Don’t let the lack of sunlight in your backyard keep you from growing all kinds of beautiful and unique plants in your garden.
People assume that shaded garden locations are limited to dull, dark-colored plants that bring little personality into your garden. But in reality, many gorgeous plants with all kinds of foliage colors and showy flowers will thrive in shady spots!
Whether you’re looking to dress up a shady area of your garden, want to recreate a woodland garden in your backyard, or if you need to create a garden plan for your future home, creating a beautiful shade garden does not have to be complicated.
It’s all about knowing what plants work for your area and how to care for them. The possibilities with shade gardening are endless.
Table of Contents
What Is a Shade Garden?
When we think of a typical garden, we think of a sunny, warm place with lots of vibrantly colored and large foliage plants and flowers. However, this is not the only kind of garden that deserves to be appreciated!
Shaded gardens offer a little escape from the heat of summer. Think of seating benches underneath large deciduous trees, small backyard gardens around rural homes, or a seating spot underneath a large roof overhang.
The Different Kinds of Shade
We can find various shade types in gardens: partial, full, and dappled. Knowing what shade you are dealing with is essential when planning for your garden or even new grass seed.
This knowledge will help you to choose the right plants for your garden so that they can thrive.
- Partial shade means that the area receives small amounts of sun, usually in the morning or late afternoon. Generally, this area gets about 4-5 hours of sun a day. Most garden plants will feel their best in partial shade.
- Full shade doesn’t mean that there is no sun at all. Areas in full shade will receive two or fewer hours of direct sun daily. This kind of shade is often seen in small spaces and is usually made by manufactured buildings or walls, which block the sun completely.
- Dappled shade mainly occurs underneath a large tree canopy. The sunlight shines through the leaves, creating little specks of light on the ground beneath. These light specks shift throughout the day as the sun moves, meaning that every area underneath the tree gets part sun and part shade, but it is never exposed to the harsh sun for hours at a time.
How To Care For Your Shade Garden Plants
Shade gardens require less maintenance than sunny gardens. Shaded areas dry out more slowly, so they need to be watered less frequently compared to a garden with total sun exposure.
Water your plants once the soil is dry to ensure that your plants are in evenly moist soil. You will find that you won’t need to water very often, even in well-drained soil, compared to the plants that grow in full sun because the amount of direct sunlight and evaporation is minimal.
Avoid splashing water on the foliage of your plants. Dark, moist environments create a playground for fungus and bacteria. It is recommended to prevent pests on your shaded plants actively.
Plants in the shade are more susceptible to pests since many bugs like to live in the dark. Use an organic pesticide on your plant every three months to prevent any bug infestation from occurring!
The type of soil you are using in your shade garden matters. All plants will feel and look their best when living in conditions that closely mimic their natural habitat, so to keep our plants happy, we need to replicate their natural soil as best we can.
In the wild, shaded areas are caused by large tree canopies. The earth surrounding trees is loamy, sandy, and rich in organic matter.
That’s not always the case at home. Dig up some soil and see what you are dealing with. Most of the time, your garden soil will not be nutrient rich or sufficient for most plants.
Potted Exotics Pro Tip: Mix peat moss, vermiculite, and organic compost into your soil in late fall to create a booming consortium of nutrients for your shade garden for the next growing season.
Regularly fertilize your garden during the growing season according to the package instructions. An all-purpose garden plant feed will likely do the trick, but it will depend on the plants growing in your garden and the soil you use.
When using rich soil, you will need to fertilize your plants less. Do your research to ensure you are giving your plants optimal care!
10 Different Methods to Provide Shade for Plants
Whether you’re growing your plants in an area that simply doesn’t get enough full sun or you prefer a garden full of shad-loving plants, there are numerous ways to provide shade for plants.
1. Shade Cloth
If your garden is in an area where it is exposed to partial or full sun throughout most of the year or growing season, consider installing some nifty shade cloth to reduce the amount of light exposure. Shade cloth is typically made out of loosely woven polyester or polyethylene blend and is available in a variety of shade coverage densities, from 30% to 90%.
- 30%-40% Shade Cloth: Perfect for shade-tolerant plants and vegetables like carrots, tomatoes, peppers, and orchids.
- 50%-60% Shade Cloth: Great for light-sensitive plants like begonias, spinach, and most lettuce varieties.
- 70%-90% Shade Cloth: Typically used for ornamental garden plants and houseplants like anthurium and philodendron.
2. Row Covers
Gardeners growing eggplants in temperate regions love using row covers to help mitigate the threat of frost when the fall and winter months approach, but they are also a great option for light-sensitive plants throughout the growing season. If you need to shade your plants for a few additional hours during peak summer months when days are at their longest, and the heat is at its highest, consider installing row covers for added protection. It will equally benefit you when growing tropical fruits, e.g., pineapple or tropical flowers.
