Useful Shade Garden Tips

Useful Shade Garden Tips

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  1. Shade gardening poses a variety of challenges, with limited sunlight being only one. To successfully garden in a shady area, you should consider a few other factors that contribute to the problems you will face. Instead of fighting the shade and trying to force plants that will not survive, learn how to work within the shaded area. Work with what you have by following these tips, and you can successfully landscape your shade garden for low-maintenance enjoyment.

    Determine the Source and Amount of Shade

    Watch your garden at various times of the day to determine what is causing the shade. Watch your garden during various times of the day. Make a note of when the area receives sun. Then determine how much sunlight the area receives.

    • A tree may provide dappled sun at different times of the day, and during different seasons. Perhaps it will only provide light shade in spring and fall, when it is growing and later shedding leaves. However, in summer, it may offer full shade under its full umbrella. In this case, a spring bulb garden may be preferable to a summer collection of sun-loving plants. Also, consider spring blooming perennials like columbine, and white flowers that will brighter the darkness.
    • A structure, such as a shed, garage or neighbor’s house, may block the sun during a brief period each day. You may have early morning sun, but full sun later in the day. In this case, select plants that prefer partial shade and are sensitive to intense heat and sun. For more dense shade, consider plants like astilbes, hosta, phlox and bleeding heart.
    • Determine whether the area is receiving sun during the morning, afternoon or late day.  This will influence the selection of plants that will grow in the area. Some plants will burn up in intense afternoon sunlight, but will thrive when they receive only early morning sun. Look for plants that prefer part shade for best results.

    Check the Condition of the Soil                                    

    Depending on the source of the shade, the condition of the soil will vary.

    • Under the umbrella of a large, full tree, the ground may be covered with tree roots that prevent deep plantings. Roots that sit near the surface may take in all of the natural rainfall, leaving the ground dry. The soil may also be dry if the dense cover blocks average rainfall. Consider a ground cover with shallow roots or cover the area with bark chips and potted plants, such as impatiens, geraniums and fuchsia.
    • Make a note of the soil condition and drainage in the area before, during and after a rainfall to determine the best plants to grow. Also, take a soil test to check the pH and mineral content of the soil. Large trees may have depleted nutrients that growing plants will need. In this case, till the ground and add amendments before planting.
    • In full shade, or in areas with poor drainage, the soil may remain wet, creating a bog-like condition. If there is no sunlight to evaporate the excess water and inadequate drainage in the soil, there are still plants that will thrive. Consider a variety of ferns, umbrella plants, sedge or reeds.

    Alternatives to Plantings

    When all else fails, consider using the area as a place for entertaining, playing or storage. Create a space for a table or bench to sit and relax, create a child’s oasis with a play set, or set up a shed for gardening tools. Add a decorative fountain or sculpture, or create a place for our feathered friends to flock with a collection of birdhouses, a birdbath and a few feeders. Use the space to your best advantage and enjoy the shade it offers.

    Enjoy Your Shaded Area

    Once you determine how much sun your shade garden receives, when it receives that sun, what the soil conditions and drainage conditions are, gardening in the shade will be much simpler. By choosing the appropriate annuals, perennials, groundcovers, trees, shrubs and potted plants that are suitable to the specific conditions your shade garden, you can create a beautiful garden setting that benefits from the conditions presented.

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