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Perennial Flowers for Shade

By: Garden Gate staff
No matter how little sun your garden gets, these 3 gorgeous summer perennials will brighten up any spot!

Add flowers to your shade garden

Struggling to find flowers for those shady spots? Not to worry. Shade offers the opportunity to grow wonderful plants that not only tolerate a lack of sun but actually prefer it. Large trees and shady areas in your yard can present a challenge to even the most creative gardener. But gardening in the shade doesn't have to be frustrating. There are a variety of shade-loving perennials that tolerate relatively low light, and even thrive in it. So, pump up your shady spaces turn your yard into a beautiful retreat you can enjoy year-round.

Defining shade

Sure, hostas and impatiens shine in shade…but there are other bright, colorful blooms you can plant alongside those shade garden favorites! The first step to finding the right shade plants is knowing the light levels in your garden, and garden journaling is a great way to help you track how many hours of sun your garden recieves each day.

If you find that the amount of sun your garden gets varies during the day, plant in a space that gets morning sun and afternoon shade, because early sun is less harsh than midday sun. The warmth of the morning sun will dry up any dew, which cuts down on potential fungus problems. Plus, lots of plants benefit from the cooling effect of shade in the heat of the afternoon — especially in the South and areas of the Midwest. Check out a quick guide to defining shade levels below.

  • Part sun = 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, preferably in the afternoon.
  • Part shade = 3 to 6 hours of direct sunlight, preferably in the morning.
  • Full shade = less than 3 hours of direct sunlight, preferably in the morning. Or heavy dappled shade all day.

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Perennial flowers for shade

Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)

Spotted deadnettle pops out and enlivens any area. And on top of being deer- and rabbit-resistant and drought-tolerant, it’s a weed-smothering ground cover.

Type Perennial Blooms White, pink or purple flowers in midspring to early summer Light Part to full shade Soil Any type Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 12 in. spreading Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Old-fashioned bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

There’s nothing quite like the intricate flowers of old-fashioned bleeding heart. Try 2 or 3 inches of mulch and regular watering to keep moisture levels even and foliage up. Plants go dormant during dry summers — they’ll return again in spring. And deer will skip over any bleeding heart they find — the whole plant is poisonous.

Type Perennial Blooms Red or pink with white or solid white flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 15 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Peachleaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia)

Peachleaf bell-flower leaves do resemble peach foliage. Depending on where you live, it can bloom from late spring and continue reblooming through summer. The cooler the summer, the longer it’ll bloom. What’s more, it’s deer-resistant — no nibbling here! It’s lovely in a cottage garden or at the edge of a woodland. Prune back spent flower spikes to encourage additional bloom.

Type Perennial Blooms White, blue to lilac, bell-like flowers in late spring to summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average, well-drained Size 18 to 36 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Astilbe (Astilbe spp. and hybrids)

If you’re looking for a long-lasting flower for shade, then astilbe is a great choice! With big plumes in white, pink, red, lavender or peach, it’s one of the showiest perennials for part shade. To extend the show even longer, plant several cultivars that bloom at different times. If planned well, you may have astilbe blooming in your garden from late spring through summer! Make sure to keep plants evenly moist and don’t let them dry out or the leaves will get crispy.

Blooms Red, pink, lavender, white, peach from late spring through summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 8 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 48 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)

Although bergenia may have more blooms in more sun, its foliage does best in shade, where soil won’t quickly dry out and cause leaves to burn. Bergenia makes a nice ground cover, spreading slowly by rhizomes into large clumps.

Type Perennial Blooms Spikes of pink flowers on dark stems shoot up in midspring Light Part to full shade Soil Rich, moist, but tolerant of most conditions Size 8 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Ligularia (Ligularia spp. and hybrids)

Just like hosta, handsome-leafed ligularia deserves a place in the garden just for its leafy show. But the bouquet of yellow flower spikes (a rare flower color for the shade garden!) held just at the top of the foliage is icing on the cake. Ligularias thrive naturally in areas along rivers or ponds in shady woodlands and prefer a nutrient-rich soil with plenty of compost or leaf litter worked into it.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow spike-shaped or daisy-shaped flowers in late summer to fall Size 2 to 8 ft. tall, 2 to 6 ft. wide Light Part shade to full shade Soil Moist, well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Columbine meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium)

Columbine meadow rue is so low-maintenance, it grows almost anywhere. But it does struggle to stand up to to the summer heat and humidity in the South.

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of lilac-purple flowers in late spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Rich, moist, well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Pale corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca)

Pale corydalis may go dormant in hot-summer regions, but its fragrant flowers return once the weather cools. And while many plants in shade gardens fall prey to slugs, corydalis is safe!

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of spurred cream-colored trumpets with green tips and yellow throats from late spring to frost Light Full sun to full shade Soil Rich, moist, well-drained Size 12 to 18 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis)

Fall-blooming anemones are the perfect plant to bring a touch of spring into even the weariest end-of-summer garden. Although most anemones bloom in September and October, some flower as early as August. Japanese anemone fits right into a perennial or mixed border, cottage garden and even a lightly shaded woodland garden.

