Dense Shade In Gardens: Exactly What Is Full Shade

By Susan Patterson, Master Gardener

Contrary to what many people think, there are numerous plants that thrive in full shade. These plants are typically defined as those that require only reflected, indirect light but not exposure to full sun. Full sun will often scorch these plants. But exactly what is full shade and how do you gauge full shade density? Keep reading to find out more.

What is Full Shade?

Full shade and full sun are the easiest of light categories to interpret when it comes to growing plants. Full shade basically means that the shade lasts all day long. Very little, if any, direct sunlight hits the plant at any time of the day.

Sunnier areas of the yard or light-colored walls may reflect some sunlight into the shaded area; however, none of this is direct sunlight. Dense shade in gardens is also referred to as full shade but usually under an overhang or canopy of thick trees or vegetation with dense leaf coverage. Full shade density can also be found under patios, decks or other garden structures.

Plants for Full Shade


Plants for full shade don’t generally display the brilliant colors of those that receive full sunlight; however, there are many interesting and attractive options to choose from.

One of the biggest challenges to shade gardening is to make sure that the soil is well augmented. Shady areas may already be occupied with other vegetation, such as trees or bushes, that draw a great deal of nutrients from the soil. Roots also make it difficult to plant at times. There are many woodland species of plants that are quite happy to share the earth with other trees and shrubs; however, adding some organic compost will help make planting easier.

Variegated or lightly colored leaves such as creams, whites, yellows and pinks add color and interest to densely shaded garden areas. If you wish to use deeper colors such as reds, blues and purples, set them off with lighter color plants.

It is also important to remember that light patterns vary depending on the season, so keep this in mind when choosing plants for shade. Watch your garden throughout the year and make notes as to the amount of sun and shade that each part receives during each month or season.

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