All plants need light to grow. But you don't need full sun to nurture a dazzling array of care-free plants. In nature, many woodland wildflowers, bulbs, small trees, shrubs, and other plant treasures have adapted to grow where trees block out some sun. Many plants commonly grown in full sun can also adapt to partial shade, or may need it to survive hot climates.

But all shade is not created equal. Shade can be partial or very dense. In nature, partial shade occurs along the edges of forests and in open woods. Densely shaded places with little or no direct sun are found in deep woods. In your backyard, the equivalent of partial shade would be the dappled shade beneath a shade tree, or you may have dense shade, where the sun is blocked for several hours a day by a wall or fence. Plants that thrive in these types of shade need only about 4 hours of sun a day. They get the required quota as the sun moves in its daily cycle, causing structures in your yard to cast alternating patterns of sunlight and shadow over your plants.

The amount of shade your plants receive is also influenced by seasonal sun and growth cycles. When grown beneath deciduous trees, some plants take advantage of full sun in late winter and early spring for a quick burst of growth early in the season, before trees leaf out. But when light levels in that same site during the summer are low, bulbs and plants like bleeding heart, called spring ephemerals, go dormant until the following spring. Shrubs and small trees that grow well in partial shade, such as azalea, hydrangea, and dogwood, are perfectly attuned to this seasonal rhythm of changing light, and also flower early in the year.
Whether the shade in your garden comes from trees or buildings, and no matter what climate or soil conditions you face, with the good advice you'll find in this chapter, you'll be amazed at how many care-free plants are truly made for the shade.


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