How to Create Shade Gardens


Shade gardens present a unique challenge for garden enthusiasts. Shady areas tend to be cast by much larger obstructions such as large trees and buildings that obstruct natural light and alter the quality of garden soil. Shade tends to have much drier soil, especially under the spreading canopy of a tree. Learning how to create a shade garden requires dealing initially with boosting the nutrient content of the soil. Amending the soil with organic additives will also increase the chances of a successful shade garden. Finally, choosing the right plants for the amount of light will help you create a beautiful, lasting addition to your landscape.

Step 1

Work under the assumption that the soil quality in your shade location needs assistance. Amending the soil in any garden only benefits both existing and new plantings and shouldn't be considered a wasted effort.

Step 2

Determine the type of shade in your planting area to select appropriate plants for the garden. Full shade receives no direct sunlight throughout the day. Partial shade receives slanted sun in the early morning or late evening. Dappled shade provides light through the branches of trees. Tailor plant choices to optimize the use of your garden.

Step 3

Turn over the soil in the shade garden using a shovel. Dig carefully in areas beneath trees to avoid damaging surface roots. Position plants between larger roots to allow plenty of room for the plant and tree to thrive.

Step 4

Apply a 2-inch layer of peat moss or compost to the soil surface. Work this organic material into the soil to a depth of at least 6 inches. Shade gardens need plenty of organic material to retain moisture. Adding compost or peat regularly to the shade garden will produce healthier, sturdy plants.

Step 5

Plant perennials or annuals based on recommendations provided with each plant. Follow instructions for proper depth, light requirements, soil needs and fertilizing. Fill in with amended soil around each plant, and firm the soil to help with settling. Add more soil if needed to bring the dirt up to garden level.

Step 6

Water the shade plants deeply around the base of the plant. Don't water the leaves because this shade environment encourages the growth of fungus and disease with overwatering.

Step 7

Mulch the garden to a depth of 3 to 4 inches to encourage water retention. Do not place mulch against tree trunks to avoid damage to the tree. Mice, moles and other garden pests love to nest in warm mulch piles.

Things You'll Need

  • Shovel
  • Peat moss
  • Compost
  • Mulch
  • Garden hose


  • University of Minnesota Extension
  • Colorado State University
  • University of Florida
Keywords: shade gardens, shade planting, create shade gardens

About this Author

Currently studying for her Maryland master gardener certification, Sharon Heron has written professionally since 2006. Her writing includes hundreds of articles on a wide range of topics including gardening, environment, golf, parenting, exercise, finances and consumer how-to articles.