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Learn how to shade your yard from summer sun and keep it beautiful
Master gardener offers tips on the right plants for cool shelter
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Crepe myrtles produce lots of shade and require full sun in order to grow. Shade produced by crepe myrtles can make ideal environments for shade-loving plants. - photo by David Barnes

Plants love bright sunshine. That’s when they bloom and put out beautiful flowers that most people want in their yards and gardens.

But everyone wants shade, too, as an essential part of living in Georgia, especially during summer.

It’s not just about stepping under a tree when the temperature climbs. There’s more behind the shade in a yard or garden.

“Well, shade certainly has a cooling effect,” said Mary Richards, a Hall County master gardener and owner of Garden Harmony Design in Flowery Branch. “It certainly feels cool, but it looks cool when you’re looking at a garden that’s shaded.”

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Ferns do not require lots of sunlight to thrive, making them ideal plants for shady environments. Shade-loving plants can add texture and contrast to gardens already home to shade-producing plants. - photo by David Barnes
Garden Harmony Design specializes in landscape design. Richards said she enjoys starting with a client who has “bare land” so she can create what they want and what her expertise tells her is best.

The first step is to find plants that grow fast. She recommends crepe myrtles and viburnum to create an understory before planting slower-growing plants.

“At the same time you want to get other hardwoods going like oaks and maples,” Richards said. “Those are obviously going to take much longer to start creating shade, but they’re going to produce a lot more shade eventually.”

Richards said she’s done just that at her own home in Flowery Branch. She lives on a wooded lot where larger trees create enough shade in summer. She has planted understory trees to help add texture to the landscape.

Not only do the trees create shade and cool the outside of the home, Richards said they help inside during hot parts of the afternoon, too. When in shade, homes tend to stay cooler. The same thing happens with the ground beneath those plants and trees. The more shade in the yard, the cooler the ground, which Richards said plants enjoy.

“Large trees take up a lot of water once they’re established, but it keeps the sun off of the soil,” Richards said. “So, if you have good ground cover ... and if you plant in that area, the grounds stays cooler, so it’s better for the plants and understory trees that you’ve planted.”

When those large trees cast their shade, homeowners have to find other plants that can grow in shade to add texture and variety to the landscape. Richards said a new plant she’s seeing is distylium, a shrub that can be planted anywhere. It’s starting to replace the Otto Luyken laurel, as laurels are susceptible to disease.

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Ferns do not require lots of sunlight to thrive, making them ideal plants for shady environments. Shade-loving plants can add texture and contrast to gardens already home to shade-producing plants. - photo by David Barnes
“Distylium, it’s an evergreen plant,” Richards said. “It’s an evergreen plant that in the spring, it does have a very small red flower on it, but that’s not why we plant it. We plant it because it’s a plant that will grow in sun or shade.”

She said plants that do well in the shade don’t grow as fast as others, so homeowners are able to cut down on maintenance and pruning of those plants.

Richards recommended more common plants that do well in shade like hostas and ferns, too. She even said hydrangeas do OK in shade, but they need a “little bit of sun to bloom.”

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