Do you have a sun-challenged garden? No problem! You don’t need bright sunlight to grow beautiful flowers.
Many trees, shrubs, perennials and annuals have adapted to shady conditions. With careful attention to plant selection, soil preparation and watering, you can have a lush, colorful, fragrant shade garden.
And there are benefits to a shade garden. There’s less maintenance with not as many weeds. In the notoriously hot, humid summers of our Washington, D.C., area, it can be more enjoyable gardening in the shade.
Be sure to pay close attention to the amount of light and moisture that makes its way into your garden and select plants that will thrive in these conditions. Do you have a moist, shady garden—or a dry, shady one? Is your garden enveloped in partial, light or dense shade?
If your garden gets bright, indirect light or dappled sun and you improve the soil with compost, you’ll be amazed at the variety of plants you can grow with success. And if your garden receives five to six hours of direct sun, it’s even better. You can grow almost anything!
It’s hard to imagine a shade garden without hostas, a popular plant prized for its magnificent foliage and no-fuss personality. In a garden with bright shade, hostas’ showy leaves of bright green, blue-green and yellow or white variegation contrast well with the feathery texture of ferns (another must-have in the shade garden), astilbe and hakenachloa. Evergreen shrubs, such as aucuba and cherry laurels, can provide privacy and enclosure. Sweetbox, pachysandra, liriope, mondo grass, carex and euphorbia can be used as groundcovers.
Flowering plants, such as azaleas, camellias, hydrangeas, dogwoods, daylilies and woodland phlox, will thrive and bloom if they receive just a bit of direct sun. Evergreens, such as boxwood, holly, chamaecyparis and yew, will thrive. Japanese maple, redbud, fringetree and other small trees can be planted. Include corabells, spiderwort, anemones and hardy geraniums for beautiful leaves and flowers. The list of plants for shade gardens goes on and on.
Dry, shady conditions are the most challenging. If you have dense shade without any direct or indirect sun, your choice of plants will be limited to epimedium and ferns. Flowering plants simply can’t get the sun, water or nutrients they need to grow. If you want to establish a garden in this situation, you’ll need to change the environment. You can thin the tree canopy to allow more light and improve the soil with compost.
Soil preparation, mulching and watering during dry spells also becomes more important. Try to mix a 1” layer of Merrifield Planting Mix into your garden beds to improve the soil. If tree roots make this impossible, it may be necessary to add a layer of topsoil rich in organic matter over the roots. Do not exceed more than 1” to 2” of soil or mulch as this could cause tree roots to deteriorate. Plants in shade grow slower and will not require as much fertilizer as those in a sunny garden.