Tips For Planting The Perfect Shade Garden

Tips For Planting The Perfect Shade Garden

Are you considering planting a shade garden but are still determining the best approach? 

Planning and selecting the right plants are crucial for a successful shade garden. 

This informative article provides some valuable tips for crafting the ideal shade garden. 

While most people envision vibrant sun gardens filled with roses, daisies, and peonies, shade gardens possess unique beauty enriched by shade-loving perennials. 

Additionally, shade gardens offer the opportunity to infuse character into otherwise less vibrant spaces. Rather than relying solely on flowers, shade gardens captivate through a captivating blend of textures and foliage colors. 

While starting a shade garden can present some challenges, armed with these expert tips, you’ll be well-equipped to cultivate a serene sanctuary amidst the shade.

Tips For Planting The Perfect Shade Garden



Soil is really important for all gardens, including shade gardens. Plants grow best in soil that suits their needs. For example, cacti need sandy soil, while tomatoes prefer rich soil. 

Shade plants have adapted to grow in shady conditions in their natural habitats, where the soil is light, airy, and full of organic matter. This is the soil we want for our shade gardens – loamy, humus-rich, loose, and well-draining.

If your soil is clumpy, you’ll need to amend it. Some people are fortunate to have the right soil naturally, but others, like myself, need to improve their soil. 

You can test your soil by squeezing it in your hand. If it crumbles easily, you have light soil. If it stays in a ball, you have clay soil and need to make it lighter and fluffier by adding peat moss or coir.


Adding nutrients to the soil is also important. In early spring or late fall, you can top-dress your garden beds with compost, aged manure, worm castings, or sea soil. Simply spread a thin layer on top and water it in. This will provide the necessary nutrients for your shade garden to thrive.


watering plant

Proper watering is crucial for shade gardens. Most shade plants prefer moist soil and don’t tolerate drying out. If your climate is dry, you may need to supplement rainfall with additional watering. 

Soaker hoses are great for providing deep watering to your plants. Water your garden beds for an hour or two each week, or more if it’s hot and dry. If you notice plants drooping and looking sad, it’s a sign they need a good drink.



Mulch is essential for retaining moisture in the soil. It acts as a sponge, holding water and releasing it slowly. While bark mulch is commonly used, you can explore other options, like alpine or shredded cedar mulch. 

Another alternative is to use ground cover plants that act as natural mulch by retaining moisture through their roots and leaves.

Instead of relying solely on commercial fertilizers, you can use compost and organic products from the sea to provide nutrients to your shade garden. 


Compost or worm-casting tea can be applied to the soil to introduce beneficial bacteria and microbes. Local products are often the best choice, as they are specifically designed for the soil in your area.



Shade gardens often require protection from wind, as many shade-loving plants are not tolerant of strong winds. You can create microclimates by planting near trees or using shade-friendly shrubs as windbreaks. 

Consider the placement of your shade garden, such as near your house or fence, to provide additional protection.

Deal with boggy Areas

Dealing with boggy areas or dry shade pockets in your shade garden requires careful plant selection and, in some cases, addressing drainage issues.

Layer Plants For Lush Gardens

Layer Plants For Lush Gardens

Consider the different levels and layers of foliage in your shade garden to create a lush and visually appealing space. 

Start with taller plants towards the back and gradually place shorter plants in front, finishing with ground cover at the front. This allows for efficient water sharing and adds depth to the garden.

Bloom Time

Different plants have different bloom times, even in the shade. Select plants that bloom at different times to ensure continuous blooming throughout the season. 

Plan for various plants to showcase their blooms in early spring, late spring, early summer, midsummer, late summer, and fall. 

By diversifying the bloom times, you can create a symphony of colors and prevent the garden from becoming dull after a single bloom period.


Shade gardens offer a wide variety of foliage options, which can add beauty and interest. You can choose plants with striking foliage colors like deep purple coral bells or dusky blue hostas. 

Ferns, lungwort, and brunnera also have unique foliage features. While flowers may come and go, the foliage remains constant, making it a great way to add visual appeal to your shade garden throughout the season.

Add Annuals 

Add Annuals 

Consider planting annuals if you want to add more color to your shade garden. While shade gardens may have fewer big and showy flowers, annuals can provide continuous blooms. 

Tuberous begonias, such as the NonStop series, produce large rose-like flowers in the shade. Group them in the front of your beds for impact. Impatiens and geraniums also grow well in shady areas and can add pops of color.

Deal with Shade Pests 

Deal with Shade Pests 

Shade gardens can attract pests like slugs and snails. These pests love the damp conditions that shade provides and can munch on your plants. You can use slug bait purchased from a garden center or handpick the slugs off the plants to deal with them. 

Sprinkling slug bait weekly has been effective for reducing their numbers. You can also try the beer trick by placing beer trays to attract the slugs, although it requires more effort.

Consider Winter Interest

In regions with long winters, it’s nice to have some interest in your shade garden during the colder months. Consider leaving the dried flower heads of your Annabelle hydrangeas for a beautiful snow-covered display. 

Shrubs like dogwoods with their red-colored stems provide winter interest. Evergreens like boxwood and cedars can also add green appeal year-round. 

Including year-round focal points like fountains, statues, or arbors can provide height and interest in your garden throughout the seasons. 

Dressing up pots with sticks, evergreen boughs, and pine cones can add a festive touch.

By considering these factors and following these tips, you can create a thriving and beautiful shade garden that will bring joy and tranquility to your outdoor space.

Closing Note

Creating a shade garden may seem overwhelming, but if you start with good soil and proper watering, you can build upon that foundation. 

Remember that shade gardens can be just as lush and diverse as sunny spots. Don’t be afraid to experiment and move things around in your garden. Enjoy the process and happy gardening!

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