Shade Landscaping Ideas for Midwest Gardens
Irvin Etienne curates 26 acres of lush landscape at the Lilly House, a historic spread north of downtown Indianapolis. With so much ground to tend, he encounters all types of conditions—including a troublesome patch of dry shade under a sugar maple grove. "Even though some perennials may be promoted as shade plants," he says, "you have to learn from experience how much shade they will tolerate. I can't tell you how many plants I've killed in that area." He recommends leaning on tough perennials that can survive both shade from a tree's canopy and drought brought on by its water-guzzling roots.
Related: 12 Top Midwest Perennial Flowers
The Best Shade Plants for Midwest Gardens
"Shade may be good for humans, but it can be limiting for plants," says Irvin Etienne, especially if conditions are dry. He recommends these durable—and striking—varieties.
Related: 15 Easy Plants for Groundcovers
Expert Advice for Landscaping in Shade
Keep these tips in mind to help plants grow and thrive in low-light spots.
Help Them Hydrate
In the first year, deeply water perennials (1 inch each week) to help establish them. Mulch around plants to conserve water and hold back competing weeds.
Work with Trees
Create planting pockets around tree roots and amend those pockets with compost. Take care not to bury tree roots, which will harm them. Selectively remove lower tree limbs to bring more light to a shady spot.
Related: 20 Tough Trees for Midwest Yards
Accent a Shady Bed (Or Hide Bare Gaps) with Containers of Shade-Loving Plants
Try mixing tropical houseplants with perennial coral bells, or plant a pot of shade-loving annuals like begonia 'Canary Wing'. "The advantage of dropping in containers is it is easier to water," says Etienne.
Plants in trickier locations simply need more TLC, so watch for struggling plants. Take care to water during dry spells and weed regularly to let in air and light. Deadhead perennials such as coral bells to tidy them up.
Want to take your love of shade gardening on the road? Plan a visit to the Lilly House grounds, known today as The Garden at Newfields. They were landscaped in the 1920s by the Olmsted Brothers firm.(Their father famously designed Central Park.) The gardens are part of a campus that also includes the Indianapolis Museum of Art.