Many gardeners view shade as a challenging situation for growing plants. While some plants do not grow well in low light, numerous others thrive under these conditions. Just as moisture, temperature, and soil conditions may limit plant growth, the amount of shade present may determine which plants will grow successfully. The key is to discover which ones are adapted to the conditions in your yard or garden.
Landscapes change their degree of shade over time. As trees and shrubs mature, the landscape receives greater shade. What was once a sunny garden may evolve into a shady one. Analyze the degree of shade in your garden periodically to determine if changes in plant materials may be needed due to increased shade from a maturing landscape.
Several characteristics typify shade gardening. In addition to low light levels, plants growing in the shade must compete with shading trees for nutrients and water, and tolerate poor air circulation.
Deciding what to plant under your shade trees is not a problem of finding something that will grow in reduced light, but of finding plants that will grow in the poor, dry soil present under trees. Your plants will be competing with the tree for nutrients and moisture, and the tree will usually win.
If the soil under the tree is dry and root-clogged to the point where you have difficulty digging a hole, you may have to improve the soil before you can plant. A layer of organic material several inches deep is the best remedy. The tree will provide you with an abundance of organic material in the form of leaves. Chop them to the size of fifty-cent pieces with a bagging lawn mower and spread them under the tree. Sprinkle them with compost activator and keep them moist. Repeat this procedure annually until the leaves have rotted into a deep humus. Earthworms will move in and loosen the subsoil, making it possible to plant the shade garden of your dreams.