Tips for Successful Shade Gardening

Does your yard have a shady spot where sun-loving plants like turfgrass and lilacs refuse to thrive? Well, don't despair! Beautiful, lush gardens can be created in all but the heaviest-shade areas. And shade gardens provide a cool, welcoming retreat from the hot summer sun.

Shade plants (such as hostas and ferns) often have wonderfully dramatic foliage. It's relatively easy to create a sophisticated and elegant garden in the shade that emphasizes these foliage elements. Many flowering shrubs and perennials also thrive in partial shade areas.

Understanding the Different Kinds of Shade

Light Shade
A light shade area is one that receives 4-6 hours of sun each day, or that experiences dappled patterns of equal sun and equal shade throughout the day. Most plants recommended for "full sun" will actually perform well in light shade. Many traditional shade plants will do well here too, if protected from the hottest afternoon sun.

Medium Shade
A medium shade area receives bright light and less than 4 hours of direct sun, with a high cover of deciduous trees or partial shade from nearby buildings. All shade plants should do well in this environment, especially if they get enough water. A few "full sun" plants can also adjust and be useful in these areas.

Heavy Shade
In a heavy shade area, the sun is blocked by buildings, evergreens, or a heavy canopy of deciduous trees, with only indirect or reflected light throughout the day. It is difficult to grow a wide variety of plants in these areas; choose only those that will tolerate low light. In good soil, shade-loving groundcovers should work well. Consider also using stone, statuary, container gardens, and perhaps an attractive bench.

Dealing with Shade Created by Deciduous Trees

Getting plants established beneath deciduous trees is a special challenge-not just because of the shade, but because the newcomers must compete with the trees' root systems for water and nutrients. The following tips should help.

Soil Conditions
The soil under deciduous trees often lacks sufficient organic matter and nutrients. Therefore, soil amendments (such as Mahoney's composted cow manure) should be added either to individual planting holes or to the whole garden bed. Add I part soil amendment to every 2 parts existing soil. Dig the planting holes large-up to five times the size of the rootball. Planting in raised beds might also be helpful.

Light
Trim off the trees' lower branches to allow for increased light and movement of air. Ifthe canopy is too dense, selectively remove some of the trees, leaving only the most desirable.

Water
During periods of drought, large trees hog water from surrounding plants, and many small plants will not tolerate dry shade so supplemental watering may be necessary. Take the time to find the right level and frequency of watering. Check the soil moisture around new plantings frequently, since underwatering and over-watering can both present problems. Keep in mind that frequent, light waterings can do more damage than good, as they encourage roots to grow toward the surface.

Fertilization
Plants under deciduous trees generally require more frequent applications of fertilizer, to compensate for the nutrients used by the trees. Many types of fertilizer are available, including slowrelease, granular, and organic fertilizers. Check with Mahoney's fertilizer sales specialists to determine the type that's right for you.

Surface Roots
Where surface roots are a serious problem, create a rock and stone garden, with accent pieces such as statuary, a bench, and groupings of container plants.

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