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Addressing the challenge of shade in the home landscape

One of the biggest problems in the home landscape is shade.

Turf grasses and many other plants are not tolerant of it. Just as moisture, temperature, and soil conditions are often limiting factors in plant growth, amount of sunlight a site receives should be taken into consideration.  The good news is there are a multitude shade tolerant plants that will grow in areas of your landscape that receive minimal sunlight. 

The level of shade varies with the time of day and from year to year as trees grow. Determine the level of sunlight the site receives. Some plants thrive in light shade while others will tolerate full shade. Deeply shaded areas under large trees or behind structures present more of a challenge than areas that receive partial shade. Most shade-tolerant plants require well-drained, fertile soil. Make sure the plants growing in the shade of large trees, shrubs, or under structures receive adequate water.      

Multitudes of plants thrive in places with limited sunlight, and some even prefer the shade. Camellias, azaleas, and hydrangeas are good choices. Dogwoods prefer partial shade since they are understory trees in the forests. Many annuals, such as coleus, begonias, dwarf salvias. Some early blooming spring-flowering bulbs, such as crocus, bluebells, and snowdrops can placed in areas shaded in the summer by deciduous trees. These small bulbs bloom and their foliage mature in the sun before the trees finish leafing out. Hosta, lilies, astilbe, columbines, bleeding hearts, and Heucheras (coral bells) are examples of perennials that love shade. Many woodland native plants, such as trillium, foam flowers, Solomon’s seal and wild violets are excellent choices for these sites. Ferns also prosper in the shade. You can find large masses of them growing in forests under trees.   

The Extension office receives calls from homeowners frustrated with being unable to establish a lawn in areas with excessive shade. Unfortunately, there are not many solutions to this problem. These grasses require six to eight hours of sunlight daily. However, fescue grass, zoysiagrass and St. Augustinegrass can grow in partial shade but will deteriorate in deep shade. As an alternative to turfgrasses, plant groundcovers such as liriope, mondo grass, ajuga, and Japanese pachysandra. They fill in these areas and provide a pleasing cover to the landscape.   

Fruit trees and vegetables require full sun to be productive. Some cool season vegetable plants, such as broccoli and collards, can handle partial shade, but they will not have as good of yields as those grown in full sun. The same is true with blackberries and raspberries, which can tolerate some shade but will not be as productive.

Excessive amounts of shade can be a challenge for the home landscape. However, these areas need not be a barrier to having a beautiful landscape. In spite of the limitations, many garden plants are well suited for shade. Knowing what plants are tolerant of shade and their characteristics will help ensure that you will have an attractive landscape planting in these areas.

Timothy Daly, is an Agricultural and Natural Resource Extension Agent with Gwinnett County. He can be contacted at 678-377-4010 or