Shade Garden Design Ideas

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A shade garden is a welcome treat during the long, hot days of summer. A shade garden provides relief from the sun’s hot rays and gives the gardener an opportunity to grow some unusual and flashy plants. There are many advantages to growing a shade garden:

  • Trees, fences and walls near a shade garden provide protection from cold winter winds and hot summer heat.
  • Shaded areas can be designed to create resting places.
  • Plants that are not normally found in hotter climates can survive in a shade garden.

Planning A Shade Garden

One of the advantages to creating a garden in a shady spot is that shaded areas are kept cool by being surrounded with large trees, buildings and fences. Those areas shaded by deep rooted trees are normally moist and the ground is fertile from fallen leaves. Areas around shallow rooted trees are often drier with poor soil.

When roots or poor soil are a problem, containers and raised beds provide the perfect solution to keeping tree roots from invading other plants and providing plants with nutrient rich soil. Bottoms can be removed from containers, arranged around the tree and filled with soil or potting mix. Raised beds also make a hospitable growing environment when tree roots limit the amount of soil available to shade plants.

Selecting Plants

Before placing any plants in a shade garden, measure the amount of shade that will encompass the area. There are three types of shade that may be found in a shade garden -- partial sun/partial, shade, dappled shade and full shade. The shade and soil conditions determine the plants that will thrive in shaded conditions.

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Easy Care Shade Plants

There are a number of plants that grow well in shaded conditions. Many shade-loving plants require plenty of moisture and humidity. Also, many shade plants may not tolerate the cold winter months. These plants should be brought inside the home or kept in a greenhouse when temperatures reach the freezing point.

Here’s a list of plants that are commonly found in shade gardens:

Impatiensare low growing plants that range in sizes under 12 inches. Their multitude of long-lasting bright pink, red, coral and purple blooms bring pops of color to the shadiest areas of a garden. Here are some ideas for using impatiens in a shade garden:

  • As a groundcover around the base of a shade tree.
  • As a container plant either placed on a patio, in a hanging basket or in a window box.
  • As an accent plant in a flowerbed.

Here are a few growing tips for impatiens:

  • Grow in well-drained soil.
  • Keep the plants bushy and full of flowers by pruning the top third of the plant in the late summer.

The Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis) is an iris that grows as tall as 3 feet. Its leaves form a fan from which sprays of small bright orange and red flowers emerge. Here are some planting ideas:

  • Grow in a container or in a flowerbed.
  • Use as a screen to create privacy.
  • Plant in the background behind shorter plants.

Here are a few tricks to growing Blackberry Lilies:

  • Allow the plant to dry out between waterings.
  • Propagate from seed or by dividing the roots in the spring.
  • In the fall, cover plants with a thick layer of mulch to protect the roots from freezing.

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) makes a dramatic accent with its sprays of heart-shaped flowers. It is a small bush type perennial, blooms in the late spring to early summer and dies back when done flowering. It may also bloom in the fall. Here are some planting ideas:

  • Plant with hostas, hardy geranium, daylilies and hellebores.
  • Use in a mixed shrub border.
  • Place near a garden pond as a focal point.

Here are some care tips for Bleeding Heart:

  • Trim off fading foliage
  • Add compost to the soil every year
  • Divide plants every 3 years

Azaleas are considered the “royalty of the garden” with over 10,000 registered species that come in a variety of flower colors, sizes, plant habits, and bloom times. There is an azalea to fit every gardener’s tastes and every garden’s needs. Here are some interesting ways to use azaleas:

  • Plant near a pond to enjoy the colors reflecting in the water.
  • Use upright growing azaleas as a focal point.
  • Create a mass planting around a shade tree.

Follow these tips to grow azaleas in a shade garden:

  • Plant under oak, pine and holly trees where the soil is slightly acidic.
  • Mulch with pine bark, pine needles or wood chips.
  • Give plants an infrequent and deep watering.
  • Do not fertilize established plants.
  • Prune plants after they have finished blooming.

Staghorn ferns are epiphytes that have long been prized by collectors. The Staghorn fern is easy to grow and mature plants create large focal points in any garden. While the Staghorn fern is quite hardy and easy to grow, it must be protected from harsh winter temperatures. Staghorn ferns work best in the garden as a hanging plant when mounted on a plaque, piece of bark, wire basket or other structure. Here are some ideas:

  • Attach to a plaque and hang on the side of the house, on a fence or from a garden structure.
  • Grow in a hanging basket and hang from a tree branch.

Here are some Staghorn fern growing tips:

  • Provide warm and humid conditions by misting frequently.
  • Do not remove the brown and flat leaves found at the base of the fern.

The shade garden gives the gardener the opportunity to grow some of the more delicate and tender ornamental plants. Shade gardens are the perfect place for an outdoor dining room or for a mid-day rest during the hot days of summer. When selecting plants for a shade garden, be sure to choose plants that will thrive in the specific conditions of the garden. With careful planning, a shade garden can be a very enjoyable space.

Last Updated: December 21, 2011
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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