hostas in the shade garden

What Is A Shade Garden ?

Most garden books show pictures of bright sunny gardens as the crowning glory of the Great American Dream, the family home. While sun-loving gardens tend to have bigger, more colorful flowers than shade gardens, they also have their drawbacks. 

Pastel colors look washed out in sunny gardens. Bright, hot sunlight can burn leaves and bleach bright flowers. It can also bleach out the variegated stripes in leaves, as well as turn red foliage brassy. Moisture evaporates from the soil more quickly in a sunny location, necessitating more frequent watering.

Shade gardens definitely have their attributes. Shade plants tend to have more dramatic foliage forms and shapes, such as big leaved Hostas and lacy ferns. One can easily create an elegant shade garden without any flowers. The colors of most shade plants are more subtle, making it easy to create a sophisticated garden. 

There are fewer insects in a shade garden. In some climates, shade is a necessity, providing a cool retreat from the scorching sun. Many plants that require full sun in the north require some shade in the south. Most contemplation gardens are shady, as it is difficult to reflect on the universe’s complex issues in the scorching sun.

Degrees Of Sunlight And Shade

Most people are not aware of when locations in their garden receive direct sunlight or for how long. Yet, this is one of the most important pieces of information you need to know to select plants that will thrive in your garden.

Full Sun

Full sun is a term used to describe a garden that gets five hours or more a day of direct sunlight. It doesn’t matter what time of the day it gets the direct sun, morning or afternoon. If the area receives five or more hours of direct sun, it is a full sun area even though it may be shady the rest of the day.

Full Shade

Full shade is a term used to describe a garden that receives no direct sunlight. For example, a dense forest is typically full shade. Frequently your eyes may take a few seconds to adjust to the darkness when entering a full shade area.

Full shade may be created by tall, dense trees or by tall buildings. Each of these circumstances may have additional complications. When tall trees create the shade, frequently, the soil is entwined in a snare of root hairs. 

Greedy tree roots may also absorb most of the water and nutrients from the soil, further complicating the possibility of creating an attractive, healthy garden. 

Tall buildings are usually found in cities or congested areas where air pollution is a concern. A plant’s sensitivity to air pollution varies between species. In addition, the tall buildings, as well as paved streets and sidewalks, radiate heat in the summer. The narrow passageways between buildings also act as wind tunnels.

Partial Shade

Partial shade is a term used to describe an area that receives less than five hours of direct sunlight a day. Again the time of day when the direct sunlight is overhead doesn’t matter for the purposes of this definition. The subject area can receive direct noontime sun, but it is a partial shade area if it receives indirect light the remainder of the day. 

Of course, though, the time the area receives direct sunlight does matter to the plants. The afternoon sun is considerably hotter than the morning sun, quickly killing many shade-tolerant plants. For this reason, a partially shady area in one location of your garden may not grow the same plants as another partially shady area in a different place in your garden.

Just because a location is on the north side of the house doesn’t mean it is shady or even partially shady. If the area is open (few if any trees), the shadow of the building being the only shade source might even be full sun. Remember, if a location receives five or more hours of direct sun, it is considered full sun.

One type of partial shade is dappled shade. Dappled shade is typically created by sunlight shining through trees to create a confetti pattern of sunlight. Dappled shade may last the entire day or just a portion of the day.

Sunlight Changes with Time

The amount of sunlight an area receives changes with the seasons and the passage of time over the years. Therefore, it is important for the shade gardener to understand these changes in his or her garden.

The position of the sun relative to the earth changes with the seasons. The sun is at its highest point in the sky during the summer. It is at its lowest point in the sky during the winter. In the spring and fall, it is somewhere in between its lowest and highest points. 

This is important because when the sun is low in the sky, sunlight can reach under tree branches shaded when the sun is higher in the sky. Consequently, locations that may be pretty shady in the summer may receive more light during the winter.

Another factor that may cause some locations to receive more sunlight in the winter is the lack of leaves on deciduous trees. Leaves block out a considerable amount of sunlight. As a result, a forest that is quite dark in the summer may almost be sunny in the winter.

These changes in the amount of sunlight a shady area receives in different seasons allow many early spring blooming plants to thrive. In the late winter and early spring, when these plants grow and produce flowers, the forests have plenty of sunlight and cool temperatures. As spring heads into summer, these plants become dormant and need shade provided by the leaves on the trees.

With the passage of the years, many gardens become shadier as trees mature. What started as a full sun garden may evolve into a partial or full shade garden. Plants that thrived for years may begin to decline as sunlight conditions change. 

When this happens either the plantings or the conditions should change to ensure the health and beauty of your garden. 

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