8 Ways to Create Shade for Plants (and Why)

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Adding shade for plants to your outdoor space might sound counterintuitive, but it can actually make a big difference. However, the need for extra shade will depend on your area’s sun exposure and the plants you’re growing.

So, here are 8 ways to create shade for plants in backyards, patios, and balconies. First, let’s cover why you might want to add a bit of extra cover.

Why Create Shade for Plants?

Before we go over how to create shade for plants, let’s cover why.

The short answer is that not all plants like direct sunlight. If you have a south-facing balcony, your plants will be exposed to direct sun for far longer than if it’s north-, east- or west-facing.

It might surprise you to learn that plants can get sunburn. It shows up in plants as yellow and brown leaves with crispy edges. You might notice leaves fall off after losing all their color, too.

Pretty much any plant that isn’t suited to direct sunlight can get sunburn. This might include:

  • Most tropical houseplants (e.g., monstera, calathea, pothos, etc.)
  • Crops – tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant in particular
  • Herbs and decorative plants
  • Plants in greenhouses

Benefits of Shade for Plants

Preventing sunburn is the main benefit of creating shade for plants. Interestingly, different colored shades can stimulate or impact growth, as one study found. For example, the study found that philodendrons grew more leaves under a red shade cloth, whereas orchids grew more foliage under blue cloth.

This generally comes down to each plant’s preferred light wavelengths. While this isn’t something we’ll cover in detail here, it’s worth noting that the benefits of providing shade for plants can make them grow larger.

Things to Consider When Adding Shade for Plants

It’s not worth getting too technical when setting up a plant shade. Most of the suggestions below are simply designed to prevent them from getting sunburn. Even so, you’ll want to consider the following before jumping into the options.

Aspect

Aspect is the compass direction your space faces. South-facing gets the most sunlight (in the Northern hemisphere, at least). Next is west-facing, closely followed by east-facing (west gets sun in the afternoon and evening, whereas east only gets sun in the morning).

North-facing spaces will get the least sun throughout the day, and probably won’t need any kind of extra shade. If you plan to set up a shade on your east- or west-facing patio or balcony, you’ll need to angle it differently to something on a south-facing space.

Construction and Installation

Some options require a bit of installation, whereas others can be set up without drilling holes. The most suitable option will mainly depend on whether you can make permanent changes, which many renters can’t.

 Weather Resistance

This won’t apply to everyone, as it’ll depend on your local climate. For example, balconies will need to consider wind resistance, whereas those in rainier climates will want to use waterproof materials.

It’s worth thinking about how a particular material will hold up in your weather. Most of this will be fairly obvious – fabric won’t do well in rain, shade sails aren’t great in wind, etc.

How to Create Shade for Plants – 8 Ways

1. Shade Cloth

Suitable for: All outdoor spaces

The most obvious place to start is with a shade cloth for plants. Shade cloth is mesh with varying density, which dictates how much light it lets through. It comes in different colors but black is the most common.

It’s generally used in greenhouses and for raised beds, but you could simply drape it over your plants during peak sunlight hours. Shade cloths are inexpensive. However, they don’t look great and aren’t very durable. If you plan to constantly move it, you’ll want to consider a different option.

Pros

  • Designed for this purpose
  • Gives you control over UV exposure
  • Inexpensive

Cons

  • Not super durable

2. Shade Sail

Suitable for: Balconies, patios, decks

You’ve probably seen shade sails before. Unsurprisingly, they do a great job of reducing sun exposure and they’re easy to set up. You might find that the fabric is too dense for plants, as it’s designed for people. It’s easy to get around this by just not having it set up all the time.

That said, most shade sails are designed to be permanent. Keeping decorative plants under one should be fine, but you’ll want to move crop plants into direct sun occasionally, as a lack of sunlight will affect their growth potential.

