Planting & Landscaping

How To Start A New Garden Bed In The Shade

Here are some tips to help you start a new garden bed in the shade or partial or dappled sun. You can use these techniques to grow a beautiful, low-maintenance, colorful garden.

You'll need to consider whether or not any structures are blocking the sun from coming through or if it's just partial or dappled shade.

You'll also need to assess how dense this shading is under trees and other objects like buildings as well as the gradient of the garden bed.

Once you've figured out where in your yard needs some love, get ready with these easy-to-grow plants (and a few tips).

Types Of Shade In The Garden


The sun's angle changes during the seasons, and objects cast longer shadows in winter than the summer.

Make a sun map or download an app to track the sun in your garden bed.

Full Or Dense Shade

Narrow pathways between the house and garden wall most likely will have full shade and rarely see any sun.

Partial shade

These areas have shade for about 3 hours a day.

Dappled or Light Shade

Shade under trees where the sunlight is filtered through the branches.

Dry Shade

Under structures like the eaves of houses or near walls. The roots of trees suck up most available water and nutrients in the soil. Heavy rain often doesn't penetrate the canopy below.

Preparing The Soil For A Shade Garden

Preparing the soil for planting is an important step that will help your plants grow better and last longer.

  • Start by pulling out all weeds and grass, and unwanted plants.
  • Add compost and some organic fertilizer to enrich the soil.
  • Level the area with a rake.
  • Dig a hole for each plant.
  • After planting mulch to keep the garden soil moist, moderate the soil temperature and keep weeds at bay.

Planting Under Trees


Planting under trees can post quite a challenge. Trees prevent the sunlight from reaching the soil, and the tree roots soak up all the water, making it difficult for the other plants to grow well.

If you are starting from scratch and looking for a small to medium-size shade tree, choose one that grows well in your area. Flowering Dogwood, Japanese Maple or Crape Myrtle will provide a small canopy.

One of my favorites to do in the garden where space is limited is to train or shape a large shrub into a tree and underplant with smaller shrubs, perennials and annuals and even hanging baskets with shade loving plants.

  • Match the watering needs of the tree with the new plants. Some trees such as maples and birches thrive in moist soil.
  • Ideally, plant the trees and shrubs simultaneously, eliminating the damage to an established tree's roots.
  • Choose native plants as these are adapted to the soil and climate.
  • If possible, lift the canopy by trimming the lower and some inner branches to allow a little more light through and allow the rain to reach the ground.
  • Dig a hole for each plant larger than the plant and mix in good compost to give the plant a good start before it has to compete with the tree's roots. Be careful with this step as not to damage the tree's roots.
  • Mulch, making sure to keep the mulch away from the tree trunk.

Shrubs and Perennials For The Shade Garden


Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Easy to grow, this spreading native wildflower will thrive with moist soil.



If you're new to shade gardening, planting coleus is a great place to start. It's easy and fast-growing with an almost infinite number of color combinations!

A tender plant, coleus will be treated as an annual in areas with frost.

Pinch out the tips to prevent them from getting leggy.



Azaleas are a family of flowering plants in the genus Rhododendron. They are known for their showy clusters of flowers that bloom from late winter to early spring.

I love planting Azaleas as they're really easy to grow and beautiful to boot!

Azalea's come in so many colors that it's hard not to find one you'll just adore. Planting them is a cinch too. I like to plant them in groups of three or five at the base of my trees.

Plant Azaleas together with other acid-loving plants such as camellias and hydrangeas.



Hydrangeas are a popular acid-loving plant in the shade garden. They grow well in shady areas and have beautiful flowers that range from blue to pink, purple, white, or even red!

Hydrangeas are easy to grow with few problems.

There are many varieties of hydrangea with different flower colors and leaf shapes.

The most common type is called "mophead" because its large flowers resemble mops on their heads with long stems hanging down. 

The other types of hydrangea are identified by bloom color:

  • For example, lace-cap blooms look like little hats perched on top.
  • Bush-type blooms produce double blossoms.
  • Prostrate varieties spread out along the ground.
  • Upright varieties can be cut back hard every year as they age.


If you're looking for an easy way to spruce up your garden, plant hosta in shaded areas.

Hostas are a low maintenance perennial that requires little sunlight and can thrive even when planted near trees or other large plants. If you don't have much space to work with, try planting them along the edge of your driveway, where there is usually more shade. If you want to start small, this is a perfect place to do so!

Hostas come in many different colors and shapes, which will give your yard added curb appeal. And because they grow best in moist soil, it's important to keep the area around them well watered.

Hostas are great for sitting under trees, but they don't like to compete with tree roots. So if you're planting them near a tree, it's best to put them in containers so that their health isn't compromised by the competition of nutrient uptake and root intrusion from below.



Ferns are one of the most popular plants to grow and for good reason. They're beautiful, require minimal care, and add a touch of class to any garden.

If you're looking for a plant that won't be too difficult to maintain but still looks great, ferns are perfect for you!

The ferns are a family of plants that includes over 10,000 different species. This is a large plant group that has been around for more than 300 million years, and it is one of the most popular types of ornamental plants in gardens all over the world.

There are too many varieties to mention, but these are two of my favorite:


Maidenhair Fern

Maidenhair ferns are one of the most popular plants used in shade gardens because they can thrive and grow with minimal sunlight. However, they do thrive with good light but not direct sunlight.

This variety of fern is a great addition to any garden. It is a hardy plant that can grow in any soil type.

Keep them moist at all times as they do not like to dry out.


