Thursday, December 29, 2005

Planting Your Shade Garden

Many gardeners are considering starting shade gardens. Some do it out of necessity; they do not have anywhere to house a regular, sun-heavy garden. Others are doing it because they can go for greater variety in their gardens if they consider shade-loving plants. If you are considering planting a shade garden, there are some key questions you need to answer before proceeding.

The most difficult question to answer is where the garden should be located. While you are planting a shade garden, it will need to get some sun during the course of the day. You will need to be sure that your garden gets at least two to three hours of sunlight. To determine the amount of sunlight a spot gets, check various spots at set time intervals for a week. Record how much sun the spot is getting at each check and then decide on the best spot.

Once you have determined the location, look at the soil. Is it moist or dry? Is it soft or hard? Generally speaking, moist and soft works best. It will be easier to work with. You will find that you will have better luck with planting and cultivating crops in an area with moist soil. While that does not mean that you have to abandon your plans for a garden if the soil is hard, it does mean that you will be in for some rough waters in terms of planting the garden.

Next, look for organic material in the soil. By organic material, I mean are there are trees or shrubs that leave remnants in the soil. You want the answer to this question to be yes. If you find that your selected location already has organic material, then planting a shade garden will be easier. If, however, there is barren ground, visit your local nursery. Ask them about humus or other organic materials you can put down that will help your soil nourish the plants.

Is the land level? Level land is an issue for you more than your plants although you do not want to plant them on a steep downhill slope as it will be difficult for them to get enough moisture in that case. Otherwise, you need to consider your comfort in planting the garden. If the steep is to deep, then you will have trouble planting in that area without hurting your knees. Also consider paths or stones that you may want to add and whether or not they will require preparation work to the land.

Does the area have good drainage? This question goes back to looking at the slope of the land. If the area only gets a couple of good hours of sunlight a day and is protected from the wind, the lay of the land could cause a problem that you will need to remedy. The main problem is that you will need to consider how rain in the area will leave the garden area. In sun-heavy gardens, the sun and wind will cause the rainwater to evaporate. That may not be true of the shade garden, and you will need to be sure that you take the drainage into account before you plant.

Finally, what is the soil's PH level? You can get a basic PH testing kit at your local nursery. You need to be sure that the soil reads from seven to ten on the scale, which is basically neutral to slightly acidic. Anything beyond those readings means that you need to treat your soil before you get started. There are sprays and other ways to treat imbalanced soil. You should work on the soil before you get started on the planting.

Shade gardening is fun but is not easy. Many people believe that they can get a shade-loving plant and put it out. They do not understand that like other plants, these plants also require weekly or even daily maintenance. Read up on any shade plants you are considering because you need to be sure that you can handle the workload they require. If you are unsure, ask someone at your local nursery. Be sure that you make friends with the people there. They can give you wonderful hints about how to make your garden look beautiful.

By Julia Mercer

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