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Tips for Growing Container Gardens in the Shade

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You can grow beautiful container gardens even if you don't have any direct sun. Here are some tips for growing beautiful and successful shade container gardens.

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1. Determine How Much Shade

container gardening picture of fuchsia hanging basket
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

One of the most important parts of successful shade container gardening is to accurately figure out how much sun your pot will get. While you may think a certain spot in your yard, or on your deck or patio is in shade, it pays to take a close look at what kind of shade or sun an area gets. There are several different kinds of shade and determining the exposure of an area can make the difference in whether your containers thrive. To determine the light levels in a certain area, you can use a sunlight meter or calculater or you can keep track, throughout the day, of how much light is hitting your spot. As the seasons change and even in the course of a growing season, as the sun moves across the sky, those light levels can change so keep an eye on sun exposure, over time.

Different Kinds of Shade--Definition

2. Choose Plants for Shade

container garden picture of flowering torenia or wishbone plant
Photo © Kerry Michaels

This is perhaps the most important step in determining if your plants will thrive in your shady spot. You will want to choose plants that love shade and there are lots to choose from. There are great foliage plants as well as many flowering plants to choose from. If you don't know what you want when you go to buy plants, either ask a knowledgeable salesperson for suggestions, or make sure to read the plant tags. Some nurseries will even have whole sections devoted to plants that thrive in shade. Also make sure your plants have the same water requirements if you are planning to combine them in a pot. That said, don't be afraid of just using one type of plant in a container--some of the most beautiful pots have one plant.

Five Great Plants for Shade

3. Water Carefully

picture of begonia, On Top Sunset
Photo © Kerry Michaels
Container gardens in the shade will take a lot less water than those in the blazing sun. Also, if there is high humidity, they will need less water too. To determine if your pot or hanging basket needs to be watered, feel the soil, and not just the surface. The surface can look of feel dry, when there in actually enough moisture below. You need to stick your finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle to see if your soil is dry by your finger tip. If it is, water until it drains out of the bottom of your pot. You want to make sure the moisture gets all the way to the bottom of your pot, where many of the roots may be.

More Information on Watering Plants

4. Think Bright

picture of key lime heuchera planted in a birch log
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

It often is great to use bright plants and or pots in the shade. If you use golden leaved plants, bright yellows or chartreuse greens, it can help lighten up an area of shade. Also, using plants with a bright colored flowers and pots in light and bright colors can give the illusion of light to a dark area. Black or dark plants can fade away in shade, though sometimes they can make the brighter plants pop even more.

5. Drainage is Important

picture of shade container garden with Alligator Tears and Torrenia
Photograph © Kerry Michaels

Pots in the shade don't have the sun to dry them out, so over-watering is often a problem. You want to make sure your pots have good drainage, which means large holes in the bottom of the pot, so the water can get out of the bottom. You don't want to use gravel in the bottom of your pot. It actually impedes drainage. If have a large hole, simply cover it with plastic window screening or a coffee filter to keep the soil in and let the water out. Use a good quality, light potting mix, because most plants are happiest when the soil is moist, not wet and heavy potting soil can retain too much water. As with almost all container gardens, you do want to add a slow-release fertilizer to your soil and mix it in throughout the pot. Particularly important for shade gardens is not to have your pots sit in dishes full of water--as it can quickly drown a plant. Opt for pot feet, if you keep a dish or saucer under your plants to protect the surface they are sitting on.

For more information on why using gravel is a mistake.

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