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Last update: 28 Nov 2023

How to Design Your Perfect North-Facing Garden

North-facing gardens get less light than gardens of other orientations. But you can still bring it to life with the right plants and conditions. Find out how to make the most of your north-facing orientation.

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You might feel like you pulled the short straw with a north-facing garden, but, actually, this is one garden configuration that’s largely misrepresented. Because a north-facing garden isn’t inferior, it’s a gift — you just have to know what to do with it. 

Table of contents:
Show all
  • The type of sun you get on the north side 
  • The pros of a north-facing garden
  • The cons of a north-facing garden
  • The ideal plants for a northern-facing garden
  • How to maintain a garden with a northern orientation
  • Lawn care
  • What type of soil is best for a north-facing garden?
  • Plant pruning
  • Flowering times in a north-facing garden
  • FAQs

Sure, north-facing gardens get much less sun than other gardens, but with effective planning, you can release its potential. After all, those south-facing gardens can be too hot, demanding parasols, awnings, and pergolas to offer some much-needed shade. Even some vegetables are happy in shady north-facing gardens. 

So fret not! 

This article explores how to make the most of your north-facing garden. 

Ready? Let’s get planning! 

The type of sun you get on the north side 

A diagram showing the sun's course during the day.
The course of the sun casts different types of shadows

The sun rises in the east and sets in the west, so east/west-facing gardens get sunlight in the morning or afternoon, but never usually both. South-facing gardens enjoy direct sunlight all day (unless there are obstacles such as walls, buildings, awnings, etc.). 

So, are north-facing gardens always in the dark?

Well, no. Not really — it depends on the obstructions around your garden that might shield the light. Think about it: you can stand on the beach and face north — you’ll still get sunlight exposure; you’ll just never be looking directly at the sun. 

So, when the sun is high in the sky in midsummer, an unshielded north-facing garden will still get plenty of noontime daylight. 

The positions of the sun during the day
Garden doctor Louis says:Rhode:
I like to capture my initial garden designs on paper. I make three drawings for three seasons, exploring the daylight from morning and noon to evening from spring to autumn.

Remember: the sun wanders!

Consider the times you’re most likely to sit in your garden, and think about the location of unfiltered sunlight at that time of day. This is where to locate your seating and entertainment areas. 

Remember, the sun’s angle changes throughout the day, so a few maths calculations at the planning stage will pay off when you finally get to put your feet up in the sun. 

For example:

  • For afternoon sun, ensure there’s a clear sightline from the west
  • For morning sun, keep the east side of your garden clear

Check our little diagram below! 

So, while a north-facing garden results in a shadier environment and cooler temperatures, this has its pros and cons:

The pros of a north-facing garden

Consider your garden’s unique properties and how to monopolise on them. 

For example, a north-facing garden is:

  • Ideal for shade-loving plants — think ferns, hostas, heucheras, ivy.
  • Reduced watering — north-facing gardens are less exposed to direct sunlight, so they need less additional watering because the water evaporates more slowly. 
  • Less exposed — direct sunlight fades garden furniture more quickly and is cooler in the summer. 

Remember, shade-loving plants are as beautiful and abundant as sun-loving plants — you just need to know which plants to choose for a shady garden. Check out our expert’s guide to selecting plants for a shady garden

The cons of a north-facing garden

All gardens have their disadvantages, even south-facing gardens that dry out too quickly and are too hot in the summer. 

The typical disadvantages of a north-facing garden include:

  • More limited plant choice — while hundreds of flowering and foliage plants thrive in the shade, some plants won’t grow.
  • Slower growth – plants in a north-facing garden may grow more slowly — but that means less pruning, so win-win. Also, many shade-loving plants have smaller flowers. 
  • Cooler temperatures — some plants need direct sunlight and heat to thrive. So, again, it’s a case of choosing the appropriate plants for your garden’s conditions. 

The ideal plants for a northern-facing garden

A colourful rhododendron in a shady garden
Rhododendrons grow well in a shady garden

There’s a wealth of plants that will thrive in your garden’s unique conditions, including:

Flowering plants

  • Fuchsia (Fuchsia)
  • Begonias (Begonia)
  • Astilbes (Astilbe)
  • Larkspurs (Delphinium)
  • Funkia (Hosta)
  • Periwinkle (Vinca)
  • Hydrangeas (Hydrangea)

Evergreen plants

  • Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
  • Rhododendron (Rhododendron)
  • Yews (Taxus)
  • Cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus)
  • Holly (Ilex)
  • Mahonia (Mahonia)
  • Tree of Life (Thuja)


Hydrangea shrub with pink and white blooms
A shrub of paniculate hydrangea vanilla fraise grown in the form of a stem tree, on a single trunk.
  • Woodruff (Galium odoratum)
  • Lady’s Mantle (Alchemilla)
  • Hydrangea
  • Astilbe
  • Columbine (Aquilegia)
  • Funkie (Hosta)
  • Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
  • Shadow bellflower (Campanula poscharskyana)


  • Shade-tolerant ornamental grass (Deschampsia cespitosa)
  • Forest marble (Luzula sylvatica)
  • Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii)
  • Blue fescue (Festuca glauca)
  • Reed grass (Phalaris arundinacea)
  • Pipe grass (Molinia caerulea)
  • Forest riding grass (Calamagrostis acutiflora)


  • Radish
  • Carrots
  • Corn salad
  • Kohlrabi
  • Sugar snap peas
  • Rhubarb
  • Bush beans

Trees for a garden with northern orientation

  • European beech (Fagus sylvatica)
  • Hornbeam (Carpinus betulus)
  • Common Ash (Fraxinus excelsior)
  • Field maple (Acer campestre)
  • Lime tree (Tilia cordata)
  • Black alder (Alnus glutinosa)
  • European yew (Taxus baccata)

How to maintain a garden with a northern orientation

Your north-facing garden will have an ecosystem of its own. You’ll notice that spring bulbs appear later than in exposed gardens because the soil takes longer to warm up. 

