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Shade Plants for a Zen Garden

By Lauren Wise ; Updated September 21, 2017
Japanese maple tree leaves

The popular Japanese design of Zen gardens can be created in any meditative space, and focuses on elements like rocks or stones, water or waterfalls, plants, bridges, sand and trees. Since a Zen garden is usually in a peaceful, comfortable setting, it is usual in partial or full shade on landscapes. It is key to have surrounding plants or trees that can thrive in this environment, such as the Japanese maple or moss.

Japanese Maple Tree

The Japanese maple is a beautiful addition to any landscape. In Japan it is often pruned very young so the trunk grows gnarled and aged more than it actually is. The tree doesn't grow over 20 feet tall, on average around 10 feet, and the branches reach outward, carrying leaves that range from indigo to coral red. These trees thrive in partial shade.


Mossy walking path

If you have water in your Zen garden, moss is a must. Even if you don't have water or waterfalls, moss growing on rocks, a pathway or on trees make an ideal addition since it thrives and flourishes in the shade. The nice thing about moss (most moss is evergreen) is that once it is established, it can grow with little to no maintenance. Moss thrives in the shade. Plant small plots of moss scattered throughout the Zen garden.

Azalea Shrubs

Although Zen gardens do not rely much on flowers or blooming bushes, an azalea bush can be pruned to provide the type of foliage you want for your Zen garden as well as lend some color. Azaleas have small leaves and bright flowers that pop up in spring. The deciduous variety thrives in full shade and turns crimson to give a Japanese maple a run for its money in fall. The evergreen variety also thrives in full shade but does not turn colors.