I know that shade growing can be a challenge. But with some careful planning and patience you can design a lush, interesting garden that thrives in shade. And once established, a shade garden is low maintenance and provides much needed respite from a hot summer day.
The most important thing to realize about shade gardening is that success all depends on what plants you choose. There are a variety of shade growing trees, shrubs, perennials, annuals, and bulbs.
Now that you’ve picked out your shade plants, think about where to locate them in the garden. Remember, plants need some light to grow (nothing grows in complete darkness). Your plants are going to need at least a few hours a day of light, even if it is not direct sunlight.
Now let’s talk about the soil that your shade growing plants will live in. For best results, make sure there a good mixture of organic compost and mulch in the soil. To check to see how the soil drains, dig a hole and fill it with water then come back in a couple of hours to see if the water has drained. If not, you will need to mix sand into the soil to help with drainage.
In addition to the soil, the shade and roots of any surrounding trees will need to be looked at. Your plants will be competing for food and water with the trees, so regular feeding and watering is required so the plants aren’t too depleted for nutrients.
Evergreen conifer trees such as cedars tend to make the soil dry and acidic. You can have the soil tested and if you find that it is overly acidic for what you plan to grow, just add some dolomite lime powder. But the good news is that many shade growing plants actually like acidic soil. Examples include rhododendron, mahonia (oregon grape), and ferns.
Are you wondering where all that shade is coming from? Buildings and walls can create just as much shade as big trees. If you choose the right shade growing plants, shade from a building or wall will actually be a help to your plants. Think about how buildings and walls affect your garden: if your garden is in the front of a north-facing wall it will be in shade most of the day, plus the garden will be exposed to the elements like the prevailing winds and frost come fall and winter.
What you need to do is look at where your house is placed on your property, and how that affects where the sun is at various times of the year. For instance, where the sun is in the morning isn’t going to the same in the evening, especially the later in the season it is.
The critical things to remember in growing a shade garden are plant selection, the degree of shade you are dealing with (light, medium or dense), good soil, drainage and water. I encourage you to try a shade garden. You’ll love it!