Caring for the Shade Garden
As we care for our shade gardens, we must make changes to the looks of our garden as it matures as well as making sure our plants stay healthy and productive. As most plants that grow in a shade garden are, or are descended from, woodland plants, then we need to provide a woodland type soil. If the soil you have your shade garden in is less than this woodland ideal, you may need to fertilize yearly. As with fertilizing anywhere, this will produce more growth with more leaves and lots of flowers.
But more important than fertilizing is actually adding mulch or compost to your shade garden around the plants. If you think of the way things happen in the woods with the leaves falling from the trees every year to pile up on the ground and then decompose into lovely leaf mold, then you should understand this. This mulch will conserve moisture, and we know that most shade garden plants tend to like it moist under the trees.
Additionally the decomposing leaves or compost add to the tilth of the soil. This provides the plants growing in the shade garden the nutrition they need to continue to grow strong and healthy and lovely for your enjoyment.
If possible, add leaves as your mulch. Most shade gardeners appear to agree that oak and beech leaves are the best to add as they break down into a dry flaky leaf mold quickly. Be careful when applying leaves or compost to not suffocate smaller plants. And keep the mulch away from the trunk of your trees and shrubs that provide the shade in your shade garden. Putting it too close can encourage rotting of their stems and trunks.
If leaves are unavailable (and you might want to check into the rules in your area regarding collecting the bags of leaves that are raked up each fall from folks in your area and set on the curb for collection – some municipalities may have their own plans for those leaves), you can use compost, ground bark or other organic materials usually used as mulch. Just be sure it is small enough that it will decompose and add itself to your soil for the benefits this will provide your shade garden plants.
One last benefit of mulching your shade garden is the thick mulch will help protect the roots of your plants against frost and freezes. Remember the heaving action that takes place in the soil through the alternating freeze (or frost) and thawing. Check your shade garden plants to be sure none have been raised up. Simply firm them down. You will want to do this quickly to ensure that their roots do not dry out.
One last item of care of your shade garden plants is to remember to water deeply during any dry spells you may have. In general, shade garden plants prefer a moist soil. One of the the side benefits of mulch is keeping the soil moist. But in dry times, even mulched plants can get thirsty. When you water, be sure that you water generously. Not only is a deeper watering better for your plants but you might need to remember that that mulch will soak up a lot of the water before it even starts to soak into the soil for your shade garden plants.