A shady yard is no reason not to plant a garden. Many plants thrive in full or partial shade. Bright sun is best for a lot of showy flowers, but shade gardens can be oases of cool delight and leafy woodland charm.
What is Shade?
It’s not easy to define shade. You know it when you see it, but not every shade garden is shadowy all day long. More commonly, a garden gets three or four hours of sun during part of the day and as the sun moves across the sky, the light succumbs to shade.
As trees, hedges and shrubbery grow, a once sunny garden might become shady. Or your neighbor might erect a fence that interferes with your sunlight.
Deciduous trees also shade large areas of a yard. You can plant a shade garden under them. In the fall, the fallen leaves should be removed so that they don’t suffocate the plants.
Evergreen trees provide intense shade all day long, but you might be able to claim some of the space beneath them for a garden. This is not an ideal place in part because of the quality of the soil, but certain ferns and other plants can do very well and look lovely.
Prepare the soil carefully for a shade garden. As with any garden, mix the dirt with organic fertilizer or compost, and with mulch. Aerate it with a garden fork several inches below the surface. Don't dig down too deep because you don't want to stir up the soil too much.
The soil under evergreen trees tends to be acidic, as it may be elsewhere, so you will have to adjust the pH level. You can get a soil-testing kit at the local garden center, where you can buy lime to adjust the levels. Luckily, many woodland plants like slightly elevated pH levels.
Shade gardens need to be watered regularly. This is particularly true if the garden is beneath trees, which compete with the plants for water. Trees, with their deep roots and enormous needs, win the water battle every time.
Most plants like soil that drains well and yet soil in shady spots may stay wet. Dig a small hole and fill it with water. If it does not seep away in an afternoon, you know the soil is not draining. Select plants that do best with damp conditions.
Plants for Shade
There are any number of plants that do well in shade. Stroll through the garden market and nearby greenhouses and look for what you like.
Perhaps the best known and most loved are hostas, which come in a wild array of sizes and hues. Hostas put out flowers but they are known most for their lush foliage.
Other good choices for shade gardens are Jacob’s ladder (polemonium) and athryium or Japanese painted ferns, foxglove, salvia, and lady’s mantle.
For splashes of color amid the shade plants, intersperse them with some annuals such as impatiens, which flowers all summer long in the shade or the sun.