Asparagus Fern

Asparagus Ferns are an interesting, very attractive plant which is not actually a fern. They are fast growers with long trailing branches that may need trimming from time to time to keep them in shape.

Their needle-like leaves get small insignificant white flowers followed by red berries, which attract the birds.

Drought tolerant, once established they do well in dry shade.



Camellias are one of the most versatile plants in a garden; they're beautiful and bloom from fall all through winter to early spring.

They are frost-hardy evergreen shrub and can even be shaped into a small tree. Most have a glossy leaf which is an added feature in the shade garden.

I have had a Camellia Japonica in my shady garden for about 20 years, giving me much joy during the winter.

Geranium wallichianum
Japanese Maple
Japanese anemone
Fatsia japonica
Rodgersia (loves heavy clay soil)
Spiky Mahonia

Shrubs For Full Shade

These shrubs should do well in part shade as well as full shade.

Aucuba japonica (Spotted Laurel)
Hydrangea Aspera
Mackaya Bell (Forest Bell)

Annuals For The Shade Garden

There are several varieties of annuals that can thrive in shaded settings, even without direct sunlight for much of the day.

By choosing one or more of these varieties when planning your shade flowerbed you can create an attractive display regardless of how much sun your yard receives each day.

Related Article: Pansies and Violas



Everyone's favorite shade garden annual; they come in many colors and even double varieties.



A tender annual with vibrant colors of blue. Stunning in containers as they have a trailing habit.


Polka Dot Plant (Hypoestes Phyllostachya)

Polka Dot Plant is a fun and attractive plant with brightly colored leaves. It is often used as a houseplant, but it does well outdoors in warmer climates and as an annual in cooler climates.



They thrive in moist soil and flower continually throughout the summer, right up until the first frost.

plectranthus neochilus


You'll find some Plectranthus are grown for their attractive foliage, while others are grown to show off striking floral displays.


Calico Plant (Alternanthera ficoidea)

It is grown for its colorful foliage, which ranges from deep purple to burgundy, almost black.

Ornamental Grass For Shady Areas

Ornamental grass is a beautiful and versatile plant that can bring life to any shady area. These plants are easy to maintain and are perfect for anyone looking to add some green without needing full sun.

Related Article: Are Ornamental Grasses Evergreen


Dwarf Mondo Grass

Dwarf Mondo Grass is a versatile and drought-resistant ground cover that can grow in deep shade or sun.


Monkey Grass (Liriope)

Liriope, enjoy dappled or partial shade. Grass-like leaves with purple flowers. Monkey Grass is fairly drought tolerant.



Most Carex varieties will grow in light shade, with some varieties doing well in full shade.


Tufted Hair Grass 

It will do well in part shade or dappled shade and requires very little care. Self-seeds when conditions are ideal.


Northern Sea Oats

This grass resembles bamboo and will grow in full shade. It has attractive seed heads which change to brown with time.


Japanese Forest Grass

A grass that is a non-invasive slow grower and can be planted in full shade. It thrives in low-light areas.


Hakone Grass

They are a spreading ornamental grass for a woodland look in the shade.


Umbrella Grass (Cyperus alternifolius)

Resembles papyrus grows in wet areas around a pond or in a moist area of your garden.

Ground Covers For Shade Gardens

Ground covers are a great way to make your garden look lush and green, especially in the winter when other plants have died. Ground cover plants can be used as a living mulch or just for decoration. There are many types of groundcover plants to choose from.


Periwinkle (Vinca minor)

Periwinkle is a vigorous grower and will enjoy the shade. It can become invasive if not kept in check.


Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff will self-seed and may become invasive in certain areas where it enjoys ideal conditions. It enjoys dry shade and will even thrive in full shade.


Creeping Thyme (Thymus cocineus)

Thyme makes a fragrant sweet smelling groundcover. It can become woody and can be clipped back to keep it dense


Green And Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum)

Easy to grow and self-seeds and looks great in a shady rock garden. Green and Gold have clusters of yellow daisy flowers from late spring.


Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

Bunchberry thrives in moist, cooler climates. Use organic mulch such as pine needles or acidic compost.


Purple Heart (Setcreasea pallida)

Add purple color to a shady area in the ground or a container.

Astilbe Color Flash

Design Ideas For The Shade Garden

Designing a shade garden is an exciting and creative process. There are many steps to go through before you can start digging in the dirt, but it's worth taking time to think about what kind of space you want your shade garden to be - whether it's formal or naturalistic, large or small, hidden away from the world or out in full view.

  • Add a bench or small table and chairs to enjoy the shady retreat on a hot summer's day. Much needed shade during a long hot summer adds an extra room to your home.
  • Planting spring-flowering bulbs under trees will allow them to bloom before the tree leaves come out and also adds a nice pop of color in spring.
  • Brighten up the area by placing attractive containers in light colors or plants with bright colors or shades of yellow or white to illuminate the area.
  • Water features create movement and add calming sounds in a dark space.
  • Illuminate with lighting, which highlights plants and trees.
  • Add a garden path winding through the garden using pavers, gravel or even wood chips to give it a forestry look.

Caring For The Shade Garden

Group the plants according to their watering needs and remember to water as most shade gardens do not receive adequate rainwater.

Keep the ground well mulched.

By understanding how to provide the care for your shady garden, you can create a relaxing and beautiful environment.


  • Tree root disturbance must be kept to a minimum.
  • Always find out whether the plants you are choosing will be suited for the shade garden.
  • Match the watering needs of the plant with the tree.
  • White flowers will brighten up a dull corner.
  • Shallow-rooted perennials and groundcover are well suited as they do not require large holes which disturb the existing tree roots.

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