Wondering what to grow beneath trees and shrubs in your garden? How about some wildflowers. This article has some useful hints on how to grow wildflowers in the shade.

Wildflowers are on-trend at the moment and for good reason. But most of them prefer a sunny spot. In this article we have some tips on how to grow wildflowers in the shade.

A successful wildflower garden has many benefits and is all about choosing the right plants for the right conditions. Growing plants in the shade – especially wildflowers – can be particularly tricky. But we have some tips for you.

  • Create dappled shade by thinning out tree branches and reducing the height of hedges
  • Plant into low nutrient soil
  • Clear away any plants that might compete with your wildflowers
  • Choose your wildflower species wisely
  • Buy plants, not seed. Wildflower seed is notoriously difficult to germinate

Why do wildflowers need dappled shade?

If you are planning to grow wildflowers in the shade, you need to do your research carefully. And I strongly advise starting with a walk in the woods.

woodland wildflowers

Woodland wildflowers like this stunning pink musk mallow are adapted for low light conditions but cannot tolerate deep shade.

Even if it’s the wrong time of year for wildflowers to bloom, you will be able to see their leaves and maybe seedheads. Don’t worry if you can’t identify them. If they are grass, moss or ferns they are wildflowers of some sort.

Do wildflowers need Full Sun?

Take note of where the woodland wildflowers are. Are they in the depths of the forest where the tree canopy blocks out almost all the light? No. You mostly find shade tolerant wildflowers on the edge of the wood or at the bottom of hedgerows. Places that although they are not in full sun, do get a little bit of sunshine filtering through the branches.

Shade tolerant wildflowers are adapted to living in the cool conditions on the periphery of woodland and hedges but they do need some sunlight during the day.

Low nutrient soil for a wildflower garden

Ecologists believe that one of the reasons our hedgerow wildflowers are in decline is fertiliser drift from farmland. I’m from a farming family so for me the jury is still out on that one but it’s true that wildflowers do prefer low nutrient soils.

If the area you want to grow your wildflowers in is good at growing stinging nettles, brambles or dock leaves then the soil is probably very rich in nutrients. Once you have cleared the weeds and their roots, invest in some low nutrient soil to give your wildflowers the best chance of survival.

Should you clear away competitive plants?

Some of our most successful garden plants will bully wildflowers. They are very good at competing for light and space. Remove every little bit of them before trying to grow wildflowers.

How to choose your wildflower species carefully?

Look out for woodland wildflower species that are naturally adapted to living in partial shade. Most annual wildflowers like cornflowers, poppies and corn marigolds need lots of sun. Choose perennials and biannuals for the best results

Red campion wildflowers

Red campions are commonly found on the edge of woodland. They can tolerate full sun or partial shade and make a beautiful garden plant.

My favourite wildflowers for shade are:

  • Red campion
  • White campion
  • Common Vetch
  • Meadow Cranesbill
  • Musk Mallow
  • Wild Carrot
  • Wild mignonette
  • Wood sage
  • Primrose
  • Native Bluebell
  • Foxglove.

The primrose brings colour to the garden quite early in the year. “prim” means “first”

Not all woodland species have brightly coloured flowers, in fact some are quite subtle but beautiful nevertheless. I love the cerise flowers of red campion and ragged robin and the floaty white flowers of wild carrot are great at bouncing light around an area.

Buy wildflower plants, not wildflower seeds

Wildflower seeds can be really stubborn when it comes to germination. Admittedly, wildflower meadow seeds do cost less than plants, but they usually need particular conditions before they will grow. Some seeds need to be sown in autumn and experience a hard winter. All seed is irresistible to hungry birds.

Starting your wildflower garden area off with either plug plants, potted plants or a wildflower mat like Meadowmat is going to be much easier for you. And of course, come the autumn time, you can gather the seed and try to propagate more plants yourself.

Meadowmat for Woodland Shade is a pregrown mat of wildflowers that love living in partial shade. 35 plant species have been included in the seed mix and the growers have done the hardest bit for you. Most of the species will have germinated and be growing strongly when the mats are delivered to you.  All you need to do is unroll it onto prepared soil.

Find out more about Meadowmat for Woodland Shade here 

How to lay Meadowmat  

Inspiration: A wildflower garden in Essex