Ann Wright: Something shady in the garden |

Ann Wright: Something shady in the garden

Ferns and understory plants in shady woodland space.
Photo by Ann Wright

As the autumnal equinox has passed, nights are growing cooler, while day-time air and soil temperatures are still warm. The lasting warmth of the soil is one of the reasons this is a great time to plant perennials giving them time for roots to get started before winter rain sets in. With our lovely early fall days, this is also a good time to evaluate where to put new plantings – especially in terms of sunlight or shade. Gardening in the Sierra foothills is a challenge for many, in terms of the amount of shade on some properties. Is there something shady in your garden?

Like shifting shadows, the angle and intensity of shade changes daily—and seasonally. Making simple observations during a growing season will help gardeners be more successful, eventually leading to more enjoyment of their gardens. Determining what plants thrive in shady or partial shade areas of the yard means that the gardener has studied the area in terms of sunlight. The dense, totally shaded area under a deck or patio is much different than an area in an open field receiving full sun all day.

In general, a full shade area receives less than 2 hours of sunlight during the day. These areas of dense shade may lie under the canopies of evergreens or tightly spaced shrubs where no light is able to penetrate the growing area. It’s a very cooling shade, but also a challenge to find things that bloom. Partially shaded areas receive between 2 and 6 hours of light at some point during the day, with shade for the remainder of the day. Woodland areas may have dappled, or filtered shade where sunlight is filtered through branches. By contrast, an area with full sun receives 6 to 8 hours of direct sun. Keep in mind that the sun’s intensity is also a factor. Full, direct sun at noon on a hot August day will be more intense than morning or evening sun.

In selecting plants for a shaded garden, choose plants with similar light requirements. When making purchases of new plants check the label for references to the light requirements for the plant. Tags may list a single light requirement, such as “full sun” or “partial shade”, but what does it mean when there are a couple of descriptions? For example, if the label indicates, “sun- part shade” what does that plant need? Typically, the first word in the description is the preferred location for the plant, meaning the plant will grow best in full sun but will tolerate some shade.

Making simple observations during a growing season will help gardeners be more successful, eventually leading to more enjoyment of their gardens.

There are a number of plants that do well in shade, including annuals, perennials, and shrubs. To find out more about shade gardening, join the Master Gardeners of Nevada County for a virtual, free public workshop at 9 a.m. on Oct. 24 via Zoom. This popular workshop will focus on how plants adapt to shade, taking advantage of filtered and bright shade, and what commonalities shade loving plants share. Presenters will offer specific landscape design ideas using shade-tolerant bulbs, ground covers, perennials, shrubs, and trees. The workshop will also include information on planting under the oaks. To access the presentation, log onto the website at – look for the Zoom link on the home page. Join local Master Gardeners as we explore “the dark side” using color and texture to create special gardens that are not high maintenance and can be quite beautiful.

Until we can meet in person, the virtual Zoom format has enabled Master Gardeners to reach out to the public with some of our workshops. The workshops are now starting at 9 a.m. and last about an hour, which allows listeners time to tune into our radio show, “Master Gardeners and Friends”, every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon on KNCO radio, 830 on the AM dial. The workshops are recorded – there are links to past presentations on our site.

Upcoming workshops include a special Halloween workshop, “It’s Alive!” A soil building workshop scheduled for Oct. 31 (watch to see what surprises may lurk in the halls of Zoom-land). Also, being offered in two parts, one on Nov. 7 and the second part on Nov. 14, join us for “The Art and Science of Pruning.”

Ann Wright is a Nevada County Master Gardener.

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