1. Assess your garden and learn the nomenclature
Because not all shade is created equal.
- Partial shade. As the sun arcs across the sky, different areas of the garden are exposed to direct sun for part of the day and bathed in shade for at least half a day (or three hours during the hottest part of the day).
- Filtered or dappled shade. As sunlight passes through the canopy of a tree, the leaves create a pattern of light and shadow, or dappled sunlight. An overhead lath also provides a filtered effect. In general, filtered shade will support many plants that grow in partial or light shade.
- Light or open shade. This bright, fairly even shade is found in gardens that are open to the sky but bathed in shadows cast by surrounding tall trees, walls, or other shade structures.
- Full or deep shade. An area with little or no direct sunlight, such as beneath a dense evergreen tree, is considered full shade. The low level of light restricts the choice of plants.
2. Remember the water
Inadequate moisture is often a problem in shade. Whether caused by the canopy of trees or the overhang of a house, an umbrella-like effect often deflects rainfall from the ground beneath it. Adding to the problem, many trees and shrubs compete with smaller plants growing below. Make sure your irrigation system is hooked up to give adequate irrigation to plants growing in the shade.
3. Maintain fertility
Feeder roots of trees and shrubs can compete with smaller plants, using up nutrients. Be sure to fertilize with an organic, balanced fertilizer according to package instructions so that soil fertility stays intact. Soil fertility also can be a source of trouble. Trees and shrubs fill the soil with feeder
4. Always mulch
Adding 3 to 6 inches of an organic mulch (derived from plant material) adds nutrients over time, enrich overall soil composition, conserve moisture, and prevent weeds. Make sure to replenish once a year, and keep the mulch pulled back from any trunks or stems in order to prevent rot.
5. Mix in plants with variegated foliage
They add visual texture and definition. Great choices include winter daphne (D. odora ‘Marginata’), lily-of-the-valley shrub (Pieris japonica ‘Variegata’), and Weigela ‘Variegata’.
6. Brighten dark corners with lime or gold foliage
Plants such as Japanese sweet flag (Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’), Hinoki false cypress (Chamaecyparis obtusa ‘Nana Lutea’), Gold Coast juniper (Juniperus chinensis ‘Aurea’), and some hostas give the illusion that rays of sunshine are penetrating through the gloom.
7. Add bronze or chocolate-red for a punch
Shrubs such as Japanese barberry and dwarf red-leaf plum (Prunus x cistena) and perennials like carpet bugle (Ajuga reptans) and Heuchera micrantha ‘Palace Purple’ add visual punch among all-green foliage.
8. Weave in some blues.
They add subtle shadings beside green foliage. Choices include blue fescue and many hostas.