Susan Warde learned some rules for tending beds in full to partial shade.
Change your mind-set. “View shade gardening as a wonderful opportunity, not as making the best of a difficult situation,” Susan says.
Keep the compost coming. Woodland plants thrive in rich humus. Amend your soil heavily at the start, adding lots of compost. Susan always mixes a generous amount of compost into every planting hole. “I usually add a sprinkling of all-purpose fertilizer, too,” she says, “since I rarely fertilize afterward.”
Water. A shade garden requires less frequent watering than one in sun, but it needs to be kept moister because tree roots compete for water with shade-loving plants. Place a water supply in a convenient location to make irrigation easy. Better still, incorporate a sprinkler system or soaker hoses into your garden.
Assess the light. Sunlight filtered through trees creates a mix of light and dark areas. “Take advantage of areas that receive more light to tuck in part-sun plants,” Susan says. “You can also plant some full-sun plants in partial-shade spots, but they won’t flower as profusely.”
Tackle tree roots. Under large trees such as maple, digging deeply is impossible because of roots. Susan conquered the problem by planting large, uniform patches of groundcover with foliage that contrasts in a pleasing way: ‘John Creech’ sedum (Sedum spurium ‘John Creech’), a woodland geranium, and vinca (Vinca minor).
Lighten up on decor. Choose light-color rocks for paths and walls, and use pale statuary. Darker objects disappear in the low light of a shade garden.