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It's a given that plants need sunlight in order to grow. So, it follows that gardening in the shade presents its own special set of problems.

The first thing to remember is that shade gardens are not going to contain great riots of colorful blossoms. They are, by nature, gardens that rely on texture and contrast rather than on color. For example: lacy fern fronds provide a pleasing contrast when planted alongside a broad-leaved hosta.

Most shade-loving plants that do flower will bear their blossoms in early spring. They can receive enough sunshine in order to set buds before the tree canopy leafs out and shades them. Some examples are columbine, bleeding heart, celandine poppy, and bloodroot. The rest of the year, most shady gardens will be peaceful shades of green.

Even with foliage, there is a remarkable variation in shades of green from the greyish-green of silver fern to the blue-green of certain hosta types. Train your eye and learn to combine shades of green to form a rich tapestry.

Yellow or chartreuse foliage is a good way to light up the shade. So are variegated plants which have white margins around their leaf edges. In the summertime, plants with colorful foliage can take the place of flowers; caladiums have red or pink streaked leaves, and coleus comes in a range of shocking leaf colors. For actual blossoms, impatiens is a warm-weather shade-lover that comes in a host of colors. The deeper the shade, however, the fewer blossoms it will put out. In general, plants adapt to shade by lengthening their stems toward the light and reducing flower production and size.

It's sometimes difficult to judge the degree of shade you have and make decisions as to what will grow there. There are no set ground rules for determining the amount of shade a plant requires for optimum health. Especially in the south, plants that would normally require full sun can get by with partial shade. Don't be afraid to experiment with new plants or to move an ailing plant around until you can find it a happy home. When talking to other gardeners about a plant, ask them to describe the type of shade they grow it in. Ask about the orientation of the site, the tree canopy, and what time of day the site receives light. Early morning or very late afternoon rays can make all the difference in a shady setting. Here are some general description of the shades of shade.


« Filtered light. A sparse, spotty dappling of shade through at least the hottest part of the day (10 AM to 6 PM in summer), a condition often found under tall pines. Although large patches of the site may be in sun part of the time, the sun/shade pattern is always changing. It¡¦s possible to open up a tree canopy to admit more light by the practice of ¡¥limbing up¡¦ or removing the lower branches on a tree.
« Half shade or semi-shade. Shade for 4 or 5 hours of the day. Similar to morning shade or afternoon shade, except that as the sun moves behind structures or trees, periods of full sun will alternate with periods of full shade several times. In a situation where the sun is received during midday, many full-sun plants will adapt. Try daylilies, foxglove hardy geranium, columbine, antique roses.
« Full shade. Hee, spreading canopies of trees let in only the laciest pattern of dappled sunlight. Use ferns and variegated hosta. Experiment with spring bulbs and woodland wild flower that bloom before deciduous trees leaf out (celandine poppy, mayapple, bleeding hearts, trillium).
« Afternoon sun. Areas that catch the western sun from approximately 2 PM to 6PM. These areas will prove to be too bright or too hot for many woodland plants. Best if combined with some filtered shade from high pines. Again, experiment with the sun-tolerance of shade lovers and with the shade tolerance of full sun plants.
« Morning sun. Areas that catch the eastern rays. Often the ideal conditions for shade plants, as long as the sunlight becomes diffused by midday.
« North wall shade. This refers to areas that are shaded not by something overhead, but because the areas lies on the north side of a wall or fence. The north wall of a house, for example, will receive little sunlight because the house is between the plants and the sun.