Pros

  • Easy to set up (provided you’re allowed to drill holes)
  • Also provides good shade for you
  • Fairly high UV protection

Cons

  • UV protection will likely be too high for plants to live under permanently

3. Mesh Greenhouse

Suitable for: All outdoor space

A mesh greenhouse is a self-explanatory idea. It’s a portable greenhouse made from shade cloth fabric. It lets in a decent amount of sunlight but will reduce the chances of your plants getting sunburn. Considering this can happen in glass greenhouses, this is a big benefit.

Of course, the biggest downside is that there isn’t much space inside them. It obviously won’t work for raised beds, and you’ll have to move your plants into the greenhouse as needed. Although this won’t be loads of work, it’s more than setting up a sail or cover over the plants.

Pros

  • Provides shade without sacrificing airflow
  • Plenty of size options for balconies, patios, etc.
  • Ideal for storage when not in use

Cons

  • Doesn’t have loads of space compared to a shade cloth

4. DIY Plant Shade

Suitable for: All outdoor spaces, but particularly raised beds

To call this option a DIY plant shade is really overselling its complexity. You’ll need some shade cloth (we’ve gone for 30% UV blocking), posts or PVC pipe (including elbow connectors).

Then, you just need to build a frame out of the PVC pipes based on the size and shape of your plant area. A rectangle is the easiest shape to build, but you could always angle the top depending on your space’s aspect. Finally, stretch the shade cloth over the top and tie in place.

Pros

  • Customizable to your space
  • Inexpensive
  • Easy to build

Cons

  • Not super durable

5. Using Other Plants

Suitable for: All outdoor spaces

One method for how to create shade for plants is to employ companion planting. In short, you’ll use tall or bushy plants to protect smaller and more delicate plants. This can be ideal for balconies, where you don’t have loads of choice for where you set up plants.

Some good shade-giving plants include:

  • Sunflowers
  • Climbers – honeysuckle, jasmine, etc.
  • Trees
  • Boxwood and other hedges
  • Pretty much all evergreens

This won’t work for tall plants, as the plant you’re protecting needs to be shorter than the shade-giving plant. However, it should work fine for something like an herb garden.

Pros

  • Easy way to add extra foliage to your space
  • Looks more natural
  • Shouldn’t be expensive

Cons

  • Only suitable for small plants

6. Umbrellas

umbrella shading plants from the sun

Suitable for: All outdoor spaces

Umbrellas are a good choice for how to provide shade for plants because you can set them up as needed. Opt for umbrellas that you can tilt as needed, but be aware that most will block 100% of UV light. You therefore won’t want them set up all the time.

We’ve got a full article on umbrellas, so check that out for everything you need to know about setting them up.

Pros

  • Ideal for providing shade as needed
  • Doesn’t need to be expensive
  • More weather-resistant than shade cloths

Cons

  • Most umbrellas block 100% of UV light

7. Repurposed Materials

Suitable for: All outdoor spaces

If you don’t want to spend much money providing shade for plants, simply repurpose materials from elsewhere. Anything from old fabric to wood pallets can be turned into a simple plant shade.

Treat fabric the same as any shade cloth. With pallets, it’d be best to take them apart and build panels that you can prop against structures or supports. Of course, these will be heavier than fabric, so make sure your supports are up to the job.

Pros

  • Potentially free
  • Plenty of materials you can turn into plant shades
  • Ideal if you don’t need something long-term

Cons

  • Most repurposed materials will block 100% of UV light

8. Use Existing Structures

Suitable for: Larger outdoor areas, particularly patios and vegetable gardens

Spend some time watching how your outdoor space catches the sun throughout the day at different times of year. It might be obvious, but rather than creating shade for plants, just use the space you already have.

For example, if your house blocks the sun in certain areas, focus your shade-loving plants there. Most crops will enjoy spaces that get intermittent sun, and using what you’ve got is much easier than setting up new structures.

Pros

  • Free
  • You can use existing plants and buildings to your advantage

Cons

  • Won’t work in smaller outdoor spaces

Final Thoughts

Now you’ve got an idea of how to create shade for plants, you should have plenty more options for your sunny outdoor space. Hopefully, adding a bit more shade will keep your plants happy and healthy.