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Container Gardens in the Shade

June 21, 2023
Written by Aaron

Ah, the sanctuary of a nice, cool shade garden on a hot summer day. Lush foliage comes to mind, and maybe a nap in a hammock. But what do you do when you have a shady spot in the garden that isn’t so lush and could use a boost? A planted container or two can be just the thing! 

Here’s a scenario that can happen to any of us. A plant isn’t doing well and needs to be moved. Or maybe something just didn’t survive. Now what to do with that gap? The beauty of planting in pots is that you can move them around, but also create conditions for plants that you might not have in the garden. For example, one of the toughest places to grow anything is in dry shade - tree roots can compete for space and for moisture. That’s when planting in a container, or several is the way to go.

What is a Shade Garden?

In general, a shade garden is an area that gets less than six hours of sunlight in a day. When choosing plants, remember that some will tolerate shade better than others. When it comes to plants, shady areas are divided into three categories:

  • Full shade - no direct sunlight, only reflected sunlight from surrounding areas
  • Partial or Semi shade - in the sun for part of the day and shade for the rest
  • Light shade - sunlight that is filtered, like under a tree with smaller leaves

Choosing Containers and Pots

While containers can be made out of a variety of materials like plastic, concrete, wood or fiberglass, the key is using a pot with at least one drainage hole. 

Keep in mind that smaller pots will dry out more quickly. Larger pots retain moisture longer, but when they’re full of soil and plants they get heavy. Look for a Goldilocks pot that’s “just right”, or splurge on a Schwarzenegger-sized pot if you’re looking to build up those biceps!

Whatever pot size you choose, always use a growing medium that’s designed especially for containers. At Eising Garden Centre you’ll find potting mix which is light and airy, unlike garden soil, which will compact and retain too much moisture. If you’re using a big container, you may want to use a smaller, more shallow pot as an insert, or put natural mulch in the bottom before you add potting soil. Doing this will reduce the amount of soil used, and keep the container lighter as well.

Plant Selection

This is the fun part! While many plants do well in pots, here are just some of our favourite shade plants for containers:

Coleus

Coleus is an annual that will grow in full shade and comes in a variety of very interesting leaf colours. This plant is known for its vibrant leaf colours, not its blooms.

Begonia

Begonias come in a wide variety of shapes and colours, making them a versatile annual for containers. Some varieties are happy in full shade, while others like light, or filtered shade. Most begonias like good drainage so their roots are not too wet.


Impatiens

These annuals are popular for a reason!  They come in a wide range of very brightly coloured flowers that do well in full shade.

Trailing Lobelia

The trailing type of Lobelia is an annual that grows well in shade. The masses of prolific blooms come in many pretty colours to mix and match with other plants.

Caladium

A showy annual with vibrantly coloured leaves that will illuminate any shady area. Caladiums like partial to full shade but if you’re a pet owner be careful - this plant is toxic to cats and dogs.

Heuchera or Coral Bells

Coral Bells are perennials that also come in a wide variety of beautiful leaf colours. This plant will thrive in shade, but can also tolerate some sun and they are drought tolerant.

Hosta

Known for its lush foliage, this perennial comes in such a wide variety of sizes, colours, and sun tolerance, and is by far a favourite. Many people don’t think of it as a container plant but for all of the features mentioned, it makes a great choice as a potted plant.


Fertilizer

Like all plants in containers, check the moisture levels often and provide water and fertilizer throughout the growing season. This article contains more information on caring for annuals and perennials.

Design

While you can mix and match any plants for shade containers, this article about container design ideas for sun-loving annuals may inspire you! 

As mentioned above, many plants will do very well in containers. It’s also fun to experiment with annuals and perennials you can’t necessarily grow in the garden, or for anyone with a patio or balcony. Don’t be afraid to mix annuals and perennials together in a container, or to use one statement plant. Some potted plants will need extra protection in the winter like perennials, small trees, and shrubs, but growing plants in containers is a great way to add a splash of colour, or include some bold foliage in tough-to-grow areas.  

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