Plants for Shady Spots: How to Garden in the Shade

Most gardens have a shady area or two – or more. The number and location of these areas can change as a garden matures and trees and shrubs reach full height, so the need to find plants that work well in the shade can be ongoing.

Shade in the garden is a double-edged sword: It can be cool and refreshing or it can be gloomy. Within the constraint of the green, there’s a wealth of shades and hues, as well as leaf textures.

The big, bold leaves of hostas are workhorses of the shade garden. To brighten up a shady spot, choose a hosta variety with variegated leaves. For a contrast in leaf texture, give those hostas a backdrop of ferns.

No need to neglect flowers just because you have shade. Brighter colors are always welcome in the shade. Start the season with pastel colors of hellebore, the red, purple, or white blossoms peeking out from the bold, semi-evergreen foliage. Follow with small, red blossoms of bleeding heart (dicentra), which dangle from the undersides of arching stems early in the season. Later in the season, astilbe offers frothy blooms in white, pink and red.

In light shade, some sun filters to ground level, such as a spot under a tree with filigreed foliage. Partially shaded locations are in shadow four to six hours a day; a typical shady spot might be near an east or west-facing wall. Full shade sites, like the north side of a house or beneath a densely-leaved tree, receive no direct sunlight. A dark, heat-protective hollow during summer may become a warmth-starved frost trap in winter, killing plants that might otherwise survive.

Gardeners all over the country have a variety of plants to choose from for their shade gardens. The number one rule in shade gardening is to plant thickly. Pack the plants in tightly to create a verdant, almost over-planted, space. You want it to look lush and full.