Shade Gardening


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When talking to people about landscaping for wildlife, one of the most common laments we hear is that they have too much shade and "can’t grow anything." While it’s true that having an abundance of shade on your property changes your choices, that doesn’t necessarily mean that it limits them.

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Shade Gardening

  1. 1. When talking to people about landscaping for wildlife, T o put a new twist on an old saying, "the light is always better in someone else’s yard." one of the most common laments we hear is that The same basic gardening they have too much shade and "can’t grow anything." principles apply to shady spots as to sunny ones, but you have to While it’s true that having an abundance of shade on study your site conditions carefully and choose plants with your property changes your choices, that doesn’t extra care to be sure you have a necessarily mean that it limits them. good match. There can even be advantages to a less-than-sunny site. Shade plants generally have more chlorophyll to take full advantage of any available light. These Shade Gardening species will thrive in shade but may “burn out" in the sun. Often variegated plants, or For more nature habitat information those with colorful foliage, will Visit these helpful websites: appear more brilliant when located out of direct sunlight. A Plants Home Trees will cut heating and cooling A Birds Home costs when properly situated A Homesteaders Home around your home. Today we plant only one tree for every four that are lost, yet trees combat global warming by consuming carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen, so the trees used in shade gardens may become a critical environmental factor in the years ahead. People often use the term “shade" in a very general manner, but in fact there are several kinds of shade. If your garden gets at least two hours of direct sunlight during the day, that is considered “partial shade." When the sun hits the area only in the early morning or late afternoon, it is generally said to have “light shade." “Filtered light" occurs under trees with small leaves, while the ground beneath large-leafed trees is in “dappled light." If the site receives no direct sunlight, but is open to the sky, it is in “bright light," and if it is© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 1 A Plants Home
  2. 2. This is especially important to To create a new grove, you may "The garden of the future consider when you want to create be able to transplant seedling will be a shade garden, a shade garden by planting trees. trees from more crowded The amount of cover will also conditions elsewhere on your for all kinds of reasons – affect the temperature and property. For fastest results, fiscal, historical, and amount of moisture in the soil, choose those that grow quickly most of all, which again will influence the and have straight trunks, such as plants that you choose. ash, tulip tree, and hackberry. environmental." Those trees with leaves that are When possible, avoid trees with – Ken Druse close together and grow in a single shallow root systems, like maple, The Natural Shade Garden layer towards the outside of the sweet gum, willow, poplar, and tree crown are called birch. Their surface roots will make covered completely, perhaps by a “monolayered." This would include planting other things more deck or next to a north wall in an species such as beech, maple, oak, difficult later on, and they will rob urban setting, you have “dense and hickory, and each branch will nearby plants of needed moisture. shade." create a lot of shade. If you have decided to create or Other terms may be used by More sun will reach the ground manage an existing woodland area, different resources, but they will when the trees are “multilayered," it’s a good idea to remove invasive represent similar characteristics. with smaller leaves arranged in species before starting to plant. Your geographic location will also layers moving out from the trunk, Leave some saplings of the tree have some effect, since light is such as you find with elm, walnut, species that you like, because they more intense as you get closer to and hackberry. will then be ready to replace the the equator. larger trees if they succumb to The shape of the crown, the age or disease. It is important to study your spacing of the trees, and whether garden location throughout the or not they are deciduous, will also You can also design a shade day, and during different times of affect the type and amount of garden by planting in the shadow the year, and make notes on what shade. of an existing building, or creating light conditions are present. For structures such as arbors which instance, you may have “partial If there are dead trees in the can be covered with vines or shade" in the early spring, before area, try to leave them in place shadecloth. Since you won’t have deciduous trees leaf out, and only because they are valuable sources tree roots to worry about, “dappled light" in the summer. of food and cover for many birds amending the soil and planting in and animals, and they will enrich