News release: Gardening in the Shade

Tim Baker, MU Extension Horticulture Specialist
102 N. Main, Suite 1, Gallatin, MO 64640

Release Date: May 24, 2018
Headline: Gardening in the Shade

Several years ago, I wrote a column about establishing lawns in the shade.  Trees are great for cooling your yard and home, but growing grass or other plants beneath them can be a challenge, especially if you have not done your homework and selected the right plants.   In my article, I mentioned that a guide sheet was available for selecting the proper grass cultivars for shady spots in your lawn.

For those of you who would like to grow other plants besides grass under your trees, MU Extension has an excellent guide sheet, Gardening in the Shade, which covers plants other than turf grasses.  This provides an extensive listing of understory trees, deciduous shrubs, evergreens, ground covers and vines, perennial flowers, annual flowers, and ornamental grasses that are adapted to shady environments.

The first step in shade gardening is to evaluate the amount of light in the area you intend to plant.  Landscape horticulturists divide plants into categories based upon their light requirements.  This will determine which plants will tolerate shade.  To evaluate an area, watch it throughout the day.  It may periodically alternate between shade and sun. 

Light Shade may see complete shade for only a few hours a day.  Even when shaded, it may be somewhat bright.  Part of the day may be spent in full sunshine.  Partial or Medium Shade is an area that sees little direct sunlight, except for a short time.  Full Shade will see no direct sunlight.  Even though it is fully shaded, brightness can vary from dark, dense shade to lighter shade, where light may be reflected into the shade from sunnier areas of the yard.

As you can see from the definitions, there is a lot of leeway, and plants will often be tolerant of several areas, depending on what stresses they may be subject to.  The key is making a proper evaluation of the area you intend to landscape, and then selecting a plant that will grow there.

Shaded areas have other problems than available light.  Competition from other plants and trees for nutrients and water can cause problems.  Air circulation is poorer, and may need to be modified to avoid increased disease susceptibility.  The guide sheet gives pointers for these troublesome problems.

Another section gives some hints for landscape design.  This can be a complex topic, but does not have to be.  Components of landscape design include plant texture, color, forms or shapes, and similar topics.  For the enthusiastic gardener who develops a well-designed landscape, this can be a source of accomplishment and add value to your home.

The rest of the guide sheet is devoted to lists of various types of plants that are well adapted to shady conditions.  The shade tolerance for each plant is listed as well as its size and other comments.  If you would like a copy of this guide sheet, call your local University Extension center and ask for G6911, Gardening in the Shade.  If you would like pointers in establishing a lawn in the shade, ask for G6725, Grasses in Shade.  Both of these guide sheets can also be downloaded from our web site.