How to Plant Shade Gardens

How to Plant Shade Gardens image by S.F. Heron - All images


Shade gardens offer the homeowner landscape choices in rich foliage colors of both annual and perennial plants. Shade gardens differ slightly from standard partial-shade or sunlight gardens because of the location. When locating a garden in a shady spot under a tree or shrub, you've placed your budding plants in an area where they compete for nutrients from much larger plants. Consider adding a mulch base to retain moisture because plants under canopies don't receive as much moisture from rain.

How to Plant Shade Gardens

Step 1

Evaluate which type of shade exists in your proposed garden space. Shade comes in a few varieties and deciding which type will help your plants thrive. Dappled shades feature sunlight that peeks through tree branches and leaves. Partial shade receives roughly 2 to 6 hours of sunlight each day. Full shade allows no direct sunlight.

Step 2

Choose plants to suit the location. Visit the local garden center and check out the plants located inside the greenhouse. Plants inside greenhouses tend to require less light than those situated in outdoor areas of the nursery. Examine the tags to determine which plants will suit your type of shade. Hardy perennial choices include astilbe (flowering variety), hosta and ferns for beautiful foliage. Annuals such as caladium and coleus offer beautiful intricate leaves to add color to the shade garden. Flowering annuals that thrive in partial shade include impatiens and begonias.

Step 3

Prepare the garden bed by turning over the top 12 inches of soil with a shovel or rototiller.

Step 4

Add soil conditioner, peat or compost to the top layer of soil and turn the garden over again. You'll be adding important nutrients into the soil before planting any shade-loving plants. You can also remove this loosened top layer of dirt, place a 2- to 3-inch layer of compost or peat and return the dirt to the garden. Mix in additional soil conditioner, peat moss or compost as you replace it in the garden.

Step 5

Space your plants with plenty of room to allow air to flow freely around them. If you're planting perennials, plan for these plants to increase in size roughly by half each year. To avoid having to split and transplant, allow growing space around each plant. Place annuals together in groups of three for splashes of color in your shade garden.

Step 6

Dig holes roughly 1 1/2 times the size of the plant pot. Add soil conditioner or compost to the hole to encourage healthy root growth.

Step 7

Hold the plastic temporary plant container in your hand for smaller plants and squeeze the plastic container. Place your hand across the top and flip the container upside down to free the plant. For larger gallon-size plant pots, tip the plastic container carefully onto the side and press down on the planter. Rotate the plant and continue pressing until you've done the entire plant pot. This loosens any rootbound soil inside the plant. You should be able to wiggle the plant right out of the pot. Use clippers to cut the plastic starter pot for plants with particularly stubborn roots.

Step 8

Free the roots by aiming a light spray of water from the hose on the exposed portion of the plant roots. You can also press your fingers into the soil surrounding the roots of a plant to loosen the roots. This encourages the roots to grow outward after being confined in a starter pot.

Step 9

Place the plants into their appropriately sized holes and fill in around each plant. Press the soil firmly and continue adding soil around the base of the plant until level with the rest of the garden.

Step 10

Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to the garden surface and water thoroughly. Water the garden regularly for the first months to help the plants become established.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Soil additives (peat moss, soil conditioner)
  • Shade-loving plants
  • Pruning clippers
  • Mulch


  • University of Rhode Island
  • Iowa State University
  • Our Garden Gang
Keywords: shade gardens, gardening for shade, shade plants

About this Author

S.F. Heron is an avid gardener with over three years of experience in online writing and a working background in aviation and earth and ocean sciences. She is published on various websites and holds a Bachelor of Science degree in journalism from the University of Maryland.

Photo by: S.F. Heron - All images