Two Designs for Shady Container Gardens - dummies

Two Designs for Shady Container Gardens

By Bill Marken, Suzanne DeJohn, The Editors of the National Gardening Association

A common lament is that nothing will grow under trees. That’s not entirely true, though. It’s true that tree roots growing near the soil surface can outcompete smaller plants for water and nutrients, and a shady spot does limit the selection of plants. Instead of struggling to grow shade-loving plants in the ground, why not set a few containers of plants under the tree?

Fantastic foliage

If you think green when you think leaves, this container will be a treat. These plants have striking foliage in a range of colors and patterns to rival the most eye-catching flowers. The combination is a classic mix of central thriller, surrounded by fillers and spillers


  • Container: A deep, gently curving bowl complements this combination of spiky, shrubby, and trailing plants. Choose a bowl that’s at least 24 inches in diameter for best results.

  • Plants: One phormium, two Persian shield plants, two coleus plants, and four licorice plants.

  • How to plant: Start by planting the phormium in the center. Place the Persian shields on opposite sides of the phormium. Place the coleus plants on the remaining sides. Then plant the licorice plants around the perimeter.

  • Special tips: Pinch the growing tips of coleus and Persian shield plants to keep them shrubby. Keep the soil moist but not saturated — how much water the plants need depends on the porosity and size of the container as well as wind, air temperature, and amount of shade.

Shade-lover’s delight

Dappled light, refreshing shade, and cool breezes paint the backdrop for this winning combination featuring a flower-filled, rustic planter box. And with scenery defined by lush plants blooming in cool, regal colors, you have a garden retreat that’s hard to resist. A combination of trailing and upright fuchsias with striking, two-toned flowers anchors the box with long-lasting color. Lacy, light green fronds of maidenhair fern add balance and texture, while the impatiens provide almost constant color. The color combination of lavender, purple, lilac, rose, and pink shades harmonizes well. A classic touch of white brings life and contrast to the collection.


  • Container: We suggest a container made of old lumber. You may find rustic, recycled garden containers ready-made at nurseries and garden centers. Or, with a hammer and a few nails, you can put one together yourself using planks or boards. Stick to redwood or cedar for the longest-lasting results. Ours is 4 feet long, 11 inches deep, and 10 inches wide.

  • Plants: Three upright fuchsias, one trailing fuchsia, two maidenhair ferns, and nine impatiens in mixed colors.

  • How to plant: Set the tall fuchsias along the back, leaving a few inches in between plants and at the corners. Next, plant the trailing fuchsia in the center along the front rim. Now plant the two ferns on either side of the trailing fuchsia. Fill in the remaining spaces with the impatiens, varying the colors as you go.

  • Special tips: It’s important to keep your planter from staying overly wet, even though the shade-lovers like plenty of water. Allow the bottom to dry by raising the box a couple of inches; set it on bricks or planks. Because you need to water often, make sure you maintain a regular fertilizing schedule.