Special Gift Offer
URL:
http://www.gardengatemagazine.com/newsletter/2021/02/25/best-shade-plants/
Share:

10 Best Shade Plants

By: Sherri Ribbey
A shade garden is actually a blessing in disguise! Check out 10 of the best shade plants that can make your not-so-sunny garden look great.

Best shade plants: Growing shade-tolerant plants around this bench turns what could be a dull unappealing spot into a welcoming destination filled with color and texture.

Shade-tolerant plants

Growing a shade garden means appreciating all the intricate details of a plant’s features; not just the flowers, but also the foliage, shape and texture. The colors purple, blue and pink are common in shade plants, so you don’t have to say goodbye to beautiful blooms. But, in most shade gardens you’ll find a palette that is cool and calming, with colors like blue, green, gray and gold. This is because most color comes from attention-grabbing foliage with a variety of stripes and patterns. The good news about foliage is that you can expect color and interest before a blossom forms and long after the flowers fade.

Find out how much sunlight your garden gets

There are different degrees of shade. And sometimes it’s hard to tell if your particular spot is dappled, part or full shade. To find out exactly how much light your garden gets, place a sunlight calculator in the bed on a sunny day. Use a light meter to measure the amount of light falling in the area. This one is combined with soil pH and moisture meters for convenience.

You Might Also Like:
Shade Garden Design Tips
Garden Gate's Favorite Hostas
Colorful Shade Garden Plant Combinations
Different Types of Garden Ferns

Shade plant benefits

Color isn’t the only consistency you can expect with shade plants. With protection from the sun, a shade garden can better withstand summer’s most intense heat. Soil is able to retain more moisture, too. However, if rain doesn’t easily reach your shade garden, a layer of mulch and regular watering will keep plants happy.

With lower sunlight for photosynthesis, plants grow slower in shade than in sun. And that can mean you don’t have as much work to do. First of all, they need less fertilizer and water, and you won’t have to deadhead or divide plants as often. Weed seeds aren’t as likely to sprout in shade, so there are fewer weeds to deal with, as well.

Sheltered from harsh sun, part-shade flowers last longer without fading, and foliage isn’t as likely to scorch, either. Even dealing with pests is less time-consuming in a shady situation. With the exception of slugs and snails, there are fewer plant-hungry insects in shady areas.

Best shade plants for your garden

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot emerges in late winter with a leaf curled around its stalk. The pristine flower blooms only a few days, but the foliage will stick around into summer. This native wildflower ephemeral likes a rich, humusy soil, and tolerates a lot of shade, making it impressive planted in clumps around trees. Plant small potted starts or bare rhizomes in spring. Be patient: Bloodroot can be slow to take off. But over time it’ll spread into colonies that make a great ground cover on a shady slope.

Type Perennial Blooms White blooms in winter Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

Monkshood’s tall spikes of deep violet blooms and lacy foliage are a dramatic sight. They bloom in late summer, when many shade plants’ flowers have faded. Grow in a spot that is slow to dry out or near your water source to avoid poor blooming. This plant is not fond of hot temperatures; it needs cool nights below 70 degrees F and consistent moisture to look its best. Be sure to wear gloves when handling monkshood or cutting flowers for bouquets, as all parts are poisonous.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue, purple, yellow, white, pink or bicolor blooms in midsummer Light Part to full shade Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Brunnera (Brunnera spp. and hybrids)

Looking for bold texture in the shade? Look no further than brunnera. With its masses of tiny blue spring flowers and bristly, deer-resistant leaves this versatile perennial will bring new interest to the shadiest parts of your garden. While the species has plain green foliage, many cultivars, such as ‘Jack Frost’ above, sport silvery patterns that add shimmering light to shady spots.

Moisture is key for this plant — without sufficient water, its leaves will dry up and die. The plant usually returns the following spring. A couple of inches of organic mulch can help conserve moisture and in drier, warmer climates, grow it in full shade.

Type Perennial Blooms Small blue flowers in spring Light Part to full shade Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Trillium (Trillium sessile)

Dark, striking flowers capture attention in early spring, but the beautiful mottled foliage makes a statement even after flowers fade. Like many woodland wildflowers, it goes dormant by midsummer, especially in hot and dry conditions. But it’ll be back again in spring.

