Shade Gardening Tips

Tips on how to cultivate a shade garden.

If your yard is full of large shade trees, it's already a challenge to grow sun-loving plants, but you can take advantage of this potential problem by creating a shady refuge from the summer heat. Follow these steps to preparing your shade garden for success.

Shade vs. Sunlight

All plants need some degree of sunlight to grow properly. Most plants require either full sun, which means eight hours or more a day, or partial sun, which means sun exposure of four to eight hours a day.

A garden spot that gets less than four hours of sun a day cannot be used for growing full- or partial-sun plants. If the shade is the result of a north-facing exposure, a high roof line or overhanging eaves, there's not much you can do to get rid of it. If the shade is cast by trees, more sunlight can be provided by selectively thinning the canopy to let more light in or limbing them up, which is removing low-growing branches.

The amount of shade a spot gets can vary dramatically during the day and throughout the year. For instance, when deciduous trees are dormant, the area beneath them gets full sun, but once the trees leaf out in spring, that same area may get no sun at all.

Soil and Mulch

Organically rich soil is the secret to growing plants successfully in the shade. The forest floor is covered by a layer of leaf litter. The soil itself may be surprisingly thin, but that's fine as long as the leaf litter is present. These conditions can be re-created at home by incorporating shredded leaves with compost or packaged products containing a fair amount of leaf mold, or partially composted leaves, into the soil.

Soil conditions may vary widely in shady spots. In time, by adding several inches of finely shredded leaves around the base of a tree, you'll create the soil conditions needed to support the growth of numerous shade plants. It may take about one to three years to get the ideal soil.

Mulching helps reduce weed growth, retain soil moisture and give the garden an attractive, finished look. Use pine needles and composted leaves as a mulch that will break down into the soil and also provide a natural woodland look. Avoid smothering plants with too much leaf litter as it can prevent sunlight from getting to the plants.

Design Considerations

When designing a shade garden, look for ways to brighten it up with light-colored flowers or variegated foliage. The color white glows in a shaded area, so select plants with white flowers, such as impatiens or foamflower, or foliage plants with white or silver variegation, like caladium, brunnera or lamiastrum. Provide benches for seating, or tuck sculptural elements into hidden alcoves for added interest. A water feature, such as a meandering stream, can help a shady area feel much cooler just by the sound of bubbling water.

Keep Reading

Next Up

Shade-Tolerant Plants

Check out 11 shade-tolerant plants and the planting information for each zone.

Shade Garden

A shady backyard doesn't have to be considered a problem area. A shade garden can add interest and color to an uninspired all-green canvas.

Shade-Loving Herbs

Consider growing these herbs that can make do on four or fewer hours of sun each day.

10 Best Perennials for Shade

Looking for something to plant in that shady area of your garden? These perennials thrive without sunlight and add great garden color in beds, borders and containers.

Plants for a Shade Garden

Check out annuals, perennials, groundcovers, shrubs and understory trees that are made for the shade garden.

Perennials That Love Shade

These 10 plants will add color to your shade garden and return year after year.

Planting Window Boxes for Shade

Window boxes can add charm and color to a home, and they're popular in urban areas where gardening space is limited.

Sod Farming Tips

Delta Bluegrass is a 2,000-acre farm in Stockton, Calif., that grows the flawless turf seen in upscale residential landscaping, golf courses and even sports stadiums.

Shade Trees and Easy-Care Perennials

Garden experts offer planting information for 11 shade trees and easy-care perennials.

Tips on Installing a Sprinkler System

Before you begin installing an irrigation system, keep in mind that a lot of planning is going to be involved. Use these tips to make your installation go smoothly.

On TV

I Hate My Bath

7:30am | 6:30c

Salvage Dawgs

8:30am | 7:30c

Salvage Dawgs

9:30am | 8:30c

Salvage Dawgs

10am | 9c

Salvage Dawgs

10:30am | 9:30c

Salvage Dawgs

11am | 10c

Salvage Dawgs

11:30am | 10:30c
On Tonight
On Tonight

Rehab Addict

8pm | 7c

Rehab Addict

8:30pm | 7:30c

Rehab Addict

9:30pm | 8:30c

Rehab Addict

10pm | 9c

Rehab Addict

10:30pm | 9:30c

Rehab Addict

11pm | 10c

Rehab Addict

11:30pm | 10:30c

Rehab Addict

12am | 11c

Rehab Addict

12:30am | 11:30c

Rehab Addict

1am | 12c

Rehab Addict

1:30am | 12:30c

Rehab Addict

2:30am | 1:30c

Rehab Addict

3:30am | 2:30c

Hidden Gold

4:30am | 3:30c

Get Social With Us

We love to DIY. You love to DIY. Let's get together.

Consult Our A-Z Guide

Everything You Need to Know

Browse a full list of topics found on the site, from accessories to mudrooms to wreaths.  

How-To Advice and Videos

Get video instructions about kitchens, bathrooms, remodeling, flooring, painting and more.

Watch DIY Downloads Now

Watch DIY Network LIVE

Don't miss your favorite shows in real time online.