Best Plants for a Wooded Shade Garden
Plants for a Wooded, Shady Garden
I delight in the huge trees that shade my yard in New Hampshire. It does make planting a bit tricky until you learn the right plants for a wooded area. Don't get discouraged. You just need to find the right plants for the conditions you have. Here are my recommendations after ten years of shade gardening.
Obviously, you don't want to get rid of your trees. Big trees give welcome, cooling shade on hot summer days, but it doesn't have to be gloomy. With the addition of shade-loving plants with variegated foliage or some flowers that prefer shady or semi-shady areas, it can delight the eye as well.
Suitable Plants for Shady Areas - Photos by Virginia Allain
Things You'll Need:
variegated ground covers
colorful annuals (optional)
azaleas and rhododendrons (optional)
Variegated Hosta Loves Shady Areas - and adds some brightness
You'll find a wide variety of hosta from large to small, plain leaves to green/white variegated. All of them work great in a shady area! They come up each year and the clump gets a little bigger each time.
My friend has hers near the road and the deer will munch on them when they first come up. I must be lucky, as they leave mine alone.
A Variety of Hosta Plants
Hosta love shade and come in all sizes and variations of leaf patterns. These will thrive in your shady spot. Look at the photo below to see how dramatic these look grouped together.
I opted to put several clumps of one kind in a grouping and separate them in different areas of the garden.
Mine bloom in late summer, but I prize them most for their leaf size and the variations of the leaves. The blooms are nice but not spectacular.
The Lily of the Valley Growing in My New Hampshire Garden
Lily of the Valley Blooms in the Spring
Lily of the Valley Blooms in the Shade - Order plants from Amazon
Luckily the former owner of my woods had planted lily of the valley. These sweet bell-shaped flowers delight me each spring as they continue to spread under the shade of the trees.
Astilbe Is Perfect for a Shade Garden - Trees protect the astilbe from the hot sun
These come back year-after-year. Don't let them get too dry. If you notice the leaves drooping, give them a soaking. If you have a wooded spot that is slightly soggy to start, then these are perfect for you.
Remember when it rains lightly that a solid tree canopy can deflect a lot of the moisture. You may still need to supplement these plants with some watering from your hose.
The plumes of the astilbe are quite colorful and eye-catching. When not in bloom, they form a nice clump of foliage.
My Astilbe in Bloom
For Lush Shade Plantings, Add Ferns
Nothing looks as lush as ferns in the wooded garden. These are so easy to care for.
Wander through your woods and it's likely that you'll find some ferns already growing. If it is your own land, go ahead and transplant a few to the area you are calling your shade garden.
Pick a smaller one to dig up and take a good-sized root ball. I find them easier to move in the spring before they have a lot of fronds.
Of course, you must not gather fern plants from parks or private property.
Japanese Painted Fern
This one adds some subtle color to your planting area under some trees. I like the deep purple of the stem then the silvery purple-tinged leaves.
If you purchase ferns, check their recommended temperature range. Make sure they are hardy for your area.
Ferns Next to an Old Stone Wall - What Could Be Prettier?
Learn More about Ferns for Your Garden
It's amazing the many kinds of fern from dainty maidenhair fern to giant tree ferns. Ferns are so easy to care for. I just plant them and keep them watered well until their roots are settled. Then they pretty much take care of themselves.
Since there are so many kinds of ferns, I needed a book like this so I knew what I had. Maybe that's the librarian in me, but I like to identify my plants.
Native Trees and Shrubs to Use in Shade - For Dry Soil Areas
These plantings were recommended by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. You can request their fact sheets for using native plants in different situations.
For trees that were shade tolerant, they suggested hemlocks and ironwood. Two summers ago, we planted 2 very small hemlocks in the back part of our woods. I see some growth this spring and gave them aged cow manure (worked into the soil) and also some Miracle-Gro. I just need to be patient. Hemlocks make a good screen with their thick branches.
I should have checked their advice before we planted a red maple in the edge of our woods. We wanted that splash of color against the deep greens of the pine, beech, oaks, and regular maples. Unfortunately, the red maple is having a hard time getting enough sun with all the bigger trees around it. That makes it lean towards the deck seeking light.
For bushes, they mentioned bush honeysuckle, also called American Fly Honeysuckle. Another shrub is the maple-leaf viburnum which grows up to 4 to 6 feet high.
Here's What the Needles on a Hemlock Look Like
Find the Right Plants for Your Shaded Areas
How Much Shade Is in Your Garden?
Vote in the poll
Use Native Plants for Your Wooded Area
Step-By-Step Planting a Shade Garden
If the area is real, honest-to-goodness woods, then tackle just the edge adjacent to your lawn. Rake back the top layer of heavy leaves and push those further into the woods.
Despite the layers of leaf mold, the soil is probably deficient for good plantings. Mix some topsoil into the spots where you plan to plant. Add compost and dry cow manure if you have it.
Plant some good-sized plants that tolerate shade and have some color to their leaves. Variegated hosta is perfect for this situation. (variegated just means multi-colored like white and green together)
Fill in around your larger plants with some ground cover. They need to be shade lovers and hopefully, have variegated leaves. Use variegated ivy and variegated ajuga. You can also use the purple leaved ajuga though it won't have the brightening effect of the white and green leaves.
At first. you'll need to water the new plants until they get properly rooted. Sometimes the tree canopy is so thick that light rains don't benefit the plants under the trees. Check now and then to see if they need watering.
Allow the plants time to fill out and creep around. You can take more cuttings from the ground covers and help it spread and cover more area.
Each spring you'll need to gently remove the leaves that cover your shade garden. I do this by hand, as a rake will tear up the plants too much.
Also in the spring, plant some flowering annuals if you want more than just the green and white patterned look. Great ones for this are impatiens and begonias which handle shade well and come in bright colors like red. Actually, I like to use the white impatiens to go with the variegated foliage already there.
If you have room and want something bigger and very showy, plant azaleas and the large rhododendron beyond where you have the hosta and ground cover. Again, I'm partial to white in a shady area, but these come in wonderful pinks and oranges too.
Here's a Plant That Demands Shade
I Love Bleeding Heart - for a shady spot
These bloom in the spring, then you can enjoy the lacy foliage for most of the summer. I saw a white one for sale online but they were out of stock. The old-fashioned ones were pink. You'll enjoy the delicate looking heart-shaped flowers.
After dicentra finishes blooming, the foliage dies back. Don't remove it, as it is storing up energy to the roots.
Dicentra or Bleeding Heart in My New Hampshire Garden
Native Perennials for the Shade Garden
These native plants return reliably year-after-year. The Maine DEP suggested Foamflower, Appalachian Barren Strawberry, Creeping Phlox and Bowman's Root
The strawberries are not edible ones. If you don't live in the northeast, consult your local extension office for plants suitable to your area.
Groundcovers and Vines:
- checkerberry or wintergreen or teaberry
- woodbine/Virginia Creeper
Wild Plants as Ground Cover
Come Back Soon
To see all the plants I'll be adding. I'll have photos from my very own garden too.
These Native Plants Are Naturally in My Shady Wooded Area
Additional Resources for Planning Your Shade Garden
- Gardening in the Shade | Perennials for Shady Locati...
Gardening in the shade can be a challenge for many gardeners. This list of the best perennials for shady gardens will get you off to a great start.
- Gardening in the Shade: Annual Plants for Shady Area...
Don't let gardening in the shade be daunting. Try planting some of these annuals that thrive in the shade.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Virginia Allain