Guide to Landscaping a North-Facing Yard

North-Facing Yard

All kinds of factors can influence how your yard thrives, but did you know that the direction it faces can make a big difference? North-facing yards create unique difficulties in landscape design, but they’re a perfect opportunity to get creative. Read on to learn more about landscaping a north-facing yard.

Why is north-facing landscaping difficult?

The U.S. is in the Northern hemisphere, which means the sun approaches American lawns from the south. This spells sunshine for south-facing yards and extra shade for yards to the north. Even if your yard doesn’t get shadows from homes or tall trees, a north-facing landscape will need to accommodate at least partial shade while the sun is behind your house.

Because there is less sun, north-facing landscaping doesn’t dry out quickly and holds more moisture than yards that face other directions. This can be perfect for low-maintenance landscaping or water-hungry plants, but you’ll need to keep an eye out for lawn diseases.

The good news? Your yard will stay cooler in the summer when temperatures climb, and there are plenty of options for a north-facing planting scheme! North-facing gardens can be tricky no matter your location, but in climates with particularly hot summers, sun-loving plants like begonias may even need the shade to make sure they’re sitting in moist soil.

Mapping sunlight in your north-facing yard

Mapping Sunlight
Julia_Kuleshova | iStock

To tackle a north-facing landscaping project, it’s important to know what kind of light you’re working with first. 

Here are a few different types of sun exposure common in north-facing yards:

  • Dappled sun: sunlight that’s filtered through tree leaves all day long
  • Morning sun: bright sunlight in the morning but shady in the afternoon
  • Afternoon sun: shady in the morning and bright sunlight in the afternoon
  • Partial shade/part shade/light shade: three to six hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Full shade: less than three hours of direct sunlight
  • Deep shade: no direct sunlight all day

Try photographing your yard from the same angle at different times of day to get a picture – literally – of how the sun travels across your yard. This will help you locate your sunny and shady areas and choose the appropriate plants for those areas.

Tips for landscaping a north-facing yard

After mapping the sunlight in your yard, it’s time to use that information. Follow these tips for landscaping a north-facing yard.

Plan for shade

shade-loving plants
Tanaphong Toochinda | Unsplash

Start by selecting flowers, shrubs, vines, ground covers, or vegetables like those listed in this Lawn Love guide to shade-loving plants. These are a good starting point for adding new plants to your garden space, and with options from veggies to flowers and shrubs, there’s something for everyone.

These are just a few of the best plants for a shade garden:

  • Leafy vegetables like lettuce, kale, and arugula
  • Impatiens
  • Hostas
  • Foxgloves
  • Irises
  • Evergreen shrubs, such as wintergreen and coast leucothoe
  • Evergreen flowers, such as hellebores
  • Heuchera/coral bells

Maximize sunlight

There are plenty of ways to make the most of the sunlight you get in your north-facing yard. If you have shade in the morning but sun in the afternoon, climbing vines like star jasmine or pole beans can climb to the bright side. Place plants that need a little more light at the end of the garden furthest from the house, where more sunlight can reach them.

Add some color


It’s easy to cultivate green foliage in a north-facing landscape, but working with tricky light conditions doesn’t mean you have to give up on the rest of your garden color palette. Rhododendrons are one flowering shrub that thrives in partial shade, while hydrangeas can handle partial to full shade and give your yard beautiful pink and blue flowers.

Did you know? Bigleaf hydrangea colors are influenced by the acidity of the soil. Acidic soils with a pH of less than 5.5 will create blue flowers, while alkaline and neutral soils will produce pink.

Get creative with ground covers


Turfgrass can be tricky to grow in a north-facing landscape. Luckily, in addition to shade and disease-tolerant grasses like centipedegrass, there are plenty of ground cover options to choose from. 

If you’re looking for a shade-tolerant ground cover that also brings a bit of color to your yard, perennials like sweet woodruff and lily-of-the-valley are a lovely addition. The gorgeous white leaves of snow-on-the-mountain can also handle most shade and soil conditions.

Incorporate containers

Containers provide extra flexibility and a great way to take advantage of sunnier spots in your yard, even if they’re in small spaces. As a bonus, container gardens are easy to relocate if they’re not getting the light they need. Stone and terracotta planters add a beautiful Mediterranean flair.

The final word

If you’re trying to figure out the best options for your north-facing lawn, a landscaping professional can help you find the right fit for you.

From shady borders and spring flowers to selecting the right plants for the rest of your lawn, our Lawn Love pros are just a call or click away.

Main Photo Credit: Donera | Pexels

Annie Parnell

Originally from the Washington, D.C., area, Annie Parnell is a freelance writer and audio producer based in Richmond, Virginia. She is passionate about gardening, outdoor recreation, sustainability, and all things music and pop culture.