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Three Questions to Ask Before Starting a Shade Garden

There’s no reason a gorgeous yard can’t be made in the shade -- as long as you're not in the dark.


When it comes to creating a beautiful outdoor space, your yard isn’t likely to change -- but your tactics can. Many plants thrive in shady environments, but pinpointing the right ones for your particular yard requires a bit more investigation. Before hitting your local nursery or garden center, ask yourself these questions to ensure that your shade garden has a bright future.

Shed some light. Is your garden bed fully shaded, or only partly? Spend a day observing the light in your yard -- you may be surprised to learn that a patch you thought was shrouded actually gets several hours of sun. Either way, you’ve got options, but it’s best to know exactly what you’re working with.

Get the dirt. Is your soil dry or moist? Acid or alkaline? Its composition will greatly affect the kind of plants that can thrive. You can purchase a commercial test to determine your soil’s specific pH, or try this DIY alternative: Fill two small dishes with soil; add vinegar to one and a mix of water and baking soda to the other. If the vinegar dish fizzes, your soil is alkaline; if the baking soda fizzes, your soil is acidic. (If neither fizzes, your soil likely has a neutral pH of 7 -- the ideal growing condition for most plants). From there, you can condition your soil accordingly.

Plot your plot. What exactly will you be planting? Although they usually won’t produce big, showy flowers, shade plants can boast a striking array of texture, color, and form. Good planning will help give a woodlandlike garden interest and intention. For example, placing a simple blade shape next to a broad, leafy plant makes both varieties pop, and varying plant heights creates visual drama and allows for mutual growth.

Have you tried your hand at shade gardening? Share your best tips in the comments.