Gardening in the Shade

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Some folks lament having too much shade - not having the space for the bright color you get from the sun-loving plants.The way a sunny border jumps out and grabs your attention is nice indeed.But don't overlook the depth and richness of a well-designed and cared for shade garden.The shade garden will draw you in - it invites intimacy.The greens (which is the predominant color in most all gardens) are deeper and cooler.The blend of shapes, textures, and shades are more pronounced without the glare of the sun.

astilbeDon't think there's not an opportunity for color! Astilbes,Bleeding Heart, and Primrose come in some pretty vivid colors. Aruncus (Goatsbeard) though white is an impressive shade dweller. Of course, if you're dealing with light shade - 2 to 4 hours of sun early in the day - there's a whole range of possibilities.We have a selection of nursery-grown woodland wildflowers also.

We list the plants in groups of the most famous shade dweller.There are many more wonderful shade-loving plants.To see all our shade plants go to By Traits/Light Needs/Shade or use the Advanced Search for a more specific list.

Soil and Garden Preparations

Most shade plants, prefer a woodland type soil - that is, high in humus (50% to 75%) and acidic (5.5pH or lower). Let us repeat the mantra - prepare the soil well before planting (repeat as often as needed). Work the soil as deep as you can and add any rock minerals (phosphates, potash, bone meal, etc) needed based on your soil test. Thorough preparation of soil before planting is best (this is the 1st rule of all perennial gardening). However, the use of readily decaying mulches like shredded leaves, leaf compost or composted manures will continue to add to the soil. A bed maintained in this manner should require minimal addition of chemical fertilizers; however, a lot of decaying matter can temporarily rob nitrogen from the soil. Watch foliage color for signs of nitrogen deficiency.

Planting a Shade Garden

After you havee developed a loom that is a pleasure just to touch and smell, dig a hole about twice as big as your roots.Planting depth will differ depending on the variety. Generally, set the plant at the same depth as it was in the container. Bareroot hosta and plants with similar root structure, should be planted an inch or so below the surface. Plant ferns and others with a more pronounced crown at soil level. Remember that newly work soil will settle around the plants and may expose roots you thought were covered. Adequate spacing should be maintained between plants to allow them to exhibit their natural beauty. Exact spacing will depend on the variety.

Shade Garden Maintenance

Maintaining a layer of decaying mulch as mentioned above is important. Avoid deep cultivation around the plants since many shade plants have rhizomes or shallow roots creeping just under the surface of the soil. During dry spells, give your plants some extra water but make sure the soil has a chance to dry out between watering. Under normal conditions, the shade garden needs very little care beyond a renewed layer of mulch and the tree canopy may provide much this. A particularly heavy covering of leaves could smoother some of your plants so you may need to remove some leaves. The addition of a balanced fertilizer in early summer will encourage new leaf growth and bring out the potential beauty of your plants.

Dividing your plants is, of course, very dependant on the variety and your preferences. Generally, plants in the shade garden will be slower growing and less in need of division. If you need or want to divide your plants, spring is the best time.

A Word about Hostas

Hosta improve greatly with age and often don't show their true form for 4 to 5 years and, if divided before that, they start the maturing process over again. If you feel the need to divide your plants it is easy, assuming they are not real large - in which case they might be tough to get out of the ground. But, once out of the ground, just pry them apart or, if necessary, cut them apart with a large knife. If you have top growth cut it back to about 2 inches. Like daylilies, they are pretty unforgiving.This is can be done in either late summer (September) or early spring before any growth appears.

Though some varieties tolerate the sun, hosta grow best in a shady area out of direct sun. Most do okay with a few hours of morning sun and dappled light. Obviously hosta will grow in direct sun - I am sure you have seen some out in the front yard - but the lushness that develops when grown under the right conditions tells the story. In addition to shade, hosta like a rich, moist - but well-drained soil.View Hosta

A Word about Ferns

These are the plants whose ancestors greened the planet before the conifers and flowering plants evolved. They have survived the dinosaurs; so, there is no reason they cannot survive in your garden. Though most ferns do best in moist shaded location, others will tolerated moderately dry soils and some direct light. Their fine texture and graceful form contrasts well with the bold foliage of other shade lovers like hostas, helibores, rodgersia and mayapples; and, blend with the similar structure of astilbes.

Ferns can be divided although it is usually not necessary for the health of the plant. Spring is the best time to divide ferns if desired. Ferns become increasingly beautiful with each passing year when left undisturbed. Once established ferns will spread readily and are very long lived - we are talking 20 years and more.View Ferns

A Word about Astilbe

Astilbe must be one of my favorite perennials for the shade. They come in a range of colors and sizes making them an ideal choice for adding color and texture to the shade garden. In addition to the attractive plume-like blooms the foliage ranges from deep green through bronze to rich burgandy. And, the foliage remains attractive throughout the season. If you need more, allow the spent flowers to stand into the winter for an added element in the landscape. Astilbe can some sun but again early morning sun is best. Exposed to harsh sunshine the colors, especially the pinks, will fade. Don't neglect their moisture. They can be unforgiving if allow to dry out. Here again a layer of organic mulch is helpful.View Astilbe

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