Assessing light conditions

Like my yard, most urban yards have some areas of shade and part-shade from nearby trees and buildings. I still plant for pollinators in these areas with less sun.

Spring and fall flowers in part-shade and shade

I cluster spring-blooming woodland plants, such as bloodroot, hepatica, anemones, and Dutchman’s breeches under deciduous trees because they take advantage of the full sun before leaves unfurl above them. These flowers are critical food for early-emerging solitary bees and bumblebee queens.

For fall, there are varieties of goldenrod and asters that grow in more shade. Blue-stemmed goldenrod, zigzag goldenrod, white wood aster and heart-leaved aster are some examples come to mind.

I then place the summer flowers in the area of the garden with more sun.

The Nature Web has an interesting 3-part article “A Butterfly Garden that Embraces the Shade”. The trees that make the shade are actually beneficial to pollinators too; native trees are host plants for hundreds of kinds of butterflies and moths. Violets and golden alexanders, which grow in woodland clearings, are also host plants for butterflies. Spring flowers on some trees provide nectar and pollen, such as red maple, crabapple, serviceberry, pagoda dogwood, and redbud. Fallen leaves provides winter protection for butterflies. There is even a kind of milkweed native to southwestern Ontario, called poke milkweed, that grows in shade.

North, South, West, East

Observe your yard to figure out which direction you’re facing (North, South, West, East) and where shade is cast by trees and buildings. Also, keep in mind that this will change when neighbours build taller houses and cut down trees.

This version of the sample plan shows morning shade on the left, mid-day shade at the top behind the tree, and on the right in the afternoon.

Open areas facing south will get the most sun. Also, large trees with high crowns still let a fair bit of light reach beneath them on the South side. Assess your light conditions in spring or early summer. By fall, the sun is lower in the sky and casts longer shadows, making your yard seem a lot shadier that it really is earlier in the growing season. I have planted things in the fall thinking that they were in the shade, only to find them baking in the sun the following year.

When you plant a tree and want it to create shade, plant it on the South side of your yard. If you want to maximize your sunshine, plant it on the North side.

Give it a try

Even if a plant prefers a lot of sun, you can still give it a try in an area with less sun. It may not bloom as much, or may be a bit taller and require staking, but give it may still be fine. You can move it later on, if necessary.