Plants for shade to brighten up your garden

Plants for shade to brighten up your garden

Plants for shade to brighten up your garden

There’s not many gardens that don’t have a gloomy spot that seem impossible to grow plants in, but if you no what to plant then gloomy areas can become inspiring and enriched with new lease of life.

Many north and east facing gardens can be naturally shaded because of there located and shaded areas can differ from dry soil conditions which are usually found under trees and conifers where a heavy shadow is constantly cast over the areas and the little moisture in the soil is quickly sucked out by the roots.

This is an in depth guide covering all types of shade and soil conditions as well as the best plants for shade from climbing plants from shade to plants for dry shade in areas such as under conifers and trees.

Top 10 Shade loving plants

plants for shade including bulbs, perennials, shrubs, climbers

  1. Vinca minor – an evergreen ground spreading shrub with bright blue / purple flowers ideal for partial shade.
  2. Convallaria – also known as lily of the valley, perennial with white bell shapes flowers growing to around 12cm tall.
  3. Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) – small plants grown from bulbs, small white flowers January – February. Ideal for sheltered or exposed areas.
  4. Buxus – Often used as topiary, an evergreen shrub that will tolerate shade and is ideal for forming small hedges.
  5. Mahonia – Evergreen shrub with spiky foliage and bright yellow flowers in Autumn and Winter. Grows to around 4ft (120cm)
  6. Hedra helix – Common Ivy is a climber that grows well in shade but can become evasive and choke other plants so care should be taken.
  7. Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper) – another climbing plant ideal for partial shade in dry soils.
  8. Ferns – Not all ferns are ideal but Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern) is ideal for shade and gives a woodland feel.
  9. Digitalis (foxglove) – a perennial plant available in many colours, often seen in gardens in open areas this perennial also grows well in partial shade.
  10. Winter pansy’s & Polyanthus – These winter flowering bedding plants will grow well in partial shade and add a splash of colour in winter, also ideal for pots and planters.

Types of shade

Firstly before deciding what to plant in your shady area is to determine what type of shade your area comes into. Some areas are dry such as under trees or overhangs on building while other areas such as next to walls tend to retain moisture better as there no trees to suck up the moisture.

Unfortunately there are not many shrubs that will grow in very dense-deep shade and usually finding plants will grow well is still a little trail and error but its good to no what is likely to do well instead of stabbing in the dark and planting the first plant you come across

The 4 shade types

  1. Light shade / dappled shade: Light shade is a site that is open to the light and not overshadowed by an object such as trees. The site will not get direct light from the sun but is open to the sky. Most plants would grow in light shade except for a small selection that would need full sun.
  2. Partial shade: partial shade usually refers to a site that receives either morning sun or afternoon sun, these sites usually receive light for around 4 hours which is enough for most plants
  3. Moderate shade: moderate shade is an area where light is shining through for example through tree tops but not to shady where the area looks very shady.
  4. Dense shade: Dense shade is an area there is very little light and where most plants struggle to grow. Usually sites like this are under dense tree cover and under large shrubs where little light can penetrate.

Top tips for transforming a shady garden

Some gardens especially in smaller gardens which are surrounded by building in built up areas can be shaded throughout the whole garden. Here a few ideas to help brighten up your garden with a few garden design ideas.

 

  • Try to choose plants that produce light coloured flowers rather than dark colours as lighter colours stand out better in shade.
  • Try using plants with bright coloured or variegated foliage rather than just greens. An example is Cotoneaster horizontalis variegata.
  • Using light coloured gravel such as gold harvest will help enhance and reflect light. Remember to put down ground cover fabric before laying stones or gravel.
  • Add solar lights which have a separate solar panel which can be placed in a more open area to receive light. (don’t use solar light where the solar panel is attached to the light as they will not get enough light to power the light.
  • Try adding a water feature in shady areas to reflect light and add a charming trickling sound of water to the area.
  • Be creative and paint sheds, fences and garden benches bright light colours.
  • If within budget you could add main powered lights around the garden.
  • Trim back trees and lower branches to try and allow more light.

Improving conditions of shady areas

Shady areas can vary but often areas are usually dry as roots from hedging and trees sucks out ant moisture in the soil or wet where the area may lack trees and shrubs such as next to walls and fences.

In shady areas under trees and hedges where the ground is dry you could try adding organic matter to the soil which will help retain more moisture in the soil and should be ideal for bulbs such as snowdrops and cyclamen which will add a splash of autumn and spring colour.

Shady areas where conifers are present tend to be acidic from fallen needles so should be taken into account when deciding what to plant in these areas. Plants such as spring bulbs, ivy and skimmia usually grow fine in these conditions.

Adding a mulch not only helps retain moisture but also helps protect plants from hard frosts and improve soul structure.

Plants that like shade

Types of plants

Before choosing plants for shady areas it is important to know what types of plants there area and how they grow.


Perennial
 – perennial plants are plants that start to grow in spring and usually flower spring or summer and sometime into the autumn. They then die back to the ground in winter before shooting again in Spring and going through the whole process again.

Shrubs for shade – Shrubs can be evergreen which means they do not loose there leaves or deciduous which means they do drop there leaves for the winter. Evergreen variegated shrubs tend to be less successfull in shady areas.

Climbers for shade – Climbers are ideal for climbing up shady fences and walls or up trees in shady areas as well as though shrubs and hedges. Successful climbers for a shady area include Honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper.