such conditions will be easier than A site near a building may be in the soil as they decay. in a wooded area. “light shade" at certain times of the year, but have “partial shade" when the sun is higher in the sky. Shade Structures Sometimes you can add reflected light by planting near a light-colored wall or fence. If you match your lighting conditions to the plants that you choose, you can enjoy color and variety – even in a garden with limited exposure to sunlight. Gazebo or Belvedere Pergola or Arbor Summer/Garden House Most commonly, shady conditions in a garden are the result of tree cover. Just as there are different kinds of shade to consider, there are also different types of tree canopies, and they affect the amount of light that Lath House Casino or Roman Summer House Ramada reaches the ground.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 2 A Plants Home
  3. 3. two of the most popular shrubs "Trees provide a sheltering umbrella during hot for shady areas, like a pH closer to summer days, and mute harsh summer light to a 5.5. There are many inexpensive kits available to test the pH of verdant, luminous quality. They create an incomparable your soil, and it’s a good idea to sense of place and enclosure as well as valuable check it in several spots if your garden area is large. habitat for wildlife." Although tall trees block a – Brenda Skarphol in Woodland Gardens, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Series certain amount of rainfall, the water that does reach the plants Including small trees and shrubs to till in compost or other beneath them tends to stay on in your plan will enhance the site amendments. Disturbing the soil the foliage longer than in a sunny as they grow into maturity. or dramatically changing its environment, and this can promote Planting in containers which can depth will often harm the roots of disease. then be placed under trees or in mature trees. other shady locations is another Some careful, modest pruning of way to grow plants which cannot Returning to the hole that you lower limbs or thinning of the tolerate full sun. dug, fill it with water and wait six branches (not more than 1/3 per hours. If the water is still there, year) can increase air circulation, Dirt is another factor. Yours will you will want to choose plants and you shouldn’t place the plants be some combination of soil, silt, that thrive in wet conditions. as close together as in a sunny sand, and clay, but the location. proportions are very important As a rule, the soil under groups when deciding which species of of conifers will be dry and lacking It’s a good idea to water plants plants are likely to thrive. in organic matter, because the with soaker hoses or drip needles block rainwater from irrigation rather than wetting the We tend to think of forests as reaching the ground. Similarly, leaves, and it’s better to water having rich, loamy soil, but there older trees on suburban lots tend deeply and then allow the soil to are also woodlands which are very to have dry, infertile soil at their dry out somewhat before watering dry, or so wet that they are base because of their shallow, again. This will encourage deeper waterlogged much of the time. spreading roots. roots as well as discourage disease. To determine the soil Rather than trying to composition in your site, dig down drastically change the soil and In nature, many plants manage about 8" and put two cups of dirt moisture conditions, which could to co-exist in limited space in a jar. Fill it with water, put a top damage the mature trees that because some have deep roots, on it, shake it hard, and then let it you want to retain, choose plants others are shallow, and still others sit for 24 hours. The organic in smaller containers so they can use surface rhizomes. By copying material will now be floating on the be fitted into the spaces between that pattern, you can increase the top, and underneath it will be shallow roots, add small diversity in your own garden. layers (in this order) of clay, silt, deciduous trees which will shed and sand. their leaves and gradually add Plants in natural settings also organic matter to the soil, and exhibit a variety of growth Usually the ideal woodland soil mulch with compost. patterns. Some appear early in has a high percentage of organic the year, before leaves on the matter and silt. Raking up the It’s a good idea to test the pH trees block the sunlight, and then leaves under the trees each fall, of your soil. If your site is under go dormant. as current gardening practices conifers and deciduous trees, it tend to dictate, interferes with will tend to be more acidic. Others are evergreen, allowing the natural recycling process. Property near construction sites them to produce food year-round, or limestone rock formations is taking advantage of whatever light If you are concerned about the likely to be alkaline. is available. leaves matting down over the winter, shred them and then Most of the woodland plants In addition, in nature you will find return them to the garden bed. that you buy at a nursery prefer a that plants grow in “layers." There This is a much safer way to more acidic soil, with a pH of 6- are tall trees, then a shorter improve the soil under trees than 6.5. Azaleas and rhododendrons, understory of smaller trees and© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 3 A Plants Home
