Shade Perennials

Gardening in the shade beneath the canopy trees offers many advantages. Shade trees moderate temperatures during the hot summer months and provide the garden with structure, privacy and year-round interest. 

Do keep in mind, however, shade perennials, including spring bulbs, generally bloom spring before the leaves come out on the trees. Shade perennials rely on interesting foliage textures for much of the season.

The first thing to do when planning a shade garden is to determine what type of shade there is. There are three types of shade; dappled, part shade and deep shade and its important to understand each type when choosing plants for your garden.

Types of Shadiness

Dappled shade, the easiest type of shade in which to garden, occurs beneath deciduous trees where there are drastic changes in the amount of sunlight reaching the ground throughout the year. Conditions alternate between a patchwork of shade and sun in the summer and full sun during winter. Many shade tolerant perennials, such as trillium, epimedium, anemone and various bulbs have adapted to these conditions by flowering in the spring while there is still quite a bit of light entering the garden.

Part shade is a condition such as full sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. Most plants will thrive in part shade conditions. Afternoon shade in this situation is beneficial to plants, such as Astilbe, as the shade will protect them from wilting during hottest part of the day.  Shade in the morning and sun in the afternoon, however, tends to stress some plants. 

Deep shade occurs beneath evergreens and can be a difficult environment in which to garden. Soil beneath evergreens is usually poor due to the lack of an annual leaf fall which in deciduous forests provides layers of organic mulch. Plants selected for deep shade gardens need to be shade demanding not just shade tolerant. 

Many plants which thrive in the shade have developed large leaves as a way for the plant to capture as much sunlight as possible. Hosta is a great example of this. After the spring blooms have gone by it’s the foliage of shade plants which becomes the focal point of the garden so consider using plants with variegated foliage to add brightness to the landscape. Incorporate a variety of greens in the garden as well. Yellow greens illuminate a shady space and deeper blue greens create a feeling of depth.

Juxtapose the foliage textures and colors of your plants to create interesting designs. A maiden hair fern with its delicate leaves will stand out more against the large leaves of a hosta than against another type of fern. 

Helleborus, a colorful shade perennial is easy to grow but difficult to transplant. Lungwort is a wonderful shade perennial has foliage which resembles that of the hosta foliage but differs in that it flowers in the spring. Coral Bell is also a great spring blooming perennial with interesting colorful foliage. Japanese Painted Ferns, with green and purple foliage, are a great addition to the shade garden.

While there are few annuals and grasses which will do well in shady conditions, there a number of perennials, ferns and bulbs which provide endless planting opportunities.

Related Articles: Perennials, Annuals, Easy Care Perennials, Shade Gardens