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How to guide: Shade planting

Shade planting

Gardens shaded by trees and buildings are increasingly common as gardens get smaller.

North or east facing gardens can be cold and shady for much of the year. These spaces can be a challenge to plant.

To grow healthy plants in shady areas, it is important to identify the degree of shade that a plant will tolerate. Few shrubs will thrive where shade is dense and with dry, unfertile soil.

Adding organic matter, such as compost & well-rotted farm yard manure, and a general fertiliser will provide more suitable conditions for plants to grow.

Types of shade

Light Shade
A site that is open to the sky, but screened from direct sunlight by an obstacle, such as a high fence or a group of trees.

Partial Shade
A site receiving sunlight for 2 or 3 hours either in early morning or late evening.

Moderate Shade
Mainly reflected or diffused light, for example through tree canopies.

Deep Shade
Usually found under dense deciduous trees.

Practical problems

The most diffcult conditions are found under conifers, as these areas are dry and sheltered in Summer & Winter, often with an accumulation of dead needles creating very acidic conditions.

With plenty of added organic material, it may be possible to grow spring-flowering bulbs around the base of the tree.

Under trees where the branches are low & spreading out, few plants will thrive except along the edge of the branches. Plants may need to be tried on a trial & error basis, with the emphasis on low-growing evergreen shrubs. Common Ivy is worth trying in even the gloomiest conditions.

Mulching improves water retention, and combined with autumn father than spring planting, allow some plants to establish more effectively over winter.

Trees for shady sites

  • Acer platanoides
  • Acer pseudoplatanus
  • Betula
  • Gleditsia triacanthos

Shrubs for shady sites

  • Amerlanchier
  • Aucuba
  • Berberis
  • Buxus sempervirens
  • Cotoneaster
  • Euonymus
  • Fatsia
  • Forsythia
  • Fuchsia ( Hardy )
  • Hypericum
  • Ilex ( Holly )
  • Kerria japonica
  • Osmanthus burkwoodii
  • Pachysandra terminalis
  • Pittosporum tenuifolium
  • Prunus laurocerasus
  • Rhus
  • Sambucus
  • Skimmia
  • Viburnum davidii
  • Vinca

Climbers for north & east sites

  • Camellia
  • Chaenomeles ( Flowering Quince )
  • Clematis
  • Hedera
  • Hydrangea petiolaris
  • Jasminum nudiflorum
  • Parthenocissus
  • Pyracantha
  • Vitis ( Ornamental Vines )

Perennials for shady sites

  • Ajuga
  • Alchemilla
  • Anemone japonica
  • Bergenia
  • Brunnera macrophylla
  • Cortaderia ( Pampas Grass )
  • Dicentra
  • Digitalis
  • Doronicum
  • Epimedium
  • Euphorbia
  • Geranium ( Herbaceous varieties )
  • Hellebore
  • Hosta
  • Iris foetidissima
  • Lamium
  • Liriope muscari
  • Physalis franchetii
  • Pulmonaria
  • Salvia superba

Ferns for drier, shady sites

  • Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Dryopteris affnis
  • Dryopteris Crista the King
  • Polystichum setiferum
  • Polystichum plumoso-densum
  • Polypodium vulgare

If you would like any help or advice, please do ask any of our friendly staff.

Download our shade-planting leaflet