70426thumbThere is no way around it. Just about every garden has some degree of shade. Even low profile single story houses without eaves or fences are shaded on the north side. Eastern exposures get the cooler morning sun. Western exposures get only the warmer afternoon sun. There are vacant and treeless parcels out in the desert that lack shade, but not many of us are gardening out there.

Shade is very often an asset, which is why shade trees are so popular for shading both gardens and homes. Eaves and awnings are architectural features that shade windows and doorways. Arbors, lath roofs and patio umbrellas provide shade for patios where trees are lacking or insufficient. Without shade, garden spaces can get too uncomfortably warm to be useful during summer.

The problem with too much shade is that, although it makes the garden more comfortable and useful for some things, it also makes the garden less useful for gardening. Roses, vegetable plants and most flowering annuals need good exposure. Lawn, the carpeting for some of the more useful of garden spaces, can be sparse where it is too shaded. Sunlight is as important as shade is.

This is one of the many reasons it is so important to select the proper trees for each application. Big trees are nice, but might shade too much area. Evergreen trees that are good for obscuring unwanted views at a distance, will prevent warming sunlight from reaching parts of the home through winter if they are too close. Neighboring gardens and homes need to be considered as well.

Planning functional gardens is of course not always simple. Most of us contend with trees, shrubbery and vines that are too big and shady, either in our own gardens or in neighboring gardens. Climbing vines like wisteria, honeysuckle and trumpet vine, are notorious for growing far beyond their intended applications. It sometimes becomes necessary to remove overgrown or crowded plants, or prune them for confinement. Big plants that can not be contained will limit the choices for other plants that share their space.


13 thoughts on “Shade Is Not For Everyone

  1. Yes, that’s all so true. A garden evolves over time so you might have not enough shade to start with (which is where I am at the moment) and then you have too much.

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  2. My garden is almost exclusively shade, and being a heat shy northerner, I have to admit I nurture that shade. I constantly push boundaries in terms of what I can grow, and sometimes, it goes surprisingly well. And, there are so many fantastic plants that thrive in shade! I discover more and more every year.

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    1. Although I am not a landscape designer, I like to be aware of trees that allow more shade through so that lawns and other plants will be happy. Some trees are so dense that not much can survive in the shade.

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  3. When people complain their plants are malingering or not blooming, I ask them how much shade there is. Usually it’s a lot more than they think. In the preserve, just limbing the lower reaches of very “branchy” trees has helped with understory shrub regeneration. Interestingly, some invasive plant infestations are worse in the shade of trees like Sugar maple, since they can better tolerate the heavy shade that suppresses many native shrubs.

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