A shady backyard can be great for get-togethers and hot summer days. All that shade helps keep things cool, but it can make gardening a bit harder. You may even feel like you can’t garden at all since there’s so much shade in your yard. The truth is that there are plenty of plants that grow well in the shade (or at least in partially-shady areas). With just a little bit of planning, you too can have a garden that you can be proud to show off to all your family and friends.

Determine How Much Shade is in Your Yard

use a light meter to determine how much sunlight your yard gets

The first thing you need to consider when planning your shade garden is the amount of shade your backyard actually gets. To help you with this, consider purchasing a light meter, which you can use to determine exactly how much light hits your yard. You’ll want to keep track of how much sunlight (if any) is in your backyard during the day, as you may find that some partial-shade plants will do great in it. If you see that your garden is mostly in the shade all day long, however, there are still some options available to you.

Moisture Options

Not only do you have to consider shade in an overshadowed backyard, but you also have to consider the moisture in it. The blocking of light from trees may prevent some areas from ever getting water — even when it rains. To make things worse, those same trees are usually the ones taking in the limited moisture that does make it into the soil. Consequently, you’ll want to figure out how to get more moisture to these areas. For many, just using a hose does the trick, but you may also want to consider installing an irrigation system. Shade gardens often require regular waterings, even when it seems like there’s been a lot of rain in your area.

Soil Concerns

it's important to have nutrient-rich soil in your yard before planting a shade garden

The trees and shrubs that provide your backyard with shade aren’t just taking the majority of the moisture out of the soil, but they can also be taking up a lot of the nutrients in it. It’s often imperative to address soil fertility when planting a shade garden. You may find that you need to apply fertilizer more often in your shade garden than you would in a standard one. For that reason, it can be a good idea to do some soil testing before you put your garden in to determine what nutrients are needed ahead of time and prevent over-fertilization. You may also want to fertilize again later in the growing season. You'll find it especially helpful to feed your younger plants once or twice more during the growing season, or they'll have to compete with your more established plants for sustenance.

You also want to make sure that the soil you’ll be planting in drains well, as most shade-tolerant species prefer fertile earth with good drainage. If you find that your soil is rich with clay or sand, you’ll want to amend it with compost, peat moss, or manure. These amendments will not only help to put more nutrients into the soil, but they'll also make it drain better.

Popular Shade Plants

fuchsias are known to do well in the shade

There are quite a few popular plants that do well in either full or partial shade. To help you identify those varieties, check out the little growing cards found in the planters at your local gardening center or DIY store. Speaking with a knowledgeable employee is another excellent way to determine which plants to grow in your shade garden.

Some popular shade-loving annuals include impatiens, coleus, balsam, begonias, browallias, feverfew, fuchsias, lobelia, and salvias. Looking for perennials? Try forget-me-nots, bergenia, daylilies, meadowsweet, monkshood, coral bells, columbine, bleeding hearts, hosta lilies, trillium, black snakeroot, ferns, periwinkle, wild violets, lilies of the valley, wild ginger, and goutweed. Popular bulbs include snowdrops, crocus, hyacinths, tulips, daffodils, begonias, and scillas, and popular vegetables and herbs include greens, spinach, lettuce, basil, mint, parsley, sage, chives, coriander, tarragon, and sorrel.

You’ll notice that many of the perennials listed here are plants you can find in your local forest, where they’re already able to grow beneath the shade of the trees. Native plants are always an excellent choice for your garden because they’ve adapted to growing in your region better than other varieties. In addition to asking for help in finding shade-loving plants, ask about the plants that are native to your area.

Layering Your Shade Garden

One way to make your shade garden really work for you is to layer it using plants that bloom at different times of year. The resulting effect of this will keep things interesting and always colorful.

With a little extra planning and work now, your shade garden can be the perfect place to show off at backyard get-togethers during the hot summer months. Get a garden that you love by finding shade-tolerant plants to liven up your backyard. Soon enough, you’ll be wondering why you didn’t plant them in your yard a long time ago.