Plants & Growing

North Facing Garden Planting & Growing Tips

woman on her knees planting flowers
Written by Jonathan Sweet

South-facing aspects are all too often seen as the be-all and end-all of a blooming garden.

With the proper care, consideration and forethought, there’s no reason why a north-facing garden can’t flourish and thrive.

But while a north-facing garden might pose its own unique challenges, it’s certainly possible to cultivate a veritable Eden in your own back yard, whichever way it faces.

The secret to success – as it is with many things in life – is research, planning and a little hard work. However, once you’ve selected the right plants for your environment, worked out where best they’ll grow and put everything in place, a north-facing garden will actually demand less watering, maintenance and legwork than its south-facing counterpart.

In this guide, we’ll highlight some handy tips to help you make the most of what you’ve got, including how to maximise your space, accentuate its natural features and turn those weaknesses into strengths. We’ll also include a list of the most suitable plants for a shady plot of land to ensure you can still enjoy a beautiful view, with or without the sun.

Green leaves of hosta and other flowering plants
Greenery is golden

Insider insights for a thriving north-facing garden

A garden that sees little sun should be viewed as a world of possibilities. Once you accept that you might have to concentrate more on foliage than flowers and take a creative approach to landscaping your space, you’ll soon see that there are many ways in which you can leverage the layout of your north-facing garden to your own advantage. Here are some handy tips on how to do so:

Keep it hydrated

With minimal sunshine reaching your plants, they’ll need all the help they can get – and that means proper hydration. Digging in organic matter like leaf mulch will give them an extra boost and aid in boosting the nutritional and irrigational properties of the soil. You may even want to consider installing an artificial irrigation system, especially if your plot is on the smaller size.

Identify dry shade

With that latter point in mind, it’s vital that you pinpoint the parts of your garden which won’t receive much in the way of rainfall or sunshine. These areas are usually located next to trees, high walls or other imposing structures and should be reserved for only the hardiest plants, such as ferns or other shade-loving species.

Prune don’t purge

There is a school of thought which recommends felling all the trees in your garden in order to allow as much sunlight to enter as possible – but this will also draw attention to where your boundaries lie and make your space look smaller, as well as discouraging wildlife. For those reasons, we recommend pruning layers of canopy rather than uprooting them altogether.

man pruning trees with secateurs
Pulling up trees isn’t always a good thing

Emulate the light

Even if very little sunlight infiltrates your garden, you can mimic its effects by putting in place water features like ponds and fountains that will reflect it onto other areas. Mirrors can also do a similar job and create the illusion of a greater space, while installing artificial lights provide a soft glow on dark evenings.

Encourage biodiversity

Another advantage of including a water feature is the flora and fauna it will attract. Expect frogspawn, newts, toads and lizards to flock to your ponds, while other great ideas include building bird feeders, nestboxes and insect hotels. The RSPB and the National Trust both offer advice on how to encourage biodiversity in your garden.

An insect hotel with an orange butterly
Self-catering accommodation for critters of all kinds

Add colour creatively

With a focus on foliage, your north-facing garden is likely to be characterised by green more than any other colour. However, you can add variation into its palette in any number of other ways, such as with coloured paving, furniture, gravel, pots and the framing of your doors and windows. A lick of paint can go a long way in brightening up a monotone scene.

Consider cutting out the lawn

Unless your space is quite expansive, it’s unlikely that a lawn will flourish in a north-facing garden, since it won’t receive much sun, may suffer heavy footfall and could become waterlogged. Instead, consider switching things up with the inclusion of rockeries, paving stones, gravelled areas or a combination of all of the above.

Best flowering plants for a north-facing garden

As mentioned above, a garden which enjoys little light is necessarily going to have to rely on leafy fronds and abundant ferns for much of its flora. However, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any flowering plants which will thrive in a north-facing garden. Here are a few examples of those best suited to shadier climes:

Lily of the valley

Famous for its rich fragrance which is often added to soaps, creams and other cosmetics, Lily of the Valley copes well with densely shaded areas and will provide a thick carpet of green foliage, offset perfectly by its beautiful, bell-like flowerheads.

Lily of the valley flower in focus with greenery in background
Lily of the Valley brings the sweet scent of spotlessness

Sweet box

This compact, hardy shrub is more than happy to grow steadily (if a little slowly) in complete shade and has evergreen leaves throughout the year. What’s more, it’s subtly scented flowers will complement the fragrance of Lily of the Valley during the colder months.

Snowdrops

Another white-flowered plant which flourishes during the winter, snowdrops are a sight for sore eyes come January or February, serving as a reminder that spring is just around the corner. They actually flower for longer in the shade, too, making them ideal for a north-facing garden.

Snakes’ head fritillaries

Don’t be fooled by the exotic-sounding name – snakes’ head fritillaries are native to the UK and a common sight in wildflower meadows across the country. Their hardy nature (which requires next to no upkeep), their beautiful, unusual flowerheads and their bee- and butterfly-attracting properties make them a great choice.

snakes head fritillary with early morning dew
There’s no sting in the tail of this exquisite indigenous species

Rhododendrons

Not all species of rhododendrons do well without the sun and none of them flourish in sandy soil, so make sure that your desired location has the requisite acidity levels to sustain them before planting. Once in place, however, their springtime bloom is a sight to behold.

About the author

Jonathan Sweet

Jonny is an avid writer with a background in tourism, film and literature, but has a penchant for penning articles on all kinds of topics. He's always considered himself an environmentalist to some degree, but in recent times he has found himself shining a greater spotlight on his daily lifestyle choices and how the tiny changes he can make to his routine can have a cumulatively significant impact on the planet.

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