How to Plant a Shade Garden

Some  plants prefer a cool shaded spot during the heat of summer and now’s the perfect time to plan your shade garden.

shade-tolerant-blogIf you’ve never had the pleasure of planting a shade garden, it’s not as challenging as you might think. It’s a refreshing experience to create your own woodland retreat under the trees. The key is to select plants that will thrive in the available light.

The amount of shade a plant can tolerate varies from light shade to dense shade. Before planting, study the site and consider the amount of sun the area will receive throughout a typical summertime day.

A lightly shaded area is one that’s shaded for 4-6 hours each day, but still receives bright, indirect light. Partially shaded areas are those that are blocked from the sun, except for short periods in the morning or late afternoon. Full shade means little sunlight reaches the area during the day.

Once you know the quality of shade in your garden, you can select from a wide variety of shade-tolerant plants. Match the plant’s light needs and hardiness to your site. Look for plants that are varied in form, texture, height and color. Each has a purpose in the shade garden.

Tall and upright plant forms can be used as accents while rounded or spreading forms provide an airy effect. For a contrast in texture, combine broad-leaved plants with plants featuring fine fronds. Hostas and astilbes are traditional companions in the shade garden for this very reason. Hostas, a member of the lily family, provide large leaves in light greens and variegated colors. Astilbes have finer leaves and long-lasting colorful flower plumes.

Many woodland flowers, like Lily of the Valley and Bleeding Heart, are perfect for the shade garden because of their spiky stalks and drooping blooms.

To make the most of your shade plantings, select ornamentals with flowers in lighter colors like creamy whites, pinks, blues, and purples. These colors appear more vibrant in muted lighting than darker colors like red or orange.

Stagger bloom times by starting with spring-blooming bulbs and flowers. Add perennials like daylilies, creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) and primrose (Primula) that do well in some shade.

Groundcovers are ideal for underplanting, too. Happy shade dwellers such as ajuga (Ajuga reptans), sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) and spotted deadnettle (Lamium) provide interesting leaves and delicate flowers for the front border of the garden.

For a quick kick of color, add a selection of annuals. Popular shade lovers include impatiens, violet, pansy and coleus. Around here, wax begonias can be grown as an annual.

With so many shade-tolerant plants on the market today, it’s easy to plant in the shade and add another layer of color and texture to your landscape. Contact your county extension for more shady recommendations specific to your region.

What are some of your favorite shady characters?


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[…] Western Gardeners offers advice on planting a shade garden. […]

Jodi, I was the fortunate one who rec’d from you a sample of the Nutscene garden twine and here’s my review: Nutscene “The Ideal Garden Twine” says you can leave the spool of twine in your pocket with the wrapper on, draw the twine from the center, and it will come smoothly, leaving both hands free to do the cutting and tying. AND IT WORKS JUST THAT WAY. I drew out the twine, snipped it and both hands were free to tie. You don’t have to set it down, then pick it back up again.
I thought I wouldn’t care for the lilac color in the garden, but I like it very well. Thank you, Jodi!

Hi Eva–Thanks for letting me know about your positive experience with Nutscene. I agree that it’s a great twine and easy to use in the garden.


love these posts. thanks for the great advice want to start up mmy garden again. this and are my favourite sites.

Great to hear from you, Jon. I appreciated hearing from you!

good advice, but you left out key information. What is the flower in the picture.

Thanks for your question–That’s a beautiful patch of Golden Columbine (Aquilegia chrysantha) at at the Denver Botanic Gardens.

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