Bulbs for shade – Bulbs including snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells all add spring colour and are idea for partial shade and often grow under trees and hedge rows.

 

Plants for dry shade

Dry shade is usually found under trees and shrubs where the rain does not penetrate through the foliage of large plants and any moisture that does get through is quickly taken by the shallow root systems of trees and shrubs.

You can help improve such a site before planting by adding a mulch of farm manure or compost to help retain any moisture. A mulch is best applied in spring and Autumn.

Below is a list of plants that can be successfully grown in dry shade

Arum ‘Marmoratum’ : A spring bulb that produces a variegated green and cream leaf in spring and forms a carpet in spring. grows to around 30cm (1ft) tall.

Epimediums: A perennial plant that grows well in dry shade and produces stunning bronze foliage and yellow flowers in spring. Grows to around 30cm (1ft) tall.

Geranium: Hardy geranium varieties grow well in dry shady conditions and perform particular well.

 

Bulbs for shade

There are a nice selection of bulbs that can be grown on both dry and wet shade, many of them are naturally woodland plants so are suited for such areas. The bulbs in the table below are ideal for shady areas.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

 

  • Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
  • Colchicum (Autumn Crocus)
  • Anemone nemorosa (Windflower)
  • Cyclamen coum
  • Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’
  • Lily of the valley
  • Bluebell
  • daffodils

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

 

  • Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
  • Erythronium (Dog’s-tooth Violet)
  • Fritillaria camschatcensis (Black Sarana)
  • Scilla bifolia (Alpine Squill)
  • Eranthis (Winter Aconite)
  • Cardiocrinum (Giant Lily)

Perennials for shade

Perennials are plants that die back in winter and then grow again in spring, there are many varieties of perennials for both dry shade and damp shade grow well in both.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

 

  • Aquilegia
  • Digitalis
  • Pulmonaria
  • Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Epimedium (Barrenwort)
  • Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides (Wood Spurge)
  • Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)
  • Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss)
  • Luzula nivea (Snowy Woodrush)
  • Liriope muscari (Big Blue Lilyturf)
  • Geranium nodosum and Geranium phaeum (Cranesbill)
  • Stachys
  • Campanula
  • Solidago
  • Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’
  • Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’
  • Hellebores
  • Astrantia
  • Sweet rocket
  • Anemone Rhizomes – Nemerosa
  • Corydalis
  • Ajuga Burgundy glow
  • Athyrium metallicum
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Bergenia
  • Hosta
  • Luzula sylvatica (woodrush)
  • Lamium
  • Black grass

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

 

  • Astilbe (False Goat’s Beard)
  • Uvularia grandiflora (Large Merrybells)
  • Hosta (Plantain Lily)
  • Milium effusum ‘Aureum’
  • Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • Primula (Primrose)
  • Astrantia major (Hattie’s Pincushion)
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)
  • Carex flagellifera (Sedge)
  • Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • Geranium sylvaticum (Wood Cranesbill)
  • Pulmonaria
  • Digitalis
  • Brunnera
  • Astrantia major ‘Claret’
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Monarda
  • Actaea matsumurae ‘White Pearl’
  • Polygonatum x hybridum
  • Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’
  • Himalayan blue poppy
  • Heuchera
  • Athyrium metallicum

Shrubs for shade

There are many shrubs suited to both dry shade and damp shade, most shrubs that grow well in shade tend to have large foliage and be evergreen meaning they do not drop there leaves in winter.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

 

  • Mahonia
  • Osmanthus delavayi
  • Cotoneaster
  • Viburnum
  • Symphoricarpus (Snowberry)
  • Garrya elliptica (Silk-tassel bush)
  • Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort/Aaron’s Beard)
  • Eleagnus x ebbingei (Oleaster)
  • Daphne laureola and Daphne pontica
  • Cotoneaster
  • Vinca
  • Buxus
  • Gaultheria shallon
  • Ruscus
  • Euonymus
  • Pachysandra

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

 

  • Hydrangea
  • Mahonia
  • Viburnum
  • Skimmia japonica
  • Symphoricarpus (Snowberry)
  • Aucuba
  • Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)
  • Camellia
  • Buxus sempervirens (Common Box)

Climbing plants

Most gardens have a shaded wall or fence, usually south facing that receive little light. Our list of climbing plants includes climbers as well as more shrub like plants that can be trained against walls and fences. Some plants such as pyracantha need to be fixed to trellis or wires.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

 

  • Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)
  • Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)
  • Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

 

  • Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)
  • Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)
  • Hedera helix (Ivy)
  • Akebia quinata
  • Pileostegia viburnoides

Plants for north facing wall

North facing walls can be challenging as they receive very little direct sunlight and finding plants that grow well there can be difficult. There are however a selection of shrubs, climbers as well as fruit bushes that will grow happily against a north facing wall. Gooseberries as well as blackcurrants and redcurants will grow well all though may not do as well as they would do if grown in full sun.

The list below is some plants that have been known to grow well on north facing walls.

 

  • Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)
  • Hedera helix (Ivy)
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)
  • Pileostegia viburnoides
  • Akebia quinata
  • Berberis
  • Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)
  • Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis
  • Clematis alpina
  • Clematis armandii
  • Clematis montana
  • Chaenomeles speciosa
  • Chaenomeles x superba (Japanese Quince)
  • Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)

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