrangeas. Hydrangeas need consistent moisture, but they tolerate and even prefer shade. In zones six through nine, you can grow mophead or French hydrangeas. In zones four through five, you’re better off growing panicles or arborescent hydrangeas.
Pieris Japonica. Pieris Japonica is native to eastern China, Taiwan, and Japan where it grows in mountain thickets. It is hardy to USDA zones five through eight.
Tree Peony. Hardy to USDA zones four through nine, the giant flowers of the Tree Peony are sure to catch the eye. The woody shrubs lose their leaves in the fall but their woody stems do not die.
Camellia. This beautiful flowering shrub boasts a long blooming season and loves the southern climate. It is hardy to USDA zones six through nine.
Mountain Laurel. This broadleaf evergreen shrub is hardy to USDA zones four through nine. It comes with white, pink, or rose-colored flower clusters that bloom in late spring.
Ninebark. This perennial deciduous shrub features dark green to reddish leaves. It gets its name from its bark, which can be peeled off in multiple layers.
Spirea. Most spirea varieties are hardy to zones three to nine. Newer spirea cultivars boast vibrant foliage that is attractive year-round.
2. Foliage Bushes
Japanese Maples. Though it is technically a tree, Japanese maples are available in many smaller sizes.
Yews. The yew is a great shrub for borders, entrance ways, paths, and hedges. They can grow anywhere between eight and 65 feet tall.
Alpine Currant. The alpine currant is mostly confined to high altitudes. These low maintenance shrubs have very little ornamental appeal. They are loved in the garden for their dense green foliage and shade tolerance.
Junipers. There are over 60 different species of Juniperus in the Cypress family. With the many varieties, there is a juniper fit for any garden.
Snowberry. There are about 15 different species of Snowberry shrubs. They produce white, bell-shaped flowers in the spring and white, globe-like berries from early fall to late winter.
Anemone. The anemone flower blooms in both the spring and the fall. It is a great groundcover choice if you are looking for bright, showy, multi-colored blooms. Many species offer double flowers.
Japanese Spurge. This evergreen perennial is a member of the boxwood family. It produces white flowers in the spring. Nonetheless, people love it for its leathery, dark-green leaves.
Lamium. Vigorous but not invasive, Lamium is a great choice. It brightens up a shaded grove with dainty, blooms in white, pink, and purple shades.
Lily of the Valley. Lily of the Valley is quite invasive. It is also toxic to both animals and humans. However, it is loved for its sweet scent, simple elegance, and tough constitution.
Wild columbine. Columbines abound in woodland meadows. The state flower of Colorado, these plants have delicate flowers that belie their rugged nature. Columbines are short-lived perennials that reseed easily. They’re fairly drought tolerant, once established.
Wild ginger. Wild ginger needs some moisture, but it tolerates shade and spreads quickly. Its large, heart-shaped leaves form a dense mat.
Vinca. Vinca grows in full sun to partial shade and tolerates dry to moist conditions.
Hosta. Hostas are somewhat drought tolerant, although they’ll perform better with consistent moisture. This versatile plant comes in hundreds of varieties.
Bergenia. Bergenia is a clump-forming perennial that is hardy to zones three through eight. Grown primarily as a groundcover, it is loved for its large glossy leaves and colorful flowers.
Bleeding Heart. The heart-shaped blooms of the bleeding heart flower are glorious. If you need a spring show-stopper, this is your huckleberry.
Columbine. The columbine flower is a herbaceous perennial. It comes in a variety of bold-colored blooms in red, white, blue, yellow, pink, salmon, and purple. Some varieties are even bicolored.
Ferns. There are many different types of ferns. Creeping ferns make excellent groundcovers. Ferns are grown for their interesting looking green and lime green foliage.
Foam Flowers. Foam flowers are charming, shade-loving plants with small sprays of pretty flowers. Foam flowers perform well for years without losing steam. If they look dull, trim then and give them a chance to rejuvenate.
Hens & Chicks. Hardy to USDA zones three through 11, hens and chicks are great for woodland areas. They are one of the few succulents that enjoy shaded gardens.
Lungwort. Lungwort, or pulmonaria, is a very early spring blooming perennial. With bright, eye-catching blue, white, and pink flowers, lungwort will offer more beauty.
Milkweed. Milkweed gets its name from the sticky white sap that damaged leaves secrete. They bloom in late spring through summer. The flowers provide a nice splash of color and emit a wonderful fragrance. This attracts plenty of butterflies, birds, and wildlife.
Sedum. Sedum, also known as stonecrop, is a luscious succulent that has over 600 species. With that many varieties, there is a sedum that is suitable for any garden design imaginable.
Siberian Irises. Native to Europe and Central Asia, the Siberian iris is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial. Hardy to USDA zones three through eight.
Impatiens. The classic underplanting annual, impatiens tolerate deep shade, especially in hot weather. They need regular watering and frequent fertilizer.
Pansies and violets. Pansies and violets grow best in full sun, but they make good understory plants in spring. As a plant for shade, they bloom before and after shade trees leaf out.
Begonias. Begonias are available with white, orange, pink, and yellow flowers. Hardy to USDA zones seven through 11. They thrive in moist soil.
Coleus. There are few plants as vibrant throughout the year as the coleus plant. Hardy only in USDA zone 11, the coleus is particular about its environment. Though it flowers throughout the growing season, its flowers are removed before they bloom. This keeps the plant’s energy focused on producing a bushy plant.
Lysimachia. Native to Russia and Asia, the Lysimachia is a low maintenance ground cover. Though it is an aggressive grower, some varieties are more behaved than others.
Practices for Healthy Shade Plants
Choosing plants with a good ground cover is only a small part of gardening.
There is a lot you need to consider if you want to enjoy beautiful foliage and flowers every year.
Luckily, the Gardening Channel offers you all the resources you need to create a beautiful garden.
You can find a plethora of resources to help you:
- Find the right plants and create a dull shade garden.
- Understand different plants, shade growing conditions, and moisture requirements.
- Identify the right gardening products.