How to Grow a Shade Garden

Having an outdoor space with a lush canopy of trees overhead can be a blessing on scorching hot summer days, offering respite from the heat along with peaceful privacy. The only problem? Many flowering plants – think roses or zinnias – require full sun, not shade. What’s a bloom-loving gardener to do? Find the best plants that grow under trees to brighten up your yard! Here are some of our faves, plus some reasons why shade gardens are so awesome.

Choose plants with lovely foliage colors and textures
Plants with variegated leaves, such as pagoda dogwood, ‘Silvery Sunproof’ muscari, and Gold variegated periwinkle, add interest to any flowerbed.

Use ground covers as mulch
Plant perennial varieties such as Ajuga or sweet woodruff in the spaces between tree roots so you don’t smother them. Other plants that spread out nicely under a leafy canopy include hostas, Lily-of-the-valley, lungwort and pachysandra.

Yes, you can have spectacular color in a shade garden!
Want some striking blossoms? Plant Golden star, which features spectacular yellow blooms, spotted deadnettle with fushia flowers, astilbe hybrids of red, lavender and salmon, begonias, coleus with its stunning ruby-red and green colored leaves, or ‘Electric Lime’ heuchera.

Don’t forget: Your garden will change over time.
If you moved into your home when just a few spindly trees were taking root, you’ll need to adapt your outdoor space over time as you move from sun to shade as the trees mature.

Try some new plants and see how they work in your space.
There are many great shade-loving plants; why not try a few you’ve never seen before, such as Creamsickle Elephant Ears (come on, you want to plant it just because it’s fun to say, right?), also known as angel wings. This caladium from South America features oversized leaves that look like, well, elephant ears! Or, try the exotic-looking Persian Shield, a soft-stemmed shrub with glorious bright purple and silver leaves. Also, a mirror plant called ‘Tequila Sunrise’ offers glossy foliage with orange and green marbled leaves.

Watering know-how
Because the soil under trees and hedges tends to be dry and depleted of nutrients, be sure to water deeply at least once a week, and fertilize regularly.

Want more terrific options? Check out Jenny Rose Carey’s book Glorious Shade. The director of the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s public garden and nursery offers up tons of great tips for those of us whose gardens are not bathed in sunlight.

What have you had success with in your shade garden? Share your photos with us!


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