When your shade garden is a shady character....

One of those “unfortunate” gardeners that have a shaded garden?

Often hear yourself moaning “Nothing wants to grow in my garden.”?

The idea that a garden without much sun is a “problem garden" probably stems from memories of trees in backyards surrounded with compact soil, some straggly lawn and a few miserable plants, struggling along in the shadows.

Let's face it, gardening in the shade can be daunting at first, and limited sunlight is often viewed with despair

....especially if you’re trying to grow plants in the shade when they’re actually suppose to be planted in the sun?

Guilty as charged?

Rest assured! Photo shared from Dwell

There are many beautiful shade plants perfect for your specific shaded garden.

It’s all a matter of:

  1. determining how much shade your plants will receive,

  2. enriching the soil,

  3. and choosing the right plants.

Photo shared from Paarman Landscapes

1. How much shade:

Keep in mind that there’s a big difference between a garden that receives full, dark shade most of the day; and one that gets some morning sun with afternoon shade; or even one that gets filtered sun right through the day.

For instance: the same plants growing happily in semi-shade won’t necessarily be suitable for a very dark spot in the garden....

Determine what type of shade your garden gets and then do some research on the best plants for this condition.

Keep in mind that a garden can start off as a full sun garden, but over time (as trees grow and structures are erected), might change to a shade garden.

Also, the amount of sun / shade your garden gets can differ from season to season – as the sun’s position change, and/or as deciduous trees shed all its leaves in the winter, letting more sun through.

2. Correct soil preparation:

By adding compost and organic products (like ‘Gold dust’ / ‘Kwik Gro’) to your garden soil, it will create a nutritious medium for your shade plants, which will also keep moisture for longer (especially important if the shade you have is of the dry type).

It’s relatively easy to prepare a garden bed against a built wall – simply remove the top layer of soil over the whole area, (to make space for the compost) and then work through.

Photo shared from Jenni Penny Landscaping

But the area underneath a tree is a whole other story!

It’s sometimes difficult to work the compost through the whole area – because of all the roots in the soil.

In these cases it’s probably better to just prepare a planting hole for each plant, and to add the compost to each planting hole.

Keep in mind that some gardeners like to line each planting hole with landscaper’s material (bidum) – to prevent the tree roots competing with the smaller shade plants.

Or perhaps it’s wise to keep your plants in its original nursery container and sinking the whole container into the soil (so that it gives the impression that it’s planted in the soil).

Keep in mind that these plants will probably not reach its maximum size – as the container will restrict the root growth.

Try to hurt as little possible tree roots when preparing and planting a bed underneath it – less tree roots might negatively influence stability and anchor ability of the tree.

Plants planted underneath a tree should be fertilised often (leaf application is best).

Photo shared from dangarbarinsmith on Instagram

If planting underneath large trees seems too much of a challenge,

consider these other options:

*Pavers / stepping stones

(maybe with a soft ground cover in between?)

*Wooden deck

(for sitting in the shade on a hot summer’s day)

*Ornamental pots

(advantage: the roots of the tree can’t interfere with smaller plants)

*Raised bed

(but only away from the main stem! The soil level should never be raised directly around the main stem of a tree)

Photo shared from secretgardens.com.au

What about edibles for shade?

Most people will probably be surprised to know that, although the most edibles do require quite a lot of sun, there is quite a few that will grow happy with less direct sunlight.

If your garden receives 4 – 5 hours of direct sunlight a day (or even filtered sun right through the day), you can most probably grow these successfully:

Asparagus, celery, coriander, fennel, mint, oregano, parsley, rocket.

Chives, garlic chives, garlic, onion, leeks.

Lettuce, kale, cabbage, oriental green (eg. pak choi).

Beetroot, carrot, turnip, radish.

Chillies, sweet peppers.


When it comes to deciding on specific shade plants, keep in mind that a combination of perennial and annual is best.

Tall perennial shrubs, like Gardenia and Camellia, provide permanent structure in the shade garden.

Medium height shrubs, like Plectranthus ‘Mona lavender’, are good to fill in.

Colourful annuals, like Primula and Lobelia, provide immediate effect and are perfect to use as a border. Photo shared from Paarman Landscapes

For an interesting shade garden right through the year, plant a variety of plants and make sure that they flower at different times of the year.

Make sure your shade plants are protected from very hot afternoon sun. Most shade plants will be happy with a bit of (softer) morning sun, but afternoon sun is normally to harsh for these plants.

It’s important to play with contrast in the shade garden. Play with colour and texture contrast. For example: the large, glossy green leaf of a Delicious monster contrasting with the colourful, variegated (and finer) leaves of the Dianella.

Some gorgeous shade plants to look out for:

New Guinea impatiens

Plectranthus ‘Mona lavender’ and ‘Jazz it up’

Philodendron ‘Xanadu’

Liriope ‘Evergreen giant’

Crassula multicava

Mackaya bella

Sansevieria trifasciata

Trachelospermum jasminoides

Pelargonium peltatum

Photo shared from aboutmywintergarden.com

(Trachelospermum jasminoides - star jasmine)

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