One of the major elements for successful residential landscaping is to determine the amount and quality of light and shade your yard will receive.  It’s important to understand that this amount can change over time.  As trees and shrubs mature they can cast shadows lowering the duration of sunlight.

Seasonal changes also occur.  The sun’s trajectory will change throughout the year positioning it differently in the sky.  This means light will fall on to different spaces and for longer amounts of time throughout the seasons.  Knowing how the sun’s path affects the light exposure on yard is important information.

For those parts of your yard that do not benefit from at least five hours of sun each day you will need to consider plant choices that are suited for shade conditions.

Here are parameters that will help you determine what exposure level your yard receives:

  • Full Sun – Direct light for at least five hours
  • Part Sun – Filtered light, around 2-3 hours without direct sun
  • Part Shade – Dappled light, 4-5 hours without direct sun
  • Full Shade – No direct light but possible brightness due to reflecting light
  • Dense Shade – Deep shade, no direct or reflected light

A good way to determine the various degrees of sun and shade on your property is to take photos at various times of the day – early morning, mid-day and late afternoon.  This will indicate how the sun hits the landscape at different times and where shade is the deepest.

Make Good Plant Choices

For successful residential landscaping it is important to choose the right plant for the growing conditions. Native plants are a terrific choice where light is limited. Whether you like a pristine look or a naturalistic cottage setting, there are numerous native shade plants that offer a variety in structure, texture and color.

Benefits of Native Plants Include:

  • Drought and heat tolerance
  • Require less fertilizer and fewer pesticides

To ensure growing success, all plants need to be placed in the right location.  Before purchasing any plant materials, talk to the grower or read the tag to identify zone hardiness, sun requirements, and size.  Proper spacing becomes even more significant in shade conditions to avoid creating fungal infections.

Planting Under Trees

If you will be placing your shade plants under trees, proceed with caution.  Deep tilling will cause damage to the root system and can affect the trees ability to take in water and nutrients.  It also makes the tree more susceptible to disease and pests.  If you will be planting under trees, follow these guidelines:

  • Keep holes relatively small
  • Look for locations between major roots
  • Add a deep layer of mulch under the tree but leave the root flare uncovered

Mature trees are a valuable component to the North Texas landscape.  Along with their natural beauty they deliver oxygen and clean air, help prevent erosion, offer a cooling aspect for your yard and home, and provide a habitat for wildlife.

When planning your residential landscaping, consider these popular and hardy shade plants for North Texas.

Ornamental Trees

  • Japanese Maple
  • Redbud
  • Possumhaw Holly
  • Yaupon Holly
  • Cherry Laurel
  • Texas Mountain Laurel


  • Wavy Cloak Fern
  • Holly Fern
  • Autumn Fern
  • Southern Wood Fern


  • Beautyberry
  • Flowering Quince
  • False Aralia
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea
  • St. John’s Wort
  • Dwarf Yaupon Holly
  • Chinese Fringe Flower
  • Bridal Wreath Spirea
  • Bush Germander
  • Eastern Snowball Viburnum
  • Rusty Blackhaw Viburnum
  • Glossy Abelia
  • Japanese Yew
  • Oregon Grape Mahonia
  • Soft Caress Mahonia

Ground Covers

  • Bugleweed
  • Horse Herb
  • Purple Wintercreeper
  • Lamium
  • Frog Fruit


  • Berkeley Sedge
  • Native Sedges
  • Texas Gold Columbine
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Mist Flower
  • Lenten Rose (Hellebore)
  • Coral Bells (Heuchera)
  • Turk’s Cap
  • Garden Phlox
  • Lyre Leaf Sage
  • Cedar Sage
  • Leopard Plant


  • Inland Sea Oats
  • Indiangrass

If you determine that the conditions for your residential landscaping will require shade plants, don’t be discouraged.  There is beauty well beyond impatiens and begonias.  Hanging out in the North Texas shade is much more enjoyable than baking in the sun with the okra and crepe myrtles.

Walk yourself through our best options for shade plants and you will find many choices to brighten and beautify your yard.  Follow the advice for planting and you will be well on your way to a successful, cool and relaxing shade garden.