Types of Shade

How to categorise types of shade gardens if you love gardening but your house location doesn’t provide enough bright sunlight that is typically associated with a vibrant and well-designed garden.

Any form of gardening requires the gardener to understand the plants, their needs in relation to sun and shade, and how to arrange the garden accordingly. This is absolutely vital for plants to grow and thrive.

The other aspect of planning a garden design that the gardener must focus on is gaining an understanding of the levels of shade and how shade changes through the hours of the day, and days of the year.

Patterns of Shade

Shade Garden Design with White Flowers

The shade garden consists of shade loving plants… in general. However, not all plants are shade-loving to the same degree.

Some plants and flowers can survive without any direct exposure to sunlight at all, while some others will require varying degrees of exposure to the sun and light to survive. For example; one plant species may only need a little sunlight every day but would not survive in full shade all the time.

You have to learn to understand the needs of plants by looking at the pattern of shade areas and different types of shade in your garden, and decide how to design your shade gardening and choose plants best suited to the types of shade in your garden. Whether that is full shade, dappled shade, partial shade, etc.

Shade from Structures or Plants?

Shade Tree

The first and foremost is the difference between shades from man-made structures such as walls and buildings, and those more natural types of shade such as from trees and plants.

Typically, types of tree shade offer some sunlight occasionally or as dappled light, whereas walls and buildings tend to block out sunlight completely at different times of day.

Even among species of trees, depending on the leaf size, their canopy and other factors, the kind and degree of shade may vary to a great extent.

Understanding this helps the gardener determine which plants would grow well under different trees.

Defining Shade

Typically in gardening, six hours of sunlight exposure is the demarcation. Any location that gets less than 6 hours of full and direct sunlight is considered shady and converse is well lit or full sun area.

Shade Classified into Shade Types

Dense Shade

This is probably the toughest of the shade types; typically the areas under and around manmade structures fall under dense shade categories. If you have some dense growing evergreen trees, they too many create dense and dark shade underneath them. The best use of a dense shade area in the garden is to lay walkways. The only plants that can be placed here are potted ones that can be manually placed in sunlight regularly to stimulate some growth for a while.

Shade Garden Plants

Full Shade

These are very shady regions similar to dense shade but these types of shades lighten up in different seasons. The full shade areas are good places to grow plants that are tolerant to shades and can survive on reflected light. To lighten the full shade areas you can use common light reflection techniques like using light colours on fences, or placing light coloured walkways and ornamental stones around that area.

Light Shade

This is typically areas that lay under tall trees. The area is not completely deprived of all light, but at the same time it is not sufficiently lit to say that plants get enough sunlight. The best description of light shade regions is dappled shade. The movement of leaves and mesh of vegetation on top filters out most of sun’s rays but will let some still pass through. These are great places for shade loving plants.

Part Shade

These are areas that receive direct sunlight, but not sufficiently long enough to be categorized as full sun areas. There are two categories in part shade: ‘Morning Shade’ areas that are in shade at dawn and dusk but well lit in afternoon, and ‘Afternoon Shade’ areas that are shaded in afternoon and well lit at dawn and dusk.

Shade Garden Test

Of course, before you start, you need to know which shade types are in your garden. It is often difficult to categorise shade areas and I suggest you do a test on how shady your garden is and which parts of it you would categorise as described above.


One suggestion is to plant petunia and see how they grow.

Petunia prefers sun, will also tolerate partial shade, but it will not grow completely in shade.

So if you have petunia plants which bloom abundantly, then you know you have a full sun spot. If your petunia tends to bloom more modestly without very much vigour, then you know you have a partial shade in the garden… and if they don’t grow at all, you know you have full shade.

If you haven’t already got Petunia plants and that type of test will take too long there are lots of shade plant types described throughout this site and each page will tell you the shade requirements of that plant.

Have fun choosing but make sure you know your types of shade first!

It can be very challenging to design a shade garden, see Shade Garden Plans for more ideas, or browse these suggested gardening books for some additional reference information.

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