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Thriving in the Shade: How to Create a Plant Paradise in a Shady Greenhouse

Shade cloth in greenhouse

Is it worth it to have a greenhouse if it has to be located in a shady spot? Can it be lush and pretty, or will it be filled with sad, spindly plants?

You know I’m going to say yes.🙂And of course I’m going to give you some ideas and lists of plants. Not only is it possible to have a beautiful greenhouse in the shade, it can also be easier to take care of and more enjoyable to spend time in when compared to a full-sun greenhouse.

A little more than half of my greenhouse is in the shade and I grow different plants in that half than I do in the sunny half. Over the past few years I’ve learned what works well on each side. I have two chairs in the greenhouse and one gets significantly more sun than the other one; I often choose where to sit based on what I want - more sun and warmth, or more cool and shady.

I’ve also noticed that the plants on the shady side need less attention. The plants in full-sun need watered more frequently and I need to watch that they aren’t drying out. The conditions in the shady part stay pretty consistent during the summer months, and the plants grow and thrive with minimal effort from me. Many of these love the heat and humidity, just not direct sunlight.

Before we go further, let’s define full shade and partial shade. You’ll find slightly varying definitions, but generally an area is considered full shade if it receives less than three hours of direct sun each day and receives filtered/dappled/indirect sun the rest of the day. Partial shade typically means the area gets 3-6 hours of direct sun and then filtered sun the rest of the day. Ideally, the few hours of direct sun take place in the morning when it’s cooler.

The "how" in "how to create a plant paradise in a shady greenhouse" is all about picking the right plants. As with all gardening, it requires experimentation with your own microclimates.

Here are 5 gorgeous plant combinations that are perfect for a shady greenhouse. I selected plants that tend to look good for several months, that are fairly common and easy to find, and that do well in containers.

1. The Fern Greenhouse

Ferns love humidity which means they are ideal plants for greenhouses. And there are many varieties so be sure to check both the nursery and the houseplant areas when shopping. By selecting a wide variety you’ll have some that tolerate chilly weather (Boston Ferns), some that thrive in heat, some that stay petite, and some that reach to the ceiling. Create a gorgeous space with some of these popular ones: Asparagus Fern, Boston Fern, Staghorn Fern, Maidenhair Fern, Rabbit’s Foot Fern, Foxtail Fern, Lady Fern, Japanese Painted Fern, and Autumn Fern.

2. The Orchid Greenhouse

In my area (Ohio) orchids have become very popular and relatively inexpensive. In addition to nurseries, I’ve been seeing them in grocery stores and other non-traditional plant stores. While they need a few hours of sun to produce flowers, most also prefer that sunlight to be dappled or indirect light. Paphiopedilum (Lady Slipper), Phalaenopsis, and Oncidium are varieties that do well in low light. You may want to purchase a few to experiment, and see if your greenhouse conditions provide enough light.

3. The Houseplant Greenhouse

If you are a houseplant lover, you might already have some of these or be familiar with them. I live in an area that is very cloudy and gray during the winter (for days on end), so I tend to buy houseplants that don’t need a lot of light. You might be surprised at the variety that’s available and just how pretty they look when combined in a display. Philodendrons, Coleus, Begonias, Polka-Dot Plant, Caladiums, Hoyas, Pothos, and Maranta (prayer plant) are just a few colorful options.

4. The Cottage Garden Greenhouse

Looking for tall spires of flowers, lots of color, and sweet scents? Then try out the beauties on this list for a summer garden vibe. Coral Bells, Astilbe, fragrant Hostas (Royal Standard), Primrose, Impatiens, Plectranthus (lavender-colored flowers), Fuchsia, Ivy, and Violets.

I grow many of these in my greenhouse and let me tell you…the leaves of coral bells (Heuchera) come in such beautiful colors that it’s hard to choose - everything from lime green, dark purple-black, red-orange, peach, and more. Some varieties have tall stems of delicate flowers - I have some with pale pink flowers and some with white flowers. The Royal Standard Hostas have a sweet scent that you’d expect from Spring flowers, so the scent is a treat when it blooms in August.

A bonus with many of these is that they’re perennials; if you have freezing winters you can either place the plants outside or keep them in the greenhouse over winter. If you keep them in the greenhouse, be sure to give them a little water every few weeks.

5. The Tropical Greenhouse

Perhaps you’re dreaming of a lush, tropical greenhouse space - then you might want to try Colocasia (Elephant Ears), Caladium, Dracaena, Calathea, and Ponytail Palm. Combine these with some of the plants listed in the Houseplant greenhouse and the Fern greenhouse, and you’ll have your own little plant jungle before you know it.

I hope this inspires you with greenhouse possibilities. It’s got me wondering if I should expand my greenhouse.



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