Trilliums do best in light shade and rich, well-drained soil. Once established, they prefer to be left alone. If trillium is happy where it’s planted, it will self-seed and multiply.

Type Perennial Blooms Brown-purple flowers in early to midspring Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Astilbe (Astilbe hybrids)

Mounds of fernlike foliage and spires of fluffy flowers make astilbe welcome in any garden. They come in a wide range of sizes, flower colors and bloom times so there's an astilbe to suite everyone's taste. When you're using astilbe in the garden, group three or more plants together so the plume-like blooms create a pool of color and really stand out like the mass planting of 'Visions' astilbe above.

Astilbes prefer some relief from the midday sun because their shallow roots can dry out quickly. And plants need plenty of water — at least an inch a week—to look their best.

Type Perennial Blooms Pink, white, red, peach, cream or lilac blooms in late spring to early fall Light Part to full shade Size 8 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 48 in. wide Hardiness USDA zones 3 to 9

Hellebore (Helleborus spp. and hybrids)

The luminous flowers of hellebores emerge as winter says goodbye. Each bloom can be as much as 3 in. wide, making many of them look like old-fashioned, single roses (which is why hellebores are called “Christmas roses” and “Lenten roses”).

Help hellebores survive winter in the coldest zones by insulating plants with a loose organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or wood. The plants enjoy winter sun but need dappled shade in summer. Hellebores like nutrient-rich, well-drained soil, which makes them a good choice for growing in the dry shade under trees.

Type Perennial Blooms White, pink, yellow, green or burgundy flowers in late winter to early spring Light Part to full shade Size 1 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

When you think of shade plants, yellow corydalis may not spring to mind but it's well worth giving a try. This lesser known shade perennial produces loads of cheery yellow blooms in spring providing a splash of vibrant color. Yellow corydalis is sensitive to the heat so if plants look a bit tattered in summer cut the foliage back to the ground and the stems will regrow when temperatures cool in fall. In ideal growing conditions plants will self seed. You can leave the seedlings alone or easily transplant them to another location in the garden.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow flowers in midspring Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 18 in. tall, 6 to 12 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Epimedium (Epimedium spp. and hybrids)

Delicate-looking blooms on wiry stems add subtle beauty to the spring shade garden. Epimedium's foliage is no slouch, either, emerging after the flowers and often with red-tinted edges that mature to green by summer and sometimes develop the tint again in fall.

Epimedium is a tough little plant. It grows well even in full shade. And while plants do best in nutrient rich, well-drained soil it grows just fine in dry shade conditions also. Just make sure the plants are watered regularly the first year to help them establish a good root system.

Type Perennial Blooms White, cream, yellow, pink, red, burgundy, orange or lavender flowers in early spring Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 24 in. tall, spreading Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

The lush green fronds of the Christmas fern bring subtle texture to the shade garden. As the name implies, the foliage remains evergreen even where winters are cold, adding interest to your landscape year round.

This fern grows into a neat, wide clump of upright fronds and won’t spread like some other kinds of ferns. Christmas fern is great in a border or along a slope because it's adaptable to many soil conditions, both rich and rocky, and can help prevent soil erosion.

Type Perennial Blooms None Light Full sun to part shade Size 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Hosta (Hosta spp. and hybrids)

Sure, you can have a shade garden without hostas but it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to (unless you have deer, it's one of their favorites!). There are so many cultivars of this plant that its versatility is unparalleled and these plants are super-easy to grow.

You can tell how much light a hosta will need based on the leaf color: blue-green cultivars do better with more shade while chartreuse or gold cultivars prefer more sun. And hostas absolutely thrive in moderately heavy, well drained soil. If you have sandy soil, amend it by adding a shovelful of peat moss or compost into the hole at planting time.

Type Perennial Blooms White or lavender flowers in mid- to late summer Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 48 in. tall, 10 to 60 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot emerges in late winter with a leaf curled around its stalk. The pristine flower blooms only a few days, but the foliage will stick around into summer. This native wildflower ephemeral likes a rich, humusy soil, and tolerates a lot of shade, making it impressive planted in clumps around trees. Plant small potted starts or bare rhizomes in spring. Be patient: Bloodroot can be slow to take off. But over time it’ll spread into colonies that make a great ground cover on a shady slope.

