Areas under tree canopies, between buildings and on the north side of your house are ideal for creating an oasis of cool air in summer. The shady parts of your yard have different growing conditions than the parts in full or partial sun. The air is usually cooler and more humid. The ground may be occupied by tree roots or heavily compacted. Your best bet is to analyze your space well, and choose the best plants, hardscaping and accent pieces for the growing conditions you have.
Not all shade is the same. Your area may have dappled sunlight throughout the day, which you can categorize as light shade. Light or partial shade gives you the widest range of plant choices. Full shade, with little or no direct sun at all, will give you fewer options. Take note of your type of shade before you make any decisions.
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 and the less aggressive dwarf bamboo variety called golden variegated-leaf bamboo. 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? Plot out your garden in detail before you get started by using the tips in our article "Landscaping Planning & Mapping."
If you have mature trees in your yard, keep in mind that they're not quite as tough as they look: be careful you don't interfere with their roots by cutting through them or piling too much soil on top of them. If you keep running into roots as you dig, move away from the trees until you find some root-free soil. Keep in mind that surface-hugging groundcovers can be planted closer to the trees than deep-rooted flowers and shrubs.
Look for plants that love the kind of shade you're giving them. Partial shade can allow 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 will be happy somewhere in between. Keep in mind that even shade plants need at least 3 hours of sunlight each day to grow properly.
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, so start at the soil level. If you have weeds or grass in your shade garden, eliminate them by using a weed killer, following label directions . Most of your shade plants will want rich, moist, well-draining soil, so amend your soil with compost or garden soil, such Miracle-Gro® Garden Soil for Flowers & Vegetables or Miracle-Gro® Organic Choice® Garden Soil.
Now comes the fun part. Once your soil is amended, start planting. Arrange plants together according to their watering needs. This will help cut down on future maintenance. Water according to seed packets or plant label instructions, aiming for soil that's consistently moist. A month after plant, start a regular feeding program, and you'll soon have a lush, inviting shade garden.