by Debra Wyatt
(last updated October 20, 2017)
Shade gardening doesn't have to be frustrating. First, it helps to understand what is considered to be shade gardening, which is gardening in the absence of direct lighting. When a garden area receives less than five hours of direct sun, it would be considered a prime candidate for shade gardening techniques.
There are a few plants that can thrive on low light while others may only tolerate low light and, of course, there are plants that cannot survive in the shade. The problem is that plants require light to photosynthesize and grow their own food, so the plants that have low metabolism really are the only plants that can grow in shade.
It is important that before starting your garden you take the time to define what type of shade you will be dealing with. There are several different types of shade, but for the typical shade gardens they can be classified into one of these categories: morning shade, light shade, afternoon shade and dense shade.
Dense shade is usually under large trees or next to a building that may block the sun entirely. It is the most difficult of all the different types of shade to actually grow anything in. For these problem areas the best thing that will work in dense shade is ground covering.
Besides the light there are still a couple of other concerns such as water and how fertile that ground is. The area that usually is in the shade not only doesn't receive light it usually doesn't get enough rain. The larger trees or overhangs keep the rain from the ground that is beneath it. To solve this problem you will need to water the plants even if it has rained.
The other problem is that of soil fertility. Trees and other plants have feeder roots, and they take most of the nutrients. That can leave you with another problem: The more you water and fertilize your plants the greedier the trees and other larger plants become. You can combat this by planning for it; fertilize your garden once in the spring and then two other times in the summer. If the problem still exists then this area would be perfect for a container garden. The containers will need to be replanted each year because they do not tolerate winters very well.
With few exceptions shade-tolerant plants will do best in well-drained, relatively fertile soil. Both sandy soils and heavy, clay like soils will benefit from the incorporation of organic matter such as peat moss, compost, or well-rotted manure. Such materials are particularly helpful in areas of hard, compacted soils.
When deciding on what to plant there are different areas to look at when planting such as flowering annuals, perennials, and bulb-type plants. There is also the woodland plant, which is good for color. If there is a problem area, try using a ground cover. They usually do well in problem areas like those with dense shade. Don't hesitate to try different plants. You'll quickly discover which ones grow best in your area and in your conditions.
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