All gardens are not created equal. Some gardens have too much shade, and some not enough. You may be thinking that there are not many plants that you can grow in the shade, but there are plenty of shade perennials that are worth trying. Here in the Mid South, even plants that are considered full sun actually appreciate a little afternoon shade. There are a few tips that can make shade gardening with perennials a breeze such as assessing your site, creating the amount of shade you want, and picking plants that do well in your area.
Shade Gardening Tips
The first tip for planting shade perennials is to choose a spot that has little competition from trees that have surface roots such as maples, sweet gums, and dogwoods. The term “surface roots” means just what it says. The roots of the trees grow on the surface of the ground. This causes a problem with competition for water and nutrients if you plant perennials around these roots. Giving your plants a good growing environment with little competition is the first step to a great garden. The second tip is to assess your site before you plant.
Assessing Your Site
Assessing your site and identifying light and shade levels for that area is important. Simply take a walk around your yard and observe what areas get full sun and which areas are truly shady areas. Remember, light levels change throughout the year as the seasons change and as trees leaf out or grow to maturity. Keep notes in a journal as to what areas receive shade in the morning, midday, and early afternoon. Note whether the area is full shade, partial shade, or full sun. For the beginner gardener, those terms may be a little confusing. Here’s a quick primer on what those terms mean.
Full shade areas have a dense canopy where no direct sunlight penetrates, or perhaps the plant is in the shadow of an evergreen tree or building all day.
Partial shade means that the garden receives dappled shade throughout the day. This simply means that you can see some portions of the sky through the leaves above you. Another type of partial shade is the garden that is more densely shaded for a part of the day but receives bright sunlight for two to six hours.
The third type of area is full sun which means the area receives at least six hours of direct sunlight during the day. Once you have assessed your site and understand what type of shade you have. Next, you may want to create the amount of shade you want for your garden.
Create the Amount of Shade You Want
The third tip to increase your success with shade gardening, is to try altering the amount of light that enters your shade garden bed to suit your needs and the needs of the plants you want to plant. Prune trees to decrease the amount of shade and to create a high canopy that your plants will love. This also creates more air flow which is healthy for you and your plants since it decreases mold and mildew. To create more shade; plant trees, add walls and fences, build a lath house, or put a shade cloth over a simple plastic pipe structure, build an arbor or gazebo. Using vines on structures is also a quick way to create more shade.
Pick the Right Plants for Your Zone
Once you have assessed your area and created the type of shade you want, you are ready to plant. Go to your local garden center, or to your local extension service website, for a list of plants that do well in your area. You will find both a wealth of information. Below is a list of some top shade loving perennial performers for the Mid South.
Ten Shade Perennials for the Mid South
- Italian arum (Arum italicum)
- Northern sea oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)
- Green and gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)
- Cardinal flower (Lobelia Cardinalis)
- Solomon’s seal (Polyanatum odoratum)
- Spiderwort (Tradescantia x Andersoniana)
- Lenten rose (Helleborus spp.)
- Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum)
- Astilbe (Astilbe x Arendsii)
- Toad lily (Tricyrtus formosana)
Visiting local public and botanical gardens, attending local garden tours, joining local garden clubs, and visiting your local extension service website, is a great way to learn more about perennials that do well in your area.
Given the right conditions, your plants will thrive. Remember, remove competition, asses your site, create the amount of shade you want and you will be on your way to a gorgeous yard that you will enjoy all season. Keep in mind that there are also ferns, vines, annuals, and shrubs that do well in shade. As a general rule, plants that do well in the shade have large, flat leaves that help them absorb light for photosynthesis and growth. They will generally have fewer flowers and seeds than plants grown in the sun. Think foliage, color, and texture for shady areas in your garden. This list of ten shade perennials is a good place to start for gardeners in the Mid South, but part of the fun of gardening is experimenting with different types of plants so be sure to go out there and find the plants that will be on your own list of “favorites” and enjoy the journey.