Made in the Shade
With its soft, dappled light, a shady backyard can be a soothing retreat...or a barren disappointment. A shady spot loses its charm when its only distinguishing features are bare earth, a few tufts of grass and a handful of spindly plants.
But there's a simple formula for making shade work for you: Choose the right plants for your shady conditions. While you may have to forgo some of the bright colors typically associated with sun-loving plants, you don't have to settle for foliage plants only. You'll be pleasantly surprised at the variety of colors, textures and sizes available for the shade garden.
Columbine, ,ajuga and rhododendron are just a few of the flowering plants that thrive in shade. Shade-lovers like sweet woodruff and lily-of-the-valley add delicate white blossoms and a wonderful fragrance to the landscape. The options are nearly endless.
Making Shade Work
First, count your blessings. Really!
Shade gardens have one benefit that sunny ones don't. the soil retains moisture better, so you don't have to water your plants as often. And the less time you spend maintaining your garden, the more time you have to enjoy it!
Second, you may have more sunlight than you think. Evaluate your garden carefully to determine the amount of shade you really have. Some plants that thrive in full sun will also tolerate shade for a few hours every day.
Realize that light conditions will probably vary from one part of your yard to the next. There could be a corner that gets full sun in the morning and falls into shade in the afternoon—while a spot just a few feet away is in more persistent shade because of the location of your garage.
Also consider how changing seasons affect sun and shade conditions in your yard. Even a yard filled with shade trees can support bright, spring-flowering bulbs, as long as they emerge before trees leaf out fully.
If your landscape already has some plants, they should provide some hints to determine what other plants might work best. Did sun-loving geraniums and marigolds die in a spot where impatiens thrived? You've probably found a good spot for shade-loving plants.
Keep a simple garden journal to keep track of your successes and failures. In time, you'll know the various conditions you are working with throughout your backyard.
Consider adding a few shade-loving trees and shrubs to the sunless areas of your landscape, too. This gives your yard height and structure. Small, shade-tolerant plants like dogwood, fothergilla and summersweet produce lovely spring flowers. The chartreuse stems of kerria provide winter interest, and evergreen pittosporum has glossy foliage that lasts year-round.
Once you've selected some shade lovers for your yard, plant them just as you would anything else, then mulch to minimize weed growth and help retain soil moisture. Water only when plants really need it, and fertilize sparingly. Then stand back and watch your shady spot spring to life!