  4. 4. shrubs, followed by lower-growing more on texture, shape, and subtle perennials, and finally ground color variations to create impact. Leaf Textures covers. Strive for differences in leaf If you choose plants that characteristics. Combine feathery replicate this pattern, you’ll create ferns with plants having wide, large a garden that looks natural, allows leaves. Look for variegated leaves for a greater variety of species, and light-colored or peeling bark to and is the most useful for wildlife. add interest. At the same time, strive to Glossy leaves will have more – Woodland Gardens, Brooklyn Botanic Garden Series include plants with different bloom impact than dull ones, and times, different leaf types and rounded or weeping forms create a growth habits for cover, some that greater sense of space. Plants are evergreen and others that are that are columnar in shape are While it is very likely that your deciduous, and some that provide good for accents. garden will ultimately include food sources for wildlife, including plants which are not native to your nectar, nuts, and berries. Suitable ground covers will fill area, awareness will help you make the visual gap between the early informed decisions and will Some fruits are eaten as soon spring perennials and bulbs and encourage you to be sure that as they ripen, while others become later flowers. Choose ground native plants are also part of your palatable only after a succession covers which are hardy but not so design. of freezing and thawing, making vigorous that they will choke out them good late-winter food neighboring plants. As long as Perennial plants will be the sources when most other things they don’t form dense root mats, mainstay of your shade garden, have disappeared. spring bloomers will grow right up but you can also add extra color through them. with shade-loving annuals. Garden There are a few general design catalogues, Internet sources, and tips that will help you create a As with any wildlife habitat your local nursery will offer many shade garden that is pleasing to landscaping, provide a water suggestions, and will give you the eye. Because shade plants source if possible. This may be a further information on the amount tend to produce flowers that are bird bath, a shallow container of shade tolerance and soil more subtle in color, you will rely imbedded in the ground, or a more requirements for each species. elaborate pond system. In addition to providing needed water for Vertical Layers of the Forest wildlife, it will reflect light and brighten a shady garden. CANOPY This article was written by Other structural elements to Maryland Master Wildlife Habitat consider are dead logs, which will Naturalist Cathy Gilleland. enrich the soil as they decay and provide a growing medium for For more information or for the lichens and fungi; and interesting name of a Master Wildlife Habitat Naturalist in your area, please rocks among which small plants contact: UNDERSTORY can nestle and tumble. WindStar Wildlife Institute Shade gardens seem to inspire feelings of peace and relaxation, so plan to include a place to sit E-mail: and enjoy your surroundings. SHRUB LAYER GROUND LAYER At last it’s time to choose your plants! There are many books WindStar Wildlife Institute is a national, non-profit, conservation available on shade gardening, a lot organization whose mission is to of resources on the Internet, and help individuals and families various other sources of establish or improve the wildlife ROOT ZONE information, including your local habitat on their properties. – Woodland Gardens Brooklyn Botanic Garden Series County Extension Office.© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 4 A Plants Home
  5. 5. PLANTS FOR SHADE GARDENING Bulbs NOTE: Camassia For these lists, we have concentrated on Fawn Lily (Erythronium oregonum, E. revolutum, species which not only thrive in lower-light E. tuolumnense) conditions, but are also native and useful for Fritillaria wildlife. Groundcovers There are many others which could not be Green-and-Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum) included because of limited space. Partridge Berry (Mitchella repens) Creeping Phlox (Phlox stolonifera) The benefits of using native plants are Downy Yellow Violet (V. pubescens) discussed more fully in other WindStar Blue Woods Violet (V. sororia) publications, but they include the fact that Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginiana) they are hardier and more disease resistant, Red Baneberry (Actaea rubra) they offer less risk of growing invasively, and Wild Ginger (A. arifolium, A. canadense, A. caudatum) they have evolved with local wildlife species to Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris) best meet those species’ needs for food and Crested Iris (I. cristata) cover. Creeping Holly Grape (Mahonia repens) Wild lily-of-the-Valley (Maianthemum canadense) In addition, planting native plants is an May Apple (Podophyllum peltatum) investment in the future. Many