As an added bonus, row covers provide great protection against pests and diseases, so if you spot some unwanted visitors in your garden, installing row covers can provide some peace of mind while you take care of the problem.
3. Shade Dot
A shade dot for plants is another great option to keep your leafy companions from shrivelling up in the hot summer sun. Shade dots are made of polypropylene and are circular in shape. They are attached to a ‘stake’ that you place in the ground near your plant, and the ‘dot’ sits above the plants. The material diffuses the sunlight throughout the day and protects your shade-loving garden.
4. Shade Sail
If you have a larger garden or outdoor space with shade loving plants, consider installing a shade sail to protect the area from the harsh summer sun. It’s an attractive alternative to shade nets, as they add a bit more flare and style than most cloth options. A shade sail can even double as a rain canopy for your backyard patio, so you kill two birds with one stone using these unique shade structures.
5. Water Features
If you have a shade garden or are interested in creating one, a water feature may be the perfect pairing. Not only do water features add a peaceful vibe to any shade garden, but they can also support the shading process as a shade structure in a corner or on a side that gets more sun than others. Carefully situate your water feature so that it doesn’t obstruct the view of your garden yet provides additional shade where needed.
6. Woodland Trees (Canopy Trees)
Canopy trees, like woodland trees, are a fantastic shading option for those with a little more time on their hands. This method is possible in one of two ways. The first option is to get mature woodland trees planted for an immediate canopy barrier. The other option would be to grow them from juvenile trees, but this option obviously takes much longer to see results. If woodland trees already exist on your property, consider moving your current garden or building a new garden under the canopy shade of the trees.
7. Window Boxes
Window boxes are one of our favorite shading methods for our shade-loving house and garden plants. While the window boxes themselves don’t actually provide a ton of shade, you can install them on your north-facing or shaded windows, allowing you to use your house and other fixtures to provide indeed shade for anything you plant in them.
Looking to add both shade and privacy to your backyard area? Consider panelled fencing! You can find panelled fencing options at most big box stores or garden centers, and they are relatively easy to put up yourself. Take it a step further and make it a fun summer DIY project, using salvaged wood or other neat materials to build a unique and stylish shade cover.
9. Vining Plants and Trellis Structure
Another shading method that we love, yet it takes a bit of time to create, is using vining plants to climb and grow over shade structures in your garden. Fast-growing vining plants like wisteria and clematis grow well in most temperate regions (which means they will do well in shade or sun) and are the perfect pairing for this method, as they climb most structures with ease and grow fast enough that you can see shade results in as little as a few weeks.
10. Companion Planting
Companion planting is a gardening method that uses different plants in the same garden to provide benefits to each other. While this is often used for pest control or pollination, it can also be applied to shade. Large, sun-loving plants like oriental lily can provide the necessary shade to your shade-loving plants while also thriving off of the sun they are shielding. A win-win situation for all involved.
How To Make A Shaded Garden
Creating your shade garden can be a fun yet challenging project. It can be hard knowing where to start. But don’t worry. Below you will find the necessary steps to start a shaded garden area.
- Gather inspiration. The easiest way to get inspiration is to browse through Pinterest, garden blogs, and magazines. Find images of shaded gardens that inspire you. Save these images and research how these people made their gardens and what kind of plants they are growing.
- Consider the kind of shade you have in your garden. How much shade is in your garden area? Does it still receive partial sun in the morning? Does a large tree create the shade, or is there no sun throughout the day? All these factors are important to consider when choosing plants for your garden.
- Create a landscaping layout. Before running to the garden center and getting out your shovel, knowing what you have in mind is essential. Draw out your design on paper! Carefully consider what kinds of textures, leaf colors, and levels you want to showcase. Play around with options. The sky is the limit!
- Choose your plants. The possibilities of a shade garden are not limited to dull ferns and ornamental grasses! At the end of this article, you will find a list of shade-tolerant plants. You will find flowers, vibrant foliage, and all kinds of colors and textures! Research plants that catch your eye, and ensure they will grow well in your garden environment.
- Plant your garden. When you’ve made your plan and chosen your plants, it is time to get to work!
Choosing Shade-Loving Plants
Many types of plants with beautiful foliage can thrive in shaded locations. Some plants may tolerate more shade than others, so we’ve categorized these plants into two sections: full shade and partial shade.
In the following lists, you will find a variety of shade perennials and annuals, including foliage plants, blooms, shrubs, and trees! Read on for our favorite shade lovers to grow in your garden!
