Shade gardening is an essential skill for homeowners who want to keep their entire property green and thriving. Most residential yards have some areas that rarely get direct sunlight and are prone to soil erosion because nothing grows there. This is especially true under spreading trees (such as oaks) which have dense foliage. Residential structures like houses and fences also tend to block sunshine and create dim spaces.

Introduction to Shade Gardening

Contrary to your expectations, ground cover is not your only option for shady areas in your garden. You can plant shrubs, vines, flowering plants, and herbs in areas that receive little sun. Some species require well drained soil while others can grow in damp, boggy patches. Generally, shade loving plants appreciate being protected from harsh winds. This makes them perfect for side yards and other out-of-the-way retreats on your property.

In warm climates, houseplants (such as Caladium) that require very little light can be planted outdoors. For cooler zones, a luxurious bed of moss may be an ideal addition to your garden. Remember that the ground below deciduous trees will receive light during the winter. You can plant early flowering bulbs like crocuses and snowdrops in these areas since they will bloom before the trees send out new leaves in the spring.

Full Shade Plant Options

Some of the easiest shade plants to grow are those that spread via rhizomes or runners rather than by seed. Wild ginger, bugleweed, and lady fern are examples of species that propagate in this way. Such plants tend to be invasive. You may have to prune them aggressively to keep them from taking over your garden.

Perennial flowers that thrive in full shade include the spectacular foxglove. Bleeding heart, bishop’s hat, and deadnettle are other options. These plants only bloom for a couple of months per year. However, their foliage is still attractive during the rest of the season.

Shrubs that can be grown in the shade include: Hebe, rhododendron, laurel, yew, and many species of holly. If you have large areas in your landscape that receive little sunlight, you can use these bushes to add height and bulk to your shade gardening design.

Lilyturf is a ground cover that grows in grassy clumps. It is a popular border plant. Meadow rue, hosta, and lily of China are other shade tolerant ground covers. These types of vegetation are usually not as tough as lawn grass; so plant them in areas with no foot traffic.

Don’t forget ivy when you plan your shade garden. Grow it along a fence line or up tree trunks. Keep ivy away from your house – it can cause damage as its tendrils work their way under siding or into mortar.

Edible Plants 

Herbs such as mint, basil, and parsley will tolerate partial shade. Some leafy vegetables are also suitable for shade gardening. These plants grow more slowly with less sun, but should still produce plenty of fresh foliage for your dinner table.