When you see heat rippling off the pavement, and just walking around the yard makes you break into a sweat, you can feel instant relief when you retreat into your shade garden. Those areas under tree canopies, between buildings, and on the north side of your house are ideal for creating a little oasis of cool air in summer. With the right plants, design, and soil, your shady retreat can become a reality.
Shady areas have different conditions than sun gardens, other than less sun. The air is more humid and cooler. The ground can be full of tree roots or heavily compacted. You may even have several microclimates to deal with. Your best bet is to analyze you space well, and choose the best plants, hardscaping, and accent pieces for what you have.
Not all shade is the same. Maybe your area has little dapples of sunlight throughout the day, which would make for light shade. Light or partial shade gives you the widest range of plant choices. Full shade, with little or no direct sun at all, gives you fewer options for plants. Take note of your type of shade before you spend money on plants.
As you plan your shade garden, think about color, texture, and form. Foliage takes center stage in shade gardens, so you can plan groupings of plants with interesting leaves, such as hostas. Other factors can come into play, too. Do you have an accent piece that you want to stand out? Is there a wall or path along the edge of your future garden? Do you want a little sitting area? Let your garden design reflect your personality.
Shady spots are more humid and have less air circulation than sunny gardens. So disease can be a problem. You want your plants to be as healthy as possible, and that starts with their soil. If you have weeds or grass where you're putting your garden, knock them out with a control product such as Roundup® Weed & Grass Killer. After a few days, work in organic material, such as humus or sphagnum peat moss. Organic material in the soil helps promote air circulation around the roots and provides important nutrients. Miracle-Gro® Enriched Sphagnum Peat Moss and Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil are good choices for this.
Once your soil is amended feel free to start planting. When you put your plants in the ground, sprinkle some Osmocote® Plus Multipurpose Plant Food, which will feed them for 6 months. Just be sure to put plants together that have the same watering needs. That will help cut down on future maintenance. Water regularly and weed, and you'll have a lush, inviting shade garden.
This is where the real fun begins. Look for plants that love the kind of shade you have. Partial shade allows even famous sun-lovers like coneflowers and black-eyed Susans to thrive. Deep shade is inviting to many kinds of ivy and groundcover. Bleeding hearts and foam flowers are happy somewhere in between.
Your big, tough trees are in fact really sensitive. They don't like people messing with their roots. You can damage your valuable trees by cutting through their roots to plant your garden. You can also smother them by piling too much dirt on the roots. If you keep running into roots as you dig, move away from the trees until you find some root-free dirt. Surface-hugging groundcovers can move in closer to the trees than deep-rooted flowers and shrubs.