Partial Shade Plants
One of our favorite flowers to grow in the shade cover is Echinacea. There are so many varieties to choose from. Our favorite is the “Yellow my Darling” Echinacea, which produces a bright yellow flower during summer. Adding bright colors like yellow to shaded areas is an easy way to bring your garden to life! Echinacea loves to receive a few hours of morning sun and thrives in USDA zones 4-8.
Begonias can be grown as houseplants or garden annuals. These plants can grow large, attractive foliage in a variety of colors. Purple, pink, green, or yellow, Begonia has it all! This plant grows well in USDA zones 9-11. During the early summer, Begonia will reward you with small, delicate red or pink flowers that will brighten up that dark spot in your garden!
This plant grows the most lovely, delicate bell-like white blooms. These fragrant white flowers are a great way to enhance picnic or sitting areas in dappled shady locations underneath large shade trees, as they help to create a cozy and inviting environment. This plant grows in USDA zones 3-9.
These flowering woodland plants are the best option for creating flower beds in their shade garden. Hellebores are attractive for pollinators, so if you want to give back to nature, consider adding these stunning blooms to your garden. These plants can grow in USDA zones 4-9 and thrive in various light conditions. They bloom from late winter to late spring.
Perhaps flowers are not your thing, and you want to add exciting foliage plants to your shaded garden. Caladiums are here for you! With leaves that come in every color imaginable, this plant will surely bring a pop of color and vibrancy to anyone’s plant palette! These shady plants grow from tubers (bulbs) that you can plant in early spring. They go dormant during the winter and will grow right back when spring comes! You can plant these in USDA zones 8-11.
This native plant grows tall, delicate blooms in a variety of colors. They are a great addition to those looking to create a woodland garden in their backyard. This plant will bloom in dim locations and come back every year. Grow this plant in USDA zones 7-10.
Perfect for dappled shade, Meadow Rue is another woodland plant that loves to be in rich, moist soils. They are a great addition to wildflower gardens as they can grow tall (the largest variety (King of the Meadow) can reach ten feet!), which can help to create depth and dimension in your garden beds. Meadow Rue thrives in USDA zones 5-8.
Full Shade Plants
Colocasia (Elephant Ears)
These beautiful, impressive plants can tolerate even the darkest of areas. There is a wide range of Colocasia that come in different shapes and colors, making it easier to pick a leaf color you love and bring your garden together. The darker the leaf, the better it will tolerate dense shade. Colocasia thrives in USDA zones 8-12. These plants do not do well in cooler climates!
Consider Impatiens if you’re looking for beautiful, delicate flowering perennial shade plants to add to your shady areas. These adorable flowers will surely liven up even the darkest of gardens. These perennial flowers can thrive in USDA zones 10-11. They begin blooming in late spring and will continue to do so year-round! With a wide arrange of colors, there is undoubtedly a plant that fits your style!
Coral bells (Heuchera ‘Berry Smoothie’)
This colorful plant is easy to maintain and brings a pop of color into your garden. If you are looking to take a break from boring, dull, and green foliage in your shady area, Coral bells may be your best option! Combine different colors and shapes to create an exciting and beautiful effect! These plants can live in colder climates and handle dry shade. They will grow best in USDA zones 4-9.
These plants are commonly found in gardens due to their resilient nature and fun, colorful blooms. With many available varieties that can bloom at different times of the year, Astilbe can help you create a fun and inviting garden year-round, even if you experience deep shade in your garden. Astilbe can live in USDA zones 4-9.
This list would be incomplete without mentioning Hosta! This shade perennial is available in wide varieties, with its unique colors and variegation on its foliage. Hosta thrives in USDA zones 3-9 and can thrive in even dry shade, making it an excellent option for gardeners in almost every part of the world!
Japanese Painted Fern
This gorgeous shade plant will make you forget all about the basic green fern. With showy foliage in dazzling colors like silvery gray, burgundy, and purple, this fern is one of our favorite shade plants. Their dense foliage is a great way to cover large, dim areas. These stunning ferns can be grown in USDA zones 4-9.
Wild ginger is a great plant to add to your shade garden if you are looking for a low-maintenance ground cover to cover large areas that will thrive without much sun. These little plants love nutrient-rich, organic soil and will do well in USDA zones 3-7. Protect their delicate little leaves from the hot afternoon sun because they will burn!
Japanese Forest Grass
A perfect pairing as a shade garden fixture. Japanese Forest Grass is an ornamental perennial grass that grows natively in Japan’s damp and shaded mountain cliffs. Its clustered growth and variety of colors make it an excellent choice for a creative garden accent, and it will grow wonderfully in full shade and in USDA hardiness zones 5-9.