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Planting in shaded areas

Planting in Shaded Areas

Almost every garden has at least one shady spot; and as modern gardens get smaller and smaller, they are more likely to be overlooked and bordered by buildings, walls and trees, all of which cast shade. Gardens that are north or east facing are also dark and shady, and although having a shady garden may sound tricky, there are a surprising number of plants for shade. Shrubs in particular can cope with shade in varying degrees, and will help to enhance these dull, dark, problem spaces.

Regardless of the conditions in your garden, try and work with rather than fight them. Choosing the right shade plants for your garden will give you happier, healthier, stronger plants that are able to withstand pests and diseases, and far less likely to need help from you to thrive. In the same way as plants that need sun fail in a shady site, so will plants for shade struggle if they are grown in a spot that is too bright. Plants for shade grown in the sun will start to become bleached out, with their leaves turning yellow and discoloured, and will eventually become stunted with poor fruiting and flowering.

Before choosing plants for shade, it is important to appreciate that there are different types of shade and that different plants will be able to cope with these various degrees. Light shade is where plants are open to the sky but direct sunlight is blocked by trees or walls etc. Plants for shade for these conditions include geraniums, campanulas and aquilegias.

Partial shade is a site that only receives sunlight for two or three hours a day. Plants such as cornus, hellebores and bergenias are all ideal.

Dappled shade is blotchy shade cast by the foliage of trees overhead. This requires plants for shade like camellias and hydrangeas, and bulbs such as snowdrops and crocus.

Finally, dense shade or full shade includes the darkest spots in the garden, usually found under trees and areas that are the toughest to plant. Few plants for shade are able to cope here, however those that can include ivy and ferns such as dryopteris, and pachysandra. To help these plants for shade, improve their site by mulching and feeding the soil at planting.

Many plants for shade are able to cope with degrees of shade but require it in combination with either damp or dry soil. Dry shade is one of the most difficult conditions in a garden, usually found at the base of walls or beneath trees which have sucked the moisture out of the soil. Plants for dry shade include toughies like epimediums and cranesbills. Give these plants for shade a helping hand by digging in plenty of organic matter before planting, which will help improve the moisture holding capacity of the soil, and mulching them every spring.

In contrast, damp shade is usually found in heavy, clay soil near water, and is generally cool, moist and rich, so dig in plenty of compost before planting and mulch plants regularly. Astilbe, hosta and astrantia are all shade plants for damp shade. Mulching them with pebbles, gravel or bark mulch will help to keep moisture in the soil for them. Always keep on top of watering in dry weather so they don't dry out.

Shrubs are often the perfect answer to a tricky spot in the garden. Shrubs for shade are some of the toughest, most versatile plants around. For colour and scent go for viburnums, which often have beautiful flowers followed by bright berries; hydrangeas, with their delicate blooms; or camellia if your soil is also acidic. Cornus, with their vivid winter stems have long been popular plants for shade and are perfect in a damp shady spot. If you are struggling to fill a gloomy corner, go for Fatsia shrubs which are perfect for shade, with their huge, glossy hand-shaped leaves, for bringing a touch of the exotic to the garden.

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