Type Perennial Blooms Broad, single or double delicate flowers in shades of white, pink and lavender in late summer through fall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 1 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

Bright sun can burn the leaves, but if that happens, just shear the leaves back and new ones will grow. In perfect growing conditions, lady’s mantle can self-seed aggressively, but deadheading spent blooms will take care of that in a snap, so to speak.

Type Perennial Blooms Chartreuse yellow flowers in late spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 10 to 18 in. tall (in bloom), 18 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Spotted deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)

Spotted deadnettle pops out and enlivens any area. And on top of being deer- and rabbit-resistant and drought-tolerant, it’s a weed-smothering ground cover.

Type Perennial Blooms White, pink or purple flowers in midspring to early summer Light Part to full shade Soil Any type Size 4 to 8 in. tall, 12 in. spreading Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Ligularia (Ligularia spp. and hybrids)

Just like hosta, handsome-leafed ligularia deserves a place in the garden just for its leafy show. But the bouquet of yellow flower spikes (a rare flower color for the shade garden!) held just at the top of the foliage is icing on the cake. Ligularias thrive naturally in areas along rivers or ponds in shady woodlands and prefer a nutrient-rich soil with plenty of compost or leaf litter worked into it.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow spike-shaped or daisy-shaped flowers in late summer to fall Size 2 to 8 ft. tall, 2 to 6 ft. wide Light Part shade to full shade Soil Moist, well-drained Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Old-fashioned bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

There’s nothing quite like the intricate flowers of old-fashioned bleeding heart. Try 2 or 3 inches of mulch and regular watering to keep moisture levels even and foliage up. Plants go dormant during dry summers — they’ll return again in spring. And deer will skip over any bleeding heart they find — the whole plant is poisonous.

Type Perennial Blooms Red or pink with white or solid white flowers in spring Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 15 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Columbine meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegiifolium)

Columbine meadow rue is so low-maintenance, it grows almost anywhere. But it does struggle to stand up to to the summer heat and humidity in the South.

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of lilac-purple flowers in late spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Rich, moist, well-drained Size 24 to 36 in. tall, 18 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Peachleaf bellflower (Campanula persicifolia)

Peachleaf bell-flower leaves do resemble peach foliage. Depending on where you live, it can bloom from late spring and continue reblooming through summer. The cooler the summer, the longer it’ll bloom. What’s more, it’s deer-resistant — no nibbling here! It’s lovely in a cottage garden or at the edge of a woodland. Prune back spent flower spikes to encourage additional bloom.

Type Perennial Blooms White, blue to lilac, bell-like flowers in late spring to summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Average, well-drained Size 18 to 36 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Pale corydalis (Corydalis ochroleuca)

Pale corydalis may go dormant in hot-summer regions, but its fragrant flowers return once the weather cools. And while many plants in shade gardens fall prey to slugs, corydalis is safe!

Type Perennial Blooms Clusters of spurred cream-colored trumpets with green tips and yellow throats from late spring to frost Light Full sun to full shade Soil Rich, moist, well-drained Size 12 to 18 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Astilbe (Astilbe spp. and hybrids)

If you’re looking for a long-lasting flower for shade, then astilbe is a great choice! With big plumes in white, pink, red, lavender or peach, it’s one of the showiest perennials for part shade. To extend the show even longer, plant several cultivars that bloom at different times. If planned well, you may have astilbe blooming in your garden from late spring through summer! Make sure to keep plants evenly moist and don’t let them dry out or the leaves will get crispy.

Blooms Red, pink, lavender, white, peach from late spring through summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 8 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 48 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Japanese anemone (Anemone hupehensis)

Fall-blooming anemones are the perfect plant to bring a touch of spring into even the weariest end-of-summer garden. Although most anemones bloom in September and October, some flower as early as August. Japanese anemone fits right into a perennial or mixed border, cottage garden and even a lightly shaded woodland garden.

Type Perennial Blooms Broad, single or double delicate flowers in shades of white, pink and lavender in late summer through fall Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 1 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 3 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 8

Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)

Although bergenia may have more blooms in more sun, its foliage does best in shade, where soil won’t quickly dry out and cause leaves to burn. Bergenia makes a nice ground cover, spreading slowly by rhizomes into large clumps.

Type Perennial Blooms Spikes of pink flowers on dark stems shoot up in midspring Light Part to full shade Soil Rich, moist, but tolerant of most conditions Size 8 to 24 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Lady’s mantle (Alchemilla mollis)

Bright sun can burn the leaves, but if that happens, just shear the leaves back and new ones will grow. In perfect growing conditions, lady’s mantle can self-seed aggressively, but deadheading spent blooms will take care of that in a snap, so to speak.

Type Perennial Blooms Chartreuse yellow flowers in late spring to early summer Light Full sun to part shade Soil Moist, well-drained Size 10 to 18 in. tall (in bloom), 18 to 30 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Published: Aug. 7, 2018
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