Spring is the showiest time of the year in a shade garden. The perennials that bloom early paint the garden with flowers, then subside modestly to green or go dormant while waiting for the next spring. Light shade is the key to flowering. In too much shade, you can grow only moss and pachysandra. By removing the lowest branches on your trees it allows sunlight to penetrate in the morning and evening.
There are many plants we recommend for gardening in the shade. Start with the ones that are going to fill in. For ground covers, look to pachysandra ("grows in full shade"), vinca ("easy to control"), and two natives, creeping phlox and foamflower ("really does well in shade"). For shrubs, a couple good choices include azaleas and rhododendrons. For trees, try dogwood and shadbush, which blooms when the woods are bare.
The delicate Iris gracilipes is rare.
Three mottled leaves and a flower top each stalk.
Seeds sown by nature presented this surprise.
This hardy native makes an eye-catching show.
Early-blooming azaleas glow with color.
A spring bloomer, this ground cover spreads fast.
In a shade garden, the leaves that fall from the trees overhead settle together so thickly that they will smother most low-growing ground covers, especially evergreens such as vinca, pachysandra, and moss. Moss is the most vulnerable of all, being so low. Also, it's difficult to rake. When the tines catch, which they always do, they pull up the moss in hunks. A leafblower is no better. At close range, it will tear pieces from the moss and send them flying.
But there is an easier method. Spread plastic netting over vulnerable plants (Photo 1), before leaves start to fall from the trees. When the leaves stop falling, pick up the netting (Photo 2) and haul the leaves to your compost pile. Cut the netting to fit the spot. For big areas, roll up the netting to carry. For smaller pieces, pick up the corners. You can also drape shrubs and cover ponds with netting.