Other large shrubs such as butterfly bush, crepe myrtle, fig or chaste tree can fill a space quickly and temporarily and be removed later as canopy trees mature and block the light they need for successful growth. If you are concerned about the aggressive seeding of some flowering species, make sure to prune out the flower heads as soon as they fade.
In addition, keeping many of these plants limbed up attractively allows you to utilize the soil at their feet for shade lovers such as big-root geranium, hydrangea or lily-of-the-valley. Euonymus, chaste tree and elderberry are particularly suited to such treatment, adding a lovely small tree element to your garden - and quickly. Undertake this training from the beginning – removing lower limbs and planting your shade-lovers in the soil near the feet of the shrub as soon as it begins to put on a bit of structure (usually within the first two to three years).
For small space gardeners, these fast-growing trees and shrubs serve a dual purpose. They give your garden a feeling of maturity while giving you shade where you need it. Adding one or two small trees that are slower to mature, such as a dogwood or a Japanese maple can also add shade and solidity without overwhelming the space with huge roots and a large canopy.
Use Temporary Structures to Create Shade
One of the quickest ways of setting up shade in garden beds is by using shade sails or cloths strung between poles buried in the ground or attached to a home’s structure. These sails have become so popular in recent years for shading patios and decks that they now come in a range of colors that shade your plants and enhance your garden. Most heavy duty shade sails are made to allow wind to flow through them and are not intended to keep off rain, but this is a winning situation for a gardener that needs to keep plants irrigated.
These sails should be removed during the winter months to prolong their lives, but this is actually a bonus for the shade gardener. Doing so mimics the pattern of deciduous woodlands and allows winter sun to coax ephemeral beauties such as Virginia bluebell, Dutchman's breeches, trillium and twinleaf into flower in early spring.
Other solutions can be as easy as making a teepee or screen out of bamboo canes or tree trimmings and allowing a fast climbing vine to grow over it – shading plants either nearby or underneath. Willow teepees and tunnels made with newly cut willow wands in the late winter will sprout and grow, creating a living structure that provides a shady retreat for gardeners and their plants.
Use a Sheltered Deck or Patio
Often homeowners do not think of the potential a covered porch or screened-in deck holds for growing shade loving plants. Using large, deep containers that hold moisture well and a rich potting medium, you can grow small shrubs and perennials just as well if not better than you could in the ground. And as your shady areas begin to mature in your garden, you can transplant these plants to permanent homes later.
Consider hydrangeas for flower, hostas, ferns and caladium for foliage or add a tropical look with a canna or two. Flowering shrubs and perennials that prefer shade usually need a little light for best bloom, so experiment with where you place the containers for maximum effect.
Because that sheltered area keeps the rain off just as efficiently as it keeps out the sun, you’ll need to water your plants at least every other day if not daily. It's worth the extra work. Adding a bit of lush green and a string of white lights to an outside porch or deck is what will turn that space into a restful and relaxing haven – even more than adding expensive furniture and the latest lighting fixture.
Shade – The Undiscovered Country
Once you start setting up areas of shade – be they under a temporary shade sail or under the limbs of a more permanent small tree or large shrub – you can begin your shade gardening journey. And it is a journey, as shade loving plants come in such a rich mix of texture, color and form that gardeners will find themselves drawn deeper and deeper into this versatile, challenging world. There are just so many plants to discover!
From early woodland ephemerals to traditional favorites of the shade garden, you’ll come to adore the plants that make you feel a little cooler out there – both as a knowledgeable gardener, and as a human being coping with the hot summer sun.
About the Author: Marianne is a Master Gardener and the author of the new book Big Dreams, Small Garden. You can read more at www.smalltowngardener.com or follow The Small Town Gardener on Facebook or Instagram.
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