Preparing for Planting a Shady Border Flower Garden—part one of a series

Judy Kerns Well, a Facebook friend from Darwin, Ohio asked me to do a series of articles on shade gardening. This was good timing for me because I had been studying the border of the yard that I became involved with after getting married a year ago and moving in with my wonderful wife, Dekie. It all worked together. Even though it was over a hundred degrees and a Saturday, I felt good and motivated and my friend Adrian wanted to help so we started putting the project together. I had a lot to work with, too. I had already sprayed the area to get rid of the weeds. Here’s Dekie in her yard for the ‘before’ picture:

shade garden preparation, 'before'  picture
shade garden preparation, ‘before’ picture

One of the first problems associated with planting in the shade is that the soil is usually compacted and full of roots from the trees and shrubs that cause the shade in the first place. The second problem is that these trees and shrubs drink up all the water. I decided that for success with the project, I would install a low volume watering system from the start. This took about two hours but I had already bought the parts which would add a couple more hours to the project. Here’s a picture of the problem. You can see the offending root and the black irrigation pipe:

Roots and compacted dirt are main problems in building a shade garden
Roots and compacted dirt are main problems in building a shade garden

I knew that if I tried to run a tiller or something like that, I would run into problems with roots and rocks. Messing with that would take the entire day, and because I believe in the KISS theory (“keep it simple, stupid), I brought in a lot of compost and raised the areas where I will plant the flowers. The technique is easy, cheap, and it works well. The mounds of compost will be raked out to the proper shape.

add a pile of good dirt or compost to plant in for success in most shady areas
add a pile of good dirt or compost to plant in for success in most shady areas

I like the moisture holding features of cypress mulch much more than pine straw. The cypress chips seem to be cost effective because even though they cost more to start with, they last much longer. The chips also do a good job of holding the compost in place and they turn into dirt when they rot out. Lowe’s had a “cypress blend” for $2.25 per bag and I got twenty of them. Here’s one of the prepared areas. I had turned on the irrigation system prior to raking out the compost so I would be sure that all of it would be watered.

shade garden --rake out the planting area and mulch with cypress chips.
shade garden –rake out the planting area and mulch with cypress chips.

Here is a picture of the border after I installed the chips. It looks a lot better already. I often tell clients that their yard needs “definition.” Definition sure did help the area here. It’s the first of July and I know it is late in the season, but I’m going to plant flowering annuals all along the border and then use every grower’s trick I have learned over the last 35 years to make them flourish and shine.

Notice that Sweetie was hiding in the house when I took this picture. It was 110 outside.
Notice that Sweetie was hiding in the house when I took this picture. It was 110 outside.

I spent last week repairing irrigation systems for people and I spent a lot of time driving from job to job and to lots of stores for parts. I really wanted a lot of impatiens but they just didn’t seem to be available. I didn’t quit, though and I ended up with a couple of flats of plants that really needed attention. They were all wilted an root bound, but a little care and water is bringing them back. I found green leafed begonias and a few other things that I can use. There are some nice coleus that will add a tall background.  I would like to get a few caladiums but they’re still pretty high priced right now. I will probably plant hostas for next year. Actually, right now I’m just playing—but I know it will look good when I get finished.

Collected plants for the shady border flower bed
Collected plants for the shady border flower bed

I plan to add to the shade gardening articles for the next two or three weeks. Stay tuned, or better yet, go to the top right hand corner of this article and sign up to get John The Plant Man sent straight to your email whenever I post an article.


As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at

Published by John P.Schulz

I lost my vocal cords a while back due to throat cancer. The laryngectomy sent me on a quest to find and learn to use my new, altered voice. I am able to talk now with a really small and neat new prosthesis. My writing reflects what I have learned in my search for a voice. My site publishes a daily motivational quote and a personal comment. I write an article a week for my blog, which deals with a lot of the things that I do in the garden. I am also the author of Requiem for a Redneck and the new Redemption for a Redneck--novels portraying the lives and doings of folks around the north Georgia hills. I have an English Education degree from the University of Georgia and very happily married to the lovely Dekie Hicks. You may enjoy my daily Quotes and Notes at

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