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Planning a Shade-Loving Bulb Garden

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Planning a Shade-Loving Bulb Garden

You might think that because your garden is on the shady side, you can’t grow bulbs. Well, thinking that would not only be very sad, but it actually isn’t even true. Now, granted, you might not be able to grow sun worshippers like tulips or dahlias, but trust us — there’s a whole world of shade-loving bulbs out there, and we’re going to introduce you!

Shade-Loving Bulb Garden Strategies

While there are bulbs that actually prefer the shade, it’s possible to figure out ways to include the sun-loving bulbs as well — and here’s the skinny on all of it. 

Choose your plants wisely

Read up on the types of flowering bulbs you love, and pay attention to the sun requirements. Any package label or plant information that specifically says “full sun” is likely not going to work for you (tulips, dahlias, daffodils, etc.). But if the growing requirements include “part sun,” “part shade,” “light shade,” or “shade,” then those bulbs are fair game for the shade-loving bulb garden.

Some of our favorite classic flowering bulbs for these conditions include freesia, paperwhites, Anemone blanda, and Spanish bluebells.

Now remember when we just said that you likely would have a hard time growing some of the more classic sun-loving bulbs? While that’s true, if you have a part sun garden you could definitely give some tulips a-go — the trick is to really get to know your garden and which bulbs will perform the best for you.

Do a little experimenting

Now, that being said, you can always push the envelope a bit. Gardeners do it all the time, using strategies like these:

  • Look for areas in your yard that receive more sun than you might think

  • Consider the strength of the sun where you live — plants that usually prefer full sun often appreciate part shade conditions if the sun is very strong

  • Play around with half day sun — some bulbs like hyacinths will flower in less than full sun conditions.

  • Remember late winter/early spring blooming bulbs — you might have more direct sun before your trees leaf out for the season. Winter aconite is a perfect example, often pushing up through the ground in late February.

  • Experiment with a limited quantity of bulbs, then if successful, expand with more bulbs next year.

Embrace the tropics

Okay, so let’s say that there’s really no doubt about it — you’ve got a shady yard, or a dappled shade yard, and no full sun at any time of the day. Are you doomed? Far from it! The Bulb Gods will still smile upon you, in the form of tropical plants. These bulbs were made for you. Think hostas, elephant ears, and caladiums for dramatic foliage plants and Arum italicum, Veltheimia, Tacca, and Cyclamen to satisfy your need for flowers.

Think "woodland"

And what if a tropical garden isn’t your jam? Then we’re betting you’ll love the woodland garden. Those same hostas that shine in the tropical garden are like chameleons in a woodland garden, for example. And then there’s Spanish bluebells, Erythronium, Scilla, and Camassia to add color and texture.

 

Tips for Planning Your Shady Bulb Garden

As a gardener, you know that sun conditions vary from hour to hour, month to month, and year-to-year. Here are some tips for you if you long for a stunning bulb garden (who doesn’t?) and have just a bit more shade than you’d like. 

Become an expert in your garden.

Maybe your garden used to be a full sun garden but over the years, the trees grew and added more shade. Perhaps your trees need thinning, which will allow more sunlight in. And maybe, just maybe, there’s a perfect little patch in the back for all your sunny bulbs. Know your garden and take notes throughout the year.

Understand the differences between part sun and part shade

While these terms are often used interchangeably, there’s a subtle difference that can make all the difference when you’re bulb gardening. Both terms mean less than full sun, but “part sun” means 4-6 hours of sun (leaning towards more sun) and “part shade” means 4-6 hours of sun (but leaning towards more shade).

Appreciate your morning sun/afternoon shade garden

This is often the most ideal kind of sun/shade condition for many plants, particularly in harsher sun climates. While you may not technically have “full sun,” the sun you do get in the morning might be perfect, with that light or dappled afternoon shade providing a welcomed respite.

Study sun patterns on your property

If you only look at your garden at one time of day and see dark shade, you may be missing out on the full picture. Visit your garden at all times of day, and study how the sun patterns change hour to hour, even month to month and season to season. Then you’ll get a much fuller picture of what is possible in your own space!

 

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  • Katie Elzer-Peters