You can garden in shade–even under a tree!

garden directly under a large tree
A raised bed full of plants surrounds a tall ash tree in the backyard of Marie and Jerry Wysocki in Hamburg Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

by Connie Oswald Stofko

Do you struggle with shade? Find out how these gardeners created lush shade gardens–directly under large trees!

The trick, the gardeners said, is using good soil with lots of compost.

Note: Don’t pile soil up against the tree trunk and don’t create mulch volcanoes. See more here.

plants directly underneath large tree
Compost is the key to keeping plants happy in the shade, said Linda Monaco. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

“Make sure the soil is real good,” said Linda Monaco. She and her husband Chris live in Lackawanna and shared their landscape on Open Gardens last month.

“In the fall, I go crazy with compost,” Linda said. She uses compost from the huge compost pile she has at the back of her yard. In the winter, she digs holes in the garden, drops in her food scraps and coffee grounds, and covers the scraps well with dirt. In the spring she buys even more compost.

The compost is important because not many plants like dry shade, Linda said. The compost helps the soil retain moisture.

farm table under large tree
You can get a sense of the size of the tree in the backyard of Linda and Chris Monaco of Lackawanna. They enjoy eating in the shade at the farm table. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Marie and Jerry Wysocki of Hamburg, who also shared their landscape on Open Gardens, have created a raised bed full of plants under a large ash tree.

“We built that up over the years,” Jerry said. They also use compost they make themselves.

The plants are mostly perennials, including hostas, ferns, astilbe, bleeding hearts and Solomon’s seal.

By the way, the ash tree is doing well because the Wysockis have been treating it to prevent infestation by the emerald ash borer.

garden under magnolia in Hamburg
A magnolia tree provides shade and privacy in the front yard of Marie and Jerry Wysocki. They have a full garden beneath and beyond the branches of the tree. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko

Their front yard has another garden under a tree– a mature magnolia. Shade-loving plants, along with garden ornaments, are nestled under the branches, while plants that can tolerate more sun are planted on the periphery.

A note on the odd weather we have had this year: The magnolia was ready to bloom in spring, but then there was a frost, Jerry said. The tree bloomed in July instead.

See more tips here for gardening in shade.

magnolia blooming in Hamburg
This magnolia tree was ready to bloom this spring– until a frost hit. It bloomed in July instead. Photo by Connie Oswald Stofko
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