One of the more appealing contrasting elements in the garden are rocks and plants. They form a perfect foil for each other and shade loving rock garden plants thrive in the spare nutrient conditions of the sandy, silty soil used to hold a rockery together.
Building a rock garden in shade is a little more difficult, as the usual rockery plants like sunlight. However, it can be done with the right soil and selection of plants.
Shade Rock Garden Tips
Any rock garden usually features low growing plants that produce flowers or interesting foliage. When developing a rock garden for shade, you can't rely on these traditional alpine plants, but there are plenty of specimens that will thrive in the shadows.
Keep a low profile when selecting shade plants for a rock garden, so you can show off both the beauty of the flora and the rocks.
Rock gardens are great for spaces that need a little dimension, slopes, and areas that must be built up and stabilized. The plants that exist in such a structure are usually drought tolerant once established, making a rockery a waterwise feature. Creating a rock garden in shade is just a bit more challenging but only in plant choice.
The soil can be similar for a shade rock garden if you choose plants that thrive in drier conditions. If you want plants that need to be kept moist though, use soil with some compost to help hold in moisture and provide nutrients.
Consider how much shade you get in the area. Plant options will depend upon whether the area is full or partial sun.
Choosing Shade Plants for a Rock Garden
Shade loving rock garden plants should still provide color and interesting foliage, along with a lower profile so rocks can show off. A mixture of plants that bloom at different times of the year and those with foliage that have interest such as striping, stippling, or uniquely patterned leaves should be used. The whole affair should blend seamlessly, covering some rocks, but allowing some to be exposed.
Some good plant choices are:
- Miniature Hostas
- Bleeding Heart
- Japanese Painted Fern
- Coral bells
- Big Root Geranium
Caring for Shady Rock Gardens
When developing a rock garden for shade, make sure the site drains well. Rocky crevasses that hold boggy water are not suitable for most plants. If necessary, install perforated pipe through the center to move excess moisture away from plant roots.
All shade plants will need supplemental, regular water as they establish. Once roots are firmly entrenched, most can withstand brief periods of dryness, but best growth will occur with a regular watering regimen.
Even drought tolerant plants can benefit with a light application of a balanced fertilizer in spring.
Most shade loving rockery plants do not need pruning but remove dead blooms and stems for best appearance. With very little maintenance you can enjoy a shady rockery that fills a gap in the landscape.
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Bonnie Grant is a professional landscaper with a Certification in Urban Gardening. She has been gardening and writing for 15 years. A former professional chef, she has a passion for edible landscaping.
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