Shade doesn’t have to be the bane of our gardens. Many plants survive well and even thrive under less-than-sunny conditions. Also, the natural cycle of the seasons within woodland areas actually accomplishes much of the work that we would normally have to put forth ourselves with our backyard gardens. For example, mulch is a source of nutrients that enrich the soil and also it deters the growth of weeds; and nature renews our supply of mulch each year as trees and other plants shed their leaves. This organic matter, when broken down, improves moisture retention in sandy soils and breaks up soil with high clay content so that it drains better.
Before deciding upon what to plant in the shaded portions of our land, we should examine what is already growing there to determine which plants thrive under the soil and light conditions that we have. Gardening books can also recommend to us various species appropriate to the climate where we live and the degree of shading. Their general categories cover dense shade (which is created by big trees like oaks and maples, with their thick canopies of leaves), dappled shade (created by smaller-leafed trees), and partial shade (what typically manifests at the edge of a wood, where the ground experiences about half a day’s worth of sun and the other half of shade).
It’s much easier to find plants that match existing soil conditions rather than trying to change the characteristics of our soil with fertilizers and other treatments. Still, we can adjust the amount of light allowed in by doing some pruning around our garden site. This is best done on a sunny day, when we can clearly see the results of our work. If the ground is littered with leaves, we can turn this covering into better mulch by running a lawnmower over it.
We should keep in mind that many wild flowers bloom early, and for only a short period of time. Therefore, if we build a woodland garden up with spring wild flowers alone we may have nothing there but bare soil come summer. To create a beautiful garden that blossoms throughout the entire season, we should use a variety of flowers. Late-blooming plants, like goldenrods, Asters and baneberry, grow steadily over the course of the season to become the dominant colors in a garden when the early-bloomers have gone dormant.
Most of the plants we require will be available as container-grown, balled-and-burlaped, or bare root. We should transplant them into holes two or three times the diameter of the root ball but no deeper than those roots. Immediate watering will fill air pockets and help the planting soil to settle. Applying a little mulch will allow the soil to better retain this moisture. New transplants need a steady supply of water – either from the rain or from us – until they are strong and rooted.
Nature is miraculous in her adaptations, and even an area of our landscape that receives little sunlight can be transformed into a beautiful garden space. By examining the growth of the surrounding area and then planting accordingly, we can establish a garden that blooms in a profusion of colors from April until the end of summer, year after year.