are threatened – and thus the birds, insects, and Ferns (rarely eaten by deer) animals that depend on them are also at risk Maidenhair (Adiantum aleuticum, A. pedatum) – by land development, invasive alien plant Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina) species, and gardening practices which tend Deer Fern (Blechnum spicant) to limit natural genetic diversity. Walking Fern (Camptosorus rhizophyllus) Male Fern (Dryopteris filix-max) Marginal Shield Fern (Dryopteris marginalis) Ostrich Fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris) Sensitive Fern (Onoclea sensibilis) Shrubs & Small Trees Cinnamon Fern (Osmunda cinnamomea) Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis) Interrupted Fern (Osmunda claytoniana) Hornbeam (Carpinus caroliniana) Rock Polypody (Polypodium virginianum) Dogwood (Cornus florida, C. racemosa, C. sericea, Christmas Fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) C. alternifolia) Broad Beech Fern (Thelypteris hexagonoptera) Viburnum (V. dentatum, V.acerfolium, V. lentago, V. pruifolium) Grasses Highbush Cranberry (V. trilobum) Sedge (Carex muskingumensis, C. stricta, Red Chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) C. tumulicola, C. plantaginea) Summersweet (Clethra alternifolia) Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) Bottlebrush Grass (Elymus hystrix) Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) Beardless Wild Rye (Elymus tritichoides) Carolina Silverbell (Halesia carolina) Gamma Grass (Xerophyllum tenax) Winterberry (Ilex verticillata) Deer Grass (Muhlenbergia rigens) Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) River Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium) Oregon Grape (Mahonia aquifolium) Bayberry (Myrica pensylvanica) Vines Sourwood (Oxydendrum arboreum) Allegheny Vine (Adlumia fungosa) Rhododendrons and Azaleas (many native selections) Climbing Aster (A. carolinianus) Aromatic Sumac (Rhus canadensis) Clematis (native varieties) Fothergilla (F. major) Trumpet Honeysuckle (Lonicera sempervirens) New Jersey Tea (Ceanothus americanus) Virginia Creeper (Parthenocissus quinquefolia) Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 5 A Plants Home
  6. 6. “Consider that shady spot in your garden RESOURCES as a challenge and an asset, learn the special needs of shade-loving Books Some of the many books you may find useful are plants, and your former problem spot Easy Care Native Plants by Patricia Taylor, becomes a cool, attractive, and refreshing Landscaping with Native Trees by Guy Sternberg and haven to enjoy on a summer day." Jim Wilson, and Taylor’s Guide to Natural Gardening. – Shade Gardening, Ortho Books Internet These are just a few to get you started. You can find many more sites using any search engine. Please note that these sites do not necessarily concentrate Perennials on native plants. Wild Ageratum (Eupatorium coelestinum) s Windflower (Anemone patens) (good site from the Chicago Botanic Garden) Columbine (Aquilegia caerulea, A. canadensis, A. chrysantha) s Black Cohosh (Cimicifuga racemosa) hort/g06911.htm Astilbe (A. biternata) (Missouri Dept. of Horticulture; general info and Goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus) plant lists) False Goatsbeard (Astilbe biternata) s White Wood Aster (Aster divaricatus) horticulture/DG1428.html Buff Goldenrod (Solidago sphacelata) (Minnesota Extention Service; general info and White Snakeroot (Eupatorium rugosum) plant lists) Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) Hepatica (H. acutiloba) s Bloodroot (Snaguinaria canadensis) (forum for woodland and deep shade gardening) Celandine Poppy (Chelidonium majus) Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica) s Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) mgsgar.htm Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia) (master gardener site) Dutchmen’s Breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) s Phlox (P. divericata) 16shadeprint.htm Coral Bells (Heuchera sanguinea, H. americana) (charts of amounts of required sunlight) White Woodland Milkweed (Asclepias exaltata) Turtlehead (Chelone) s Twinleaf (Jeffersonia diphylla) Garden/shadegar.htm Allegheny Monkey Flower (Mimulus ringens) (Denver Cooperative Extension Service) Miterwort (Mitella diphylla) s American Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium reptans) The definitive website on plants & horticulture False Solomon’s Seal (Smilacina racemosa) (list of plants from A Plants Home) Big Merrybells (Uvularia grandiflora) s shadegarden.html (Gifted Gardener horticulturalist; general info and “Imagine the possibilities: a new plant lists) landscape in which biodiverse gardens link s up to form a network of corridors that SHADEGARDENS&H=MAELSTROM.STJOHNS.EDU crisscross the continent, connecting (a list serve devoted to shade gardening) nature preserves so that animals can s move freely and plant seeds can disperse. shade_gardening Planting these gardens can be our great (a personal web page devoted to shade gardening) gift to the planet." s – Janet Marinelli, Going Native, links1_garden.html Brooklyn Botanic Garden series (gardening links of all kinds)© WindStar Wildlife Institute Page 6 A Plants Home