However, this also means you’ll enjoy flowering plants for longer than everyone else. Because when the daffodils everywhere else have blown, you’ll enjoy them in your back garden!

So, you’ll have later seasons, and you’ll need to start mowing your lawn a little later. 

Lawn care

Shaded garden with a green lawn
Shady lawns need special attention

Most grass plants need lots of sun to thrive. So, grass species that thrive in a south-facing garden will look weedy, thin, and tired in a north-facing lawn. 

But never fear — you just need to choose the right grass seed variety, like MOOWY’s Shade & Sun grass seed, which thrives in the shade and the sun! 

For germination, the soil needs to be higher than 10℃, and while south-facing lawns reach that temperature early in March, a north-facing lawn might not get there till April/May. So, use a soil thermometer before sowing new grass seed to ensure it’s warm enough.

How to sow a new lawn

Before sowing new lawn seed, check for moss and scarify if necessary. And aerate if the soil is compacted. 

Then, scatter high-quality lawn seeds over your existing lawn (for overseeding) or a prepared bed (for a new lawn). Press the seeds into the soil and water, being careful to avoid disturbing the seeds. 

And within two weeks to a month, you’ll see healthy new growth. 

Check out our expert articles for more information about sowing a new lawn!

MOOWY’s Shade & Sun Grass Seed
Front image of the Shade & Sun grass seed product pouch with grass seed in front of the pouch
MOOWY’s Shade & Sun Grass Seed
Shade & Sun Grass Seed
  • Grows underneath trees and in shady areas
  • Also thrives in full sun
  • Robust and resistant

Protect your lawn from moss

Your north-facing garden is likely to have damp, cool soil and low light exposure, which are perfect conditions for moss. So, collect your grass clippings after mowing and scarify regularly. 

MOOWY’s Scarifying kit
Front image of Scarifying Kit
MOOWY’s Scarifying kit
Scarifying Kit
  • Everything you need to help your lawn bounce back after scarifying
  • Grass seed for overfeeding
  • Iron sulphate to kill the moss and feed the soil

Fertilise your lawn

Because your north-facing lawn takes longer to warm up in the spring, I’d recommend leaving it until mid-April before fertilising your turf. This gives the soil enough time to warm up for fresh growth and activate the feed’s chemicals. 

Your lower-light lawn typically requires less fertiliser than a south-facing garden, so I’d recommend using ¾ of the recommended amount. 

Watering your north-facing lawn

Since less water evaporates in a north-facing lawn, you won’t need to water as regularly as other gardeners. 

So, check for moisture before watering — stick your finger into the top inch of the earth, and if you feel water, leave it a bit longer before getting the hose out. If it’s dry, give it some water. 

This applies to lawns and flower beds.

What type of soil is best for a north-facing garden?

All gardens need freely draining soil. If you have heavy clay earth, it’s likely to flood or become soggy, rotting plant roots. Indeed, soil type is all the more critical for gardens with a northern orientation.  

So, add organic matter, like compost, manure, or leaf mould, to heavy soil to improve drainage. Alternativey, if you have sandy soil, add organic matter to help it retain moisture. 

Check out my expert’s guide to improving your garden soil.

Plant pruning

Pruning a butterfly bush
Pruning a butterfly-bush (Buddleja davidii) with a secateurs.

The growing season for a garden with a northern orientation is typically shorter and later than other outdoor spaces. And this means you won’t have to prune as regularly. 

Prune when plants become overgrown or are losing their shape. All plants benefit from regular pruning, so don’t neglect it when needed. 

However, deadhead your flowering plants as usual — this encourages new growth. 

Flowering times in a north-facing garden

Everything germinates, grows, and blooms in its own time in a northern-facing garden. 

Here are some examples of flowering times you might expect:

  • Fuchsia: Summer, around mid-July
  • Begonias (Begonia): June to October
  • Astilbes (Astilbe): July to September.
  • Larkspurs (Delphinium): once in July and then again in September
  • Hosta: August to September
  • Evergreen (Vinca): May to July, sometimes into autumn
  • Hydrangeas (Hydrangea): July to October


Which plants are suitable for north-facing gardens?

Choose shade-loving plants that thrive in limited or indirect daylight, like snowdrops, lily of the valley, hostas, rhododendrons, honeysuckle, sweet peas, hydrangea, foxglove, bluebells, lungwort, and climbing roses. 

How many hours of sunshine does a north-facing garden get?

Gardens facing north get less sunlight if walls, fences, trees, or tall buildings surround them. Unobstructed north-facing gardens get as much sunlight as other gardens. However, a shielded north-facing garden usually receives a few hours of direct sunlight each day in the summer. 

What are the main problems with a north-facing garden?

The biggest problem is a lack of direct sunlight if trees, fences, walls, or buildings shield the garden. So, choose shade-loving plants which offer beautiful foliage and pretty flowers throughout the year. Many shade-loving plants flower well into the winter, making them a good choice for year-round colour. 

Any questions?

I hope I’ve provided all the information you need to make some crucial decisions about how you design and maintain your north-facing garden. But if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Or explore our comprehensive Help & Advice section.

Thanks for reading, and happy gardening!   

Louis Hooft
Founder & Lawn expert
Introducing Louis Hooft, the founder of MOOWY and your reliable expert. With a profound love for stunning lawns and extensive experience in garden maintenance, Louis is here to assist garden enthusiasts in achieving a greener and livelier outdoors than ever before. Count on Louis for invaluable tips, clever tricks, and top-notch products to make your garden flourish!
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