Shade plants are an under-story plant that grow near the forest floor and occupy a space that is not in competition with taller plants. They vary in how much shade they require to grow their best, as well as the type of soil. Some shade plants tolerate part sun while others have little tolerance of any light, which can stress the plant.
Those plants that grow in shade often have thinner foliage with more surface area. They contain more chlorophyll than those leaves receiving full sun as the shade plant foliage is more efficient in harvesting sunlight at low light levels. Shade plants are also typically are evergreen, retaining their leaves through winter to capture the sunlight and "manufacture food during the only time of the year when sunlight is abundant to them – when the deciduous trees are bare," according to Homestead Gardens. The food that is made for the plant during this time is stored away to use later in the season when the trees leaf out and deny the shade plants most of their sunlight.
Shade plants are acid-loving, as they grow in the top thin layer of the forest floor that is made from compost and organic matter. As a result, they thrive in low pH, organically rich soil. Many shade plants are typically found growing near streams, bogs and ponds where the soil is moist with a high organic content and "hold moisture better than organic-poor soils," according to Homestead Gardens. Shade plants also are found in poorly drained soil and in areas where the amount of rainfall and humidity is high. Some shade plants can be found in soil that is overly hard or porous, like below mature trees that block the amount of water from reaching the forest floor and whose roots absorb most of the water. Examples of dry shade soils are in garden beds located under the eaves of a home, preventing water from penetrating the plant.
Degrees of Shade
Shade plants vary in the amount of shade they prefer. Some shade plants thrive in full shade where they prefer little sun for the entire day. These plants typically have large leaves, slow growth rate and nonshowy flowers. They also have "little tolerance to exposure to bright sunlight for long periods and become stressed in such situations," according to Homestead Gardens. Other shade plants thrive in part-sun areas where they need some sunlight to grow. These plants have the potential to perform well in full shade, but do not grow or bloom to their fullest potential. Examples of these shade plants are azaleas, where they prefer mostly shade conditions but because they produce their flowers in spring, need 4 hours of sunlight per day to produce their flowers.