The Little Green Apple
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Shade Gardening


Shade gardening can pose quite a challenge for gardeners when it comes time for planting. A well executed shade garden can possess an inviting charm in its colors, its textures and its cool retreat from the summer sun.

Spaces with limited sun can be a challenge. Shade for a gardener can even be seen as a liability. It's certainly not the place to grow your Roma tomatoes, roses or gladiolas. But there are some pleasures a shady garden can provide that a sunny spot cannot touch. Sure, some plants will not do well, but voluminous others thrive under these conditions.

There are many advantages to a shade garden. You have a slower growth rate requiring less pruning and dividing. Weeds are fewer in number. And watering is at a bare minimum when it comes to shade gardening.

But before you decide to embark on a shade garden it's of the utmost imporatance to understand what different amounts of light your plants will actually receive. Determining whether you have partial shade, light shade, full shade or dense shade is the key to the success of your garden.

Partial shade will provide about 6 hours of actual sunlight during the course of the day. If given the choice, try to allow for those 6 hours to be morning. Morning sunlight is much less stressful for any plant as afternoon sun is much hotter and dryer.

Light shade, or dappled shade refers to filtered light provided by surrounding trees or perhaps from objects like a lath or overhead canopy.

Full shade although not completely dark has no sunlight but may be an open area that is well circulated with air flow.

Dense shade is complete shade by crowded trees or buildings where very little light reaches the surface of the soil. There are few that will survive under these conditions.

One thing to keep in mind is the ever changing light patterns throughout the season. Deciduos trees may provide little shade in the early spring, but they will certainly provide much more shade when they "leaf out." Another consideration is sun light angles. Mid-summer sun provides much more light than when it descends to meet the horizon as autumn approaches. The angle may provide shady areas from cascading shadows. Get to know the area; study it for a season or so before you decide a scheme.

You can also improve lighting conditions by pruning low hanging limbs or removing diseased,dying or otherwise unattractive trees. Even trees that are poorly placed can be considered for relocation or removal. Reflected light can also improve amounts of sun for plants. Light colored walls, stones or even white fences provide a small amount of reflected light opposed to dark surfaces.

Plants for Shade

What follows is a list of some of the plants that will do well in a shady garden. All will thrive in partial shade, some will also be happy in light shade, and a few will even grow in full shade. To ensure that a plant's light requirements match the growing conditions you can offer, please refer to the more detailed cultural information that should be available from the nursery or supplier where you will purchase your plants.

Bulbs: Spring bulbs are typically in bloom while the deciduous trees are still bare, so most are happy in partial or light shade. These include:

  • Crocus
  • Daffodil
  • Fritillaria
  • Glory of the Snow (Chionodoxa)
  • Grape Hyacinth or Muscari
  • Oxalis
  • Star of Holland or Scilla (Scilla siberica)
  • Begonias
  • Coleus
  • Impatiens
  • Pansy (Viola)
  • Astilbe
  • Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)
  • Bugbane (Cimicifuga or Actaea)
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera)
  • Corydalis
  • Filipendula
  • Foamflower (Tiarella)
  • Foxglove (Digitalis)
  • Hardy geranium
  • Hosta
  • Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)
  • Lenten Rose or Hellebore (Helleborus)
  • Ligularia
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
  • Primrose (Primula)
  • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla)
  • Thalictrum
  • Toad Lily (Tricyrtis formosana)

Ground Covers
  • Ajuga
  • Epimedium
  • Lamium
  • Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis)
  • Vinca (Vinca minor)
  • Azalea
  • Dogwood (Cornus)
  • Mophead Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
  • Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
  • Rhododendron

Choosing the right plants

Keep in mind that when you develope a shade garden you're not going to have those vibrant floral colors that you find in sunnier spots. But the hues of yellows, greens, blues, and violets are many. You can mix and match foliage in all various color schemes and leaf shapes and textures. The possibilities are limitless.

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