Gardening in the shade can be challenging. Few plants thrive best in low light, and the plants that do often lack gorgeous buds. If a lawn with large-leaved hostas is failing you, experiment with uniquely textured foliage and distinct blooms offered by shade-loving plants. You’ll be eager to retreat from the heat to enjoy the additions to your shady summer garden.
When planting your shade garden, consider the type of shade (morning vs. afternoon) and the duration of the shade. Partially shaded areas receive 4-6 hours of sunlight per day; Fully shaded areas receive less than 4 hours of sunlight per day and sometimes no direct sunlight at all. Areas of full shade are usually found under dense tree canopies or covered patios on the north side of the home. To understand your shade conditions, spend time in your garden and observe when the plants have direct sunlight and how long direct sunlight lasts.
It is clear that not all shades are created equal, even the moisture content varies in shade. Damp shade from cool temperatures is ideal for some shade plants, but causes root rot in others. Moss creeping into your garden bed can indicate high moisture levels. Shade gardens under trees or shrubs can experience dry shade conditions that cause competition for water and nutrients. And each shadow is a favorite spot for snails to explore and snack on.
To ensure a healthy plant, remember to put the right plant in the right place. A plant grown under undesirable conditions will be stressed, unhealthy and stunted. As a result, foliage color can be dull and disease or pest problems can occur. Although beautiful flowers are a highlight in the garden, most plants show fewer blooms and short flowering periods in the shade.
With less focus on blooms, the strength of a shady garden is foliage. Texture, color, and shape add dimension and interest. Try mixing large coarse leaves like bergenia and lady’s mantle with finely divided leaves of Japanese colored fern. Or add plants with white and green speckled foliage like Solomon’s Seal or Liriope.
Perennial plants still dig a shady bed even if the flowering period is short, so focus on stunning, dependable, and distinctive perennials. Some to consider are Bigleaf Ligularia (Ligularia dentata), large glossy leaves with 3 foot tall daisy-like flowers; false spirea (Astilbe sp.), lace leaves with large feathery flowers; Lungwort (Pulmonaria sp.), rough, mottled leaves with pink or purple flowers; Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla), green to silver heart-shaped leaves with pale blue flowers in spring.
For a pop of color throughout the summer, add shade-loving annual bedding plants like ageratum, wax begonia, impatiens, and torenia to the garden. Then fill in with shade-tolerant ground covers, including wild ginger, woodruff, and tomentosum.
Brittnay Haag, Horticulture Educator, University of Illinois Extension
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