garden shade
ECO gardener

While most plants prefer the full sun for at least 8 hours a day, it’s entirely possible to fill your shady outdoor spaces with shade-tolerant plants. A shade garden makes a terrific focal point in places that do not receive sunlight at certain times of the day.

Shady areas tend to look lackluster, and adding selected annuals will add to the beauty of your garden. In this guide, let’s dive deep into shade gardening, what plants to grow in shady areas, how to take care of shade-tolerant plants, and what tools are needed to create a gorgeous shade garden.

What is a Shade Garden?

backyard shade garden

A shade garden consists of plants that thrive even with minimal or no direct sunlight. Most plants require at least 6 hours of sun exposure to live, but shade plants can survive in as little as 4 hours of sunlight exposure daily. Woodland plants like ferns, hostas, and heucheras are usually shade-tolerant because they grow under canopies.

A shade garden has various benefits. For one thing, weeds do not grow as vigorously, so maintenance is more manageable. Another is that watering doesn’t have to be done daily because the shade prevents water from evaporating. That said, a shade garden is more prone to fungal growth because of the damp environment. Also, flowering plants rarely survive without at least 8 hours of sunlight, so it’s not a great idea for a flowering garden.

Kinds of Shady Areas

shade garden with gazebo

It’s essential to determine how much sunlight a space receives before turning it into a garden. Here are four different levels of shade in a space:

Deep shade: Receives very little to no direct sunlight. Areas under low-branched trees and evergreens are deeply shaded areas. Not a lot of plants can grow in these places except shade-tolerant ground covers.

Full shade: Similar to a deeply shaded area but receives more light. A fully shady area receives about 3 hours or less sunlight every day. Houseplants do well in fully shaded areas.

Partial shade: This area receives about 3 to 6 hours of sunlight daily. The sunlight tends to be very intense mid-morning but disappears by noon to mid-afternoon. Partially shady areas are perfect for growing herbs, shrubs, groundcovers, and some flowering plants.

Filtered shade: AKA dappled shade, these areas receive sunlight through a tree canopy. The sunlight goes through small spaces within the tree leaves, allowing some plants to receive direct sunlight. However, because of the constant motion of the sun, the sunlight does not last for very long. Generally, plants that thrive in partially shady areas can grow in places that receive dappled light.

How to Build a Beautiful Shade Garden


Building a shade garden is easy as long as you have all the essential tools to define the area where you will build the garden and plan the shade plants to grow. Here is a step-by-step guide on building a shade garden:

You will need:

Gardening Tools

  • A measuring tape
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Shovel
  • Garden rake
  • Trowel
  • Hand pruner
  • Loppers

Gardening Materials / Supplies

Step 1: Choose a shady spot for the garden.

The first step to building a shade garden is choosing a shady spot outdoors to plan the design and determine the kinds of plants that will grow in that area. Shade gardens are often built under a tree canopy, in the shadows of a house, or on the edges of the lawn.

Once you’ve decided on a spot for the shade garden, measure the space using a tape measure. By measuring the space, you’ll know how many plants fit and what hardscape materials to use.

Step 2: Choose the shade plants.

After choosing the spot to build your shade garden, you can start planning the design and the kind of plants you’d like to grow. Consider the growing conditions of the space, the type of soil in the garden, and the growing requirements of the plants, as well as their size.

Step 3: Prepare the garden for planting.

After planning the best types of plants to grow in your garden, it’s time to do the actual work – which involves removing weeds and tilling the soil. Use a shovel or weeder to easily pull weeds and then a trowel to work the soil. Clean up the plots with the garden rake and use the wheelbarrow for easy cleanup.

If there are existing trees and shrubs in the space, use a hand pruner and loppers to trim excess growths. Finally, amend the soil with organic compost or natural fertilizers before planting the shade plants.

Step 4: Finish up with the hardscape materials and mulching.

After planting the shade plants, finish up the plots with a layer of mulch to insulate the soil and protect plant roots from the elements. Mulching also elevates the garden’s look, making the design look neat and organized. After applying the mulching, you can add the hardscape materials to make your shade garden look even better!

Best Plants for a Shade Garden

Lungwort flower garden

What kinds of shade-loving plants should you grow in your garden? Some of our favorites are:

Hosta: Hosta is one of the most resilient shade plants to grow, and it’s available in colorful varieties. It’s a hard-to-kill plant that thrives even on neglect, so it’s a beginner-friendly plant too! Hosta grows in colder zones and requires well-amended soil.

Coral Bells: A beautiful shade plant with colorful foliage, coral bells will add a pop of color to your shade garden in the spring and summer. This is a semi-evergreen perennial that requires minimal maintenance. Coral bells love moist, well-amended soil and require regular watering.

Ferns: Did you know that ferns are some of the oldest plants in the world? It’s been growing in forests and wetlands since the age of the dinosaurs! This easy-to-grow perennial thrives in shady growing conditions. It’s incredibly resilient, which is why it’s one of the oldest living plants. The best part? Ferns can be grown alongside different plants.

Caladium: Shade gardens are very green because most flowering plants cannot bloom in shady areas. Plants with colorful foliage like caladium give a much-needed boost of color to a shade garden. This plant has big, beautiful, and colorful leaves. Use caladium as a bedding plant or plant in containers to brighten dark corners in the garden.

Lungwort: A beautiful perennial with spotted, bright green foliage and purple to periwinkle blooms, lungwort can be grown alone or with several shade-loving plants. Lungwort grows in woodlands and will thrive in shady gardens of any size. The showy flowers will brighten your shade garden come spring season!

Hydrangea: Easily one of the most coveted plant varieties is hydrangea, with its gorgeous pink, purple, white, or red blooms. Hydrangea may not be beginner-friendly, but it will brighten your shade garden for a long time if the conditions are right. The key to keeping hydrangea healthy is to achieve the proper soil pH!

Foxglove: A beautiful flowering plant staple in cottage-style gardens, foxglove produces bell-shaped flowers in the late spring and summer seasons. It will thrive in a shady garden if planted in rich, moist soil and receives part-day sun. Foxglove will self-sow for many years so that you can look forward to a colorful shade garden every blooming season.

Building a shade garden is a fun and easy project that you can do on your own or with the help of your family members. You’ll only need a weekend to put together a beautiful shade garden. Maintenance is minimal as long as the plants are getting some part-day sun. If you’re ready to transform shady spaces in your outdoor space, you can shop for garden essentials here and build your own shade garden.

gardening tools

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