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A Guide to Shade Gardening (full and partial)

A Guide to Shade Gardening (full and partial)

Most homeowners have some degree of shade on their property. Since shade varies from heavy (where no direct sunlight penetrates) to partial or dappled, you need to observe what kind of shade you are dealing with and plant accordingly.

  • Plants with non-green foliage colour like the blue-grey of Junipers or the yellow in Euonymus will not do well in shade.
  • Red leaved shrubs like Purpleleaf Sand Cherry or Purple Smoketree or golden shrubs such as Golden Mockorange lose their vibrant colour if they are planted in shade.

A great starting point to choosing plants is to note the types that thrive in the shade around your area! Our team at Cole’s is also happy to answer any questions you might have along the way.

Plants for Full Shade

  • Boxwood, Yews, Sarcoxie Euonymus, and Hemlock are dependable evergreens that add year-round structure to any garden.
  • Emerald Gaiety Euonymus, Silverleaf, Silver and Gold Dogwood, Variegated Kerria, Variegated Hosta, Goutweed, or Variegated Solomon’s Seal will contrast successfully when planted next to the above.
  • Flowering plants that will flourish in low light are the broadleaf evergreens such as Periwinkle, Mountain Laurel, Japanese Pieris, and Oregon Grape.
  • Deciduous shrubs include False Spirea, Annabelle and Bigleaf Hydrangeas, and Double Kerria.
  • Eastern Redbud, Downy Serviceberry, and Pagoda and Gray Dogwood are examples of small trees that will tolerate a lot of shade especially in the city.

purple bellflower

  • Bugleweed, Astilbe, Bellflower, Hostas, Bugbane, Bergenia, Forget-me-not, Christmas Rose, Monkshood, and Lily-of-the-Valley are the best perennials for full shade. Many of these can also be used as ground covers to replace grass.
  • Native wildflowers like Trillium, Jack-in-the-Pulpit and ferns are natural inhabitants to full shade!
  • Annuals like the Non-stop or Tuberous Begonia, Torenia, Browallia, Coleus, and Mimulus are wonderful choices for continuous colour through the summer. They brighten up any dark corner, and you can choose different colours every year.
  • Plants that produce berries are also interesting in any garden. The evergreen ground cover, Wintergreen, and the female shrub, Winterberry, produce bright red fruit.
  • The vine, Virginia Creeper, has blue-black berries that attract birds in the fall. Boston Ivy is valuable because it grows so quickly.
  • These are great flowering vines for full shade: Climbing Hydrangea, Dropmore Scarlet Honeysuckle, and Virgin’s Bower.

Design Tips for Shade Gardens

  • Make a shade garden appear more luminous by using the palest colours that will jump out from the dark background. White, pale pink, light yellow and peach-orange are very lively!
  • Red, blue, and purple, on the other hand, recede into the shade and are, therefore, less noticeable.

Practical Tip for Shade Gardens

Consider hiring a professional arborist to thin out branches on your mature shade trees. This can allow additional light into your garden improved air circulation which should help limit the proliferation of moss.

linden tree blossomsPlants for Partial Shade

All the plant material listed for full shade can, of course, go into lighter, partial shade.

  • Trees like Honey-locust, Ginkgo, Linden, Flowering Dogwood, Golden Chain Tree, Weeping Peashrub, and Saucer Magnolia do well in partial shade.
  • Flowering shrubs include Oakleaf, Peegee, Pink Diamond, and Unique Peegee Hydrangea, Caryopteris, Mock-orange, Rose-of-Sharon, Carol Mackie Daphne, Summersweet, and Bridalwreath Spirea. Dappled Willow is worth mentioning for its elegant white, pink, and green leaves and Japanese Maple for its feathery, red foliage.
  • There are many perennials for partial shade such as Bleeding Heart, Foxglove, Primula, Bearded and Siberian Iris, Lilies, Lupine, Columbine, Globeflower, Ligularia, Coral Bells, and Daylily.
  • If there’s a gap in colour in your partial shade garden, plant annual shade Impatiens, Fibrous Begonias, Fuchsia, or Lobelia.
  • Hall’s Honeysuckle is a semi evergreen flowering vine and it’s highly fragrant in June!
  • Evergreen interest is created with Spring Heath, Siberian Cypress, Mugho Pine, Nest Spruce, Bearberry and Coral Beauty Cotoneaster, Cedar, and English Ivy. Bright red berries are the hallmark of female evergreen Holly while Firethorn is remarkable for its clusters of orange berries that last well into winter.

There are tons of interesting options when choosing plants for shaded areas! You can also test the full sun plants in partial shade. Often they prefer the afternoon shade as it’s considerably cooler and moisture is better retained in the soil.