Garden Design for Shade

Shade is important in the garden both for plants and people. Even the family pets need and appreciate a little shade in the hot summer. With the prevalence of skin cancer today, shade is particularly important, not only to keep us cool in hot weather, but also to provide protection from this serious disease.

Shade protects plants from both extreme temperature and excessive light. Some plants love shade, however many don't. Careful plant selection is important to make the most of your shady areas.


What to Use Shade for


Protection In cold climates, shade may be used to keep the winter frost off plants, particularly half hardy indoor plants or tender young seedlings. In hot climates, shade can be used to protect plants from burning sunlight or extreme heat in the middle of summer. Some plants simply grow best with less light and for those, shade may be used to keep light intensities lower.


Houseplant Hospital Foliage plants (eg. Ferns, palms, philodendrons), that are to be grown indoors, are generally best kept in shade outside to help them acclimatize to the lower light they will most probably encounter when grown inside.


Propagation and Hardening off Some people use a shade house to propagate plants in. In hot climates, or at warmer times of the year, the shade house can be used to provide protection for seedling trays or pots of cuttings. For most annual flowers and vegetables, the little bit of protection from drying sun or wind is all that is needed to get seeds to germinate and get a start in life.


Housing Shade Loving Plants Some plants are naturals for a shade house, both growing and looking best in a shady environment. Ferns are everyone's first choice, but while the lushness of soft green foliage has a character all of it's own, many of us look for a little colour in a shade house also.

If you're an avid plant collector, you may choose to fill your shade house with a great variety of different plant types. If you want the best affect though, try to keep to no more than three or four different types of plants.


How to Provide Shade


You may be lucky enough to have all of the shade you want, provided by walls, fences and existing trees. On the other hand, you may need to create artificial shade by installing a shade house or covering existing structures with some shade material.



Working with Existing Structures.


Shading a large window or a greenhouse.


Exterior Blinds, curtains...bamboo blinds are cheap, but string holding them together will rot and they will fall apart after a few years. Canvas blinds are expensive, but quality types will last. Metal awnings are another alternative

Paint over windows or other glazed areas during summer with lime and water, or diluted water soluble paints. The disadvantage is there is a lack of control over the amount of shading, and once on, the paint will remain and gradually weather off. Theoretically, put it on in late spring and it has washed off by around autumn, but in practice, this is difficult to achieve unless you are very experienced and the rainfall relatively predictable.

Cover with shade cloth. This can be simply draped over and anchored down or it may be a more elaborate set up, perhaps being unrolled off a storage drum then being rewound once the hot period is over.


Making an open pergola more shady

Grow a climber (eg. grape vine) over the pergola.

Use shade cloth, woven bamboo, lath (timber strips), fibreglass (some colours are more shady than others...though light is cut down though, heat might not), or canvas as a covering, either temporarily during hot weather, or permanently.


Attaching to an existing structure.


If you build a new shade structure, there are distinct advantages in attaching it to an existing structure such as a fence or the wall of a house. By doing this, you already have support on one side for the new structure, and that can help reduce construction costs. More importantly, if attached to a house, a shade structure will help keep the house cooler by replacing a formerly exposed area beside the wall of the house, with a protected area.



Building a New Structure

The best way to provide the shade you want, and where you want, is to build or install a new structure. This way you get to chose what you want, and as long as you think things through properly, you can be in total control of what you shade, and what you leave in full sun. 


Think about where the sun will be at different times of the day. Think about both where shadows will be cast, and the intensity of those shadows before determining what type of shade structure you wish to build.


Possible shade structures include

Gazebo or belvedere

Pergola or arbour

Garden room or summer house

Ramada - As in south pacific areas...four poles, supporting a roof frame, covered with large leaves (eg. palms or bananas). This might be temporary.

Shade house (also called Lath house)

Beach umbrella


Choosing an Appropriate Structure


The following checklist will help you to decide what sort of shade structure to build or install:


1. What is the structure primarily for?

Growing plants

Keeping the house cool

Providing a protected outdoor living area

Reducing overall heat in the garden

As an architectural feature


2. How will you create the shade?

Building a new structure yourself using materials you have or can buy cheaply.

Building a new structure yourself using whatever you need to buy, irrespective of cost.

Paying a contractor to build or install a structure.

Buying a prefabricated structure

Renovating or altering an existing or partly built structure.

Planting trees and waiting for them to grow.


3. What are you most concerned about?


Quick affect

Minimum disturbance to the garden


Being cooler

Being protected from rain or sun (or both)


Making Use of a Shade House


A shade house can be just that (i.e.. a shady place), or it can be much more. The choice is yours. People use shade houses for all sorts of things including:

Somewhere to hang the washing on a wet day.

Somewhere to entertain guests in hot weather

Cover from the rain, hail or storms (It may not stop rain, but it slows it)

Cover from hot sun

Play area for children

Protection for a car from the weather

Privacy from neighbours

An area to enclose birds or other pets.

An protected storage area


What Density of Shade Do You Need?

Shade can be light or heavy. If you choose to use shade cloth, it's easy to control the degree of shade, because such products usually come with the amount of shade stated. 50% or 70% shade cloths are common.



Types of plants suited to a shade house.

Most Climates


Some Palms



Dendrobium orchids

Cymbidium orchid



Ivy (Hedera sp.)


Cordyline stricta

Fuchsia varieties


Dracaena varieties

Nandina domestica 'Nana'



Temperate Climates

Abutilon striatum






Warm Climates preferred


Most palms


Paphiopedilum orchid

Phalaenopsis orchid

Cattleya orchid

Cissus antarctica






Other Considerations 


Plants growing in shaded areas need less watering than those exposed to the sun. The plant uses less water in the shade. The ground remains cooler in shaded areas.

Shady places have not only reduced light, but also reduced air movement.

Some plant pests and diseases can be more prevalent in shade; commonly because of increased moisture and poorer ventilation

A totally enclosed shade house can be used to keep wildlife away from plants. 

In cool climates overwatering can cause problems. Some problems are slime/algae growth on the pathways and on pot surfaces, fungal diseases spread, especially damping off and root rot.


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