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5 Steps for Shade Garden Success

May 10, 2018 10:01:00 AM

Written by

McKay Staff

in Problem Solvers Gardening 101 How-to Guide

When your landscape offers the bonus of cool, refreshing shade, creating a beautiful garden requires a fresh approach to plant selection and care. Many go-to favorites for sunny gardens fall short on blooms, beauty and health in low-light situations. But that doesn't mean shade gardens have to sacrifice diversity or beauty. With these simple steps and our top plants for shade, you can create a rich tapestry of shade-loving plants to rival the sunniest garden:


1. Evaluate your shade.


You may know your landscape's ins and outs, but take time to re-assess light levels. Sites that sit in full shade when you leave in the morning and come home at night may be in full sun at midday. Shade plants handle gentle morning and evening rays well, but harsh noon sun is a different story. Compare light levels in the most sheltered sections of your site to those along the leading edge, so you can place new plants where they'll flourish.


2. Focus on foliage.


Interesting and unusual foliage provides the foundation for shade gardens. Leaf shape, size, texture and color all contribute season-long beauty to your shady sites. Plants like Berry Smoothie coral bells shine with bold, bright rosy leaves that deepen to burgundy through the season. Companions like Paradigm hosta offer corrugated golden leaves rimmed in deep blue-green. For the flip-side, try First Frost hosta's vibrant blue-green leaves edged in gold.


3. Showcase seasonal changes.


Plants that change with the seasons keep shady sites fresh at every turn. Old-fashioned bleeding heart adds timeless grace and romance with weeping, heart-shaped spring blossoms. Then it dies back and lets other plants move in for summer. Stairway to Heaven Jacob's ladder adds multi-season beauty with ferny, ladder-like green leaves edged in creamy white. Spring adds a subtle pink blush to the leaves and then tops them off with sky-blue flowers.


4. Celebrate shade-loving blooms.


The pink flowers pictures are Visions in Pink Astilbe perennial

By choosing shade plants that flower at different times, you can make the most of shady blooms. The Visions series of astilbes pairs thick, sturdy stems with showy flower plumes and staggered bloom times. Start the parade with Visions in Red astilbe, whose deep red buds open to fuchsia atop bronze-red leaves, and add the bright, mauve-pink blooms of the original Visions. Keep flowers flowing with pure white Visions in White, then let Visions in Pink's pale pink blooms and blue-green leaves finish out summer in style.


5. Fine-tune your plant care.


With less exposure to sun and wind, shade sites generally dry out more slowly than sunny sites when watered. At the same time, trees and structures that shade your site can prevent rain from reaching the ground. Check your soil by hand regularly and adjust your watering to meet plant needs. Shady sites often have less air circulation, so limit overhead watering. Water early in the day so wet leaves dry more quickly. This reduces the risk of leaf diseases.


With these simple steps and top plants for shade, you can transform shady sites into beautiful gardens and give existing gardens a welcome lift. Shop our plant selection online for home delivery anywhere in the continental United States. Need a helping hand with design? Let the McKay Design Studio help you take your shady site to new heights this season.

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