Everyone knows from their elementary school classes that plants require sun for photosynthesis and with no light they cannot grow.
However, there is something to grow in every place in this world – from the dim light of the Amazon forest floor, to the sun baked expanses of the world’s deserts, to the cold of Antarctica, and to the temperate regions of Utah.
While some plants require full sunlight to grow and flourish, others must hide from full sun to prosper. The latter may actually wilt and burn in full sun. Shade is a sweet commodity in our summer months. Most finished landscapes include trees, hedges or garden structures to provide beautiful focal points along with much-needed respite from the sun’s rays. Buildings, fences and walls also shield the sun from certain patches of ground.
If you are in a small lot with a large tree or a lot surrounded by neighbors’ large trees, you may have more shade than you care for. Some old favorite flowers won’t grow in those conditions.
For gardeners, even the right amount of shade is not enough. The shady area must also be beautiful. Making attractive shade gardens can be a challenge. Choosing the right plants for such areas requires some knowledge of their light requirements.
Making shady areas as lush and attractive as we like to imagine them requires proper soil preparation, adjustments to watering habits, and careful selection of plant materials based on the actual shade level.
What constitutes shade is somewhat hazy. Authors of garden books may define full sun, partial sun, partial shade and full shade differently. Where you live changes definitions as well. The state of Washington, where many garden plants are grown, has different light intensities next to buildings or under trees or even in the open than our high-mountain conditions. Determine where your instructions are coming from when selecting plants.
It may not be too late to create a lovely shade bed even this late in the season. If the one you currently have is struggling, you may wish to do some re-planting for this year or pre-planning for next year. You may also like hanging baskets to put around or under a shady gazebo or deck.
Some flowers will thrive in light shade, others need a few hours of sunlight daily with shade the rest of the day, and others thrive in rather shady locations.
Few flowers thrive in deep shade. Sometimes removing a few inner branches from a shade tree may be all that is necessary to increase the light sufficiently to make shade tolerant flowers bloom.
Some of the following plants adapt to areas with varying degrees of shade.
Impatienses are standards for shady areas. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes, textures and colors to make attractive plantings. At one time, the petunia was the most popular bedding plant, but now impatienses have taken first position. Many are self dead-heading so they require less time and effort removing spent blooms.
Plant breeders have come up with newer varieties that tolerate more sun, but in our climate, they would still do better in a shady garden. They come in many heights and sizes and perform very, very well as lower filler plants or as medium-sized connecting plants.
Coleus is a real show stopper. The flowers are relatively insignificant – its multi-colored leaves earned its common name of Joseph’s Coat and grab your attention. There are sun-tolerant varieties of these, now, too. They are known as sun coleus but in my experience they do much better in part shade or shady conditions. Pinch off flowers and the ends of long branches to keep them full and bushy.
Fibrous begonias come in pink, white, salmon and red colors and picotte edges on the flowers to add even more variety. The foliage is part of the show with colors from bright green, to golden greens to copper colors.
Place these where they will not get much sun and protect them from winds.
Hakone grass is a shade-loving perennial. It provides rich textures and colors.
If you have a dry, shady area to fill, consider using lamium (dead nettle). Pink Nancy and White Nancy are lovely new varieties of lamium.
Lamiastrum, (spotted dead nettle) is also great in shaded areas.
Oregon grape is another drought-tolerant shade-loving perennial. It is often considered a ground cover but it grows higher than many ground covers.
Hostas are excellent in shady, moist environments. You’ll find no shortage of varieties from four inches to four feet high. It is their stunning foliage from plain green to multiple variations in variegation that make them so attractive.
Corydalis is a shade perennial that blooms most of the summer. Try lutea or the yellow species for the best performance.
Brunnera is a traditional favorite shade plant but newer cultivars include Jack Frost or Looking Glass.
My very favorite shade garden flower is bleeding heart. These plants pop up to form a large shrub early in the spring with exquisite blooms. After they bloom, they die back and won’t be seen again until next year.
Look around for other possibilities and you can have a made-in-the-shade garden.