Gardening in the shade

Quick facts

  • Shady areas are cooler and the soil can remain moist longer.
  • Shady areas may be the last places in your garden to thaw out in the winter.
  • Shade has different levels of light, from dappled to deep.
  • Soil fertility is hard to maintain in shady sites.
  • Set containers under trees and near shrubs to avoid combating tree and shrub roots.

An abundance of large trees and shady areas in your yard can be seen as challenge or an opportunity. 

Shade gardens provide cool, refreshing areas of beauty during summer's heat.

They can create mystery, whimsy and discovery in your landscape and feature different plants than those in the rest of your yard.  

Know your site conditions

Like all long-lived, healthy landscapes, successful shade gardening starts with understanding the basic conditions of your planting site:

  • Space
  • Cold hardiness zone
  • Light
  • Soil type

Having a basic knowledge of your planting space will help you choose plants that will grow best in your site.

A plant won’t thrive in conditions that differ from what it needs to grow. It will be stressed and unable to reach its full size and shape or produce healthy leaves and flowers.

Plants that struggle in less-than-optimal growing conditions can also be more susceptible to pests and diseases.

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Containers and houseplants in shade gardens

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Plant lists

Lists of favorite plants for shady sites compiled by Master Gardeners, from The Best Plants for 30 Tough Sites (2007). 

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Julie Weisenhorn, Extension educator; Kristine Moncada, College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resource Sciences; and Deborah L. Brown

Reviewed in 2018

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