How-To

How to Get Season-Long Performance Out of Your Shade Containers

Issue #201 – September/October
Photo: Tracy Walsh

How is taking care of a container in the shade different from taking care of a container in full sun? Does the limited light provide additional challenges—or does it provide some advantages? These five care tips will answer your questions and keep your shade containers looking full and luscious all season long.


Learn how to add flair to low-light areas using unique houseplants and perennials: Tropical Inspiration for Shade Containers


1. Low light doesn’t mean no light

Even plants that thrive in the shade still need some light. Good locations for shade containers include places that get dappled light, bright, indirect light, or a limited amount of direct light, such as one to three hours per day.

2. Avoid constant rotation with proper plant selection

Shade containers are sometimes positioned to receive light from a single direction. If this is true for your containers, plant them with this in mind, keeping plants with medium light needs on the side that will receive the most light and framing them with plants that have lower light requirements at the back of the container.

3. Don’t give your containers too much or too little water

Containers receiving less light may require less water, but factors such as weather, location, and container size play the most significant role. Keep in mind that if your containers are protected from the sun, they are also probably not receiving as much rainwater as containers in more open locations. Just like you would with full-sun containers, check the moisture remaining in the soil before watering. Allow the top inch or two of soil to dry before adding more water.

4. Cut back foliage to correct legginess

With proper plant choice, you shouldn’t notice any additional legginess in your shade containers. If you do have a plant stretching to reach the light, though, a quick trim will help it focus on creating more foliage and density. Trimming stretched-out plants during midseason can also help maintain the shape and balance of your original container creation.

5. Expect a slower growth rate

You may notice that your shade plants don’t grow at the same speed as your plants in sunnier locations. While this may seem like a downside, it actually allows you to create a lush and full container at the beginning of the season that won’t easily become overgrown. Individual plants tend to share the space more easily without trying to outcompete each other. For this reason, designing and maintaining shade containers is easier. Create your perfect combination, then sit back and enjoy it with minimal maintenance all season long.


Scott Endres, Derrik Gagliardi, and Laura Mathews are designers and horticulturists at Tangletown Gardens in Minneapolis.

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