Type Perennial Blooms White blooms in winter Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Hellebore (Helleborus spp. and hybrids)

The luminous flowers of hellebores emerge as winter says goodbye. Each bloom can be as much as 3 in. wide, making many of them look like old-fashioned, single roses (which is why hellebores are called “Christmas roses” and “Lenten roses”).

Help hellebores survive winter in the coldest zones by insulating plants with a loose organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or wood. The plants enjoy winter sun but need dappled shade in summer. Hellebores like nutrient-rich, well-drained soil, which makes them a good choice for growing in the dry shade under trees.

Type Perennial Blooms White, pink, yellow, green or burgundy flowers in late winter to early spring Light Part to full shade Size 1 to 3 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Monkshood (Aconitum napellus)

Monkshood’s tall spikes of deep violet blooms and lacy foliage are a dramatic sight. They bloom in late summer, when many shade plants’ flowers have faded. Grow in a spot that is slow to dry out or near your water source to avoid poor blooming. This plant is not fond of hot temperatures; it needs cool nights below 70 degrees F and consistent moisture to look its best. Be sure to wear gloves when handling monkshood or cutting flowers for bouquets, as all parts are poisonous.

Type Perennial Blooms Blue, purple, yellow, white, pink or bicolor blooms in midsummer Light Part to full shade Size 2 to 4 ft. tall, 1 to 2 ft. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 7

Yellow corydalis (Corydalis lutea)

When you think of shade plants, yellow corydalis may not spring to mind but it's well worth giving a try. This lesser known shade perennial produces loads of cheery yellow blooms in spring providing a splash of vibrant color. Yellow corydalis is sensitive to the heat so if plants look a bit tattered in summer cut the foliage back to the ground and the stems will regrow when temperatures cool in fall. In ideal growing conditions plants will self seed. You can leave the seedlings alone or easily transplant them to another location in the garden.

Type Perennial Blooms Yellow flowers in midspring Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 18 in. tall, 6 to 12 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 5 to 8

Brunnera (Brunnera spp. and hybrids)

Looking for bold texture in the shade? Look no further than brunnera. With its masses of tiny blue spring flowers and bristly, deer-resistant leaves this versatile perennial will bring new interest to the shadiest parts of your garden. While the species has plain green foliage, many cultivars, such as ‘Jack Frost’ above, sport silvery patterns that add shimmering light to shady spots.

Moisture is key for this plant — without sufficient water, its leaves will dry up and die. The plant usually returns the following spring. A couple of inches of organic mulch can help conserve moisture and in drier, warmer climates, grow it in full shade.

Type Perennial Blooms Small blue flowers in spring Light Part to full shade Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 12 to 24 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Epimedium (Epimedium spp. and hybrids)

Delicate-looking blooms on wiry stems add subtle beauty to the spring shade garden. Epimedium's foliage is no slouch, either, emerging after the flowers and often with red-tinted edges that mature to green by summer and sometimes develop the tint again in fall.

Epimedium is a tough little plant. It grows well even in full shade. And while plants do best in nutrient rich, well-drained soil it grows just fine in dry shade conditions also. Just make sure the plants are watered regularly the first year to help them establish a good root system.

Type Perennial Blooms White, cream, yellow, pink, red, burgundy, orange or lavender flowers in early spring Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 24 in. tall, spreading Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

Trillium (Trillium sessile)

Dark, striking flowers capture attention in early spring, but the beautiful mottled foliage makes a statement even after flowers fade. Like many woodland wildflowers, it goes dormant by midsummer, especially in hot and dry conditions. But it’ll be back again in spring.

Trilliums do best in light shade and rich, well-drained soil. Once established, they prefer to be left alone. If trillium is happy where it’s planted, it will self-seed and multiply.

Type Perennial Blooms Brown-purple flowers in early to midspring Light Part to full shade Size 6 to 12 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides)

The lush green fronds of the Christmas fern bring subtle texture to the shade garden. As the name implies, the foliage remains evergreen even where winters are cold, adding interest to your landscape year round.

This fern grows into a neat, wide clump of upright fronds and won’t spread like some other kinds of ferns. Christmas fern is great in a border or along a slope because it's adaptable to many soil conditions, both rich and rocky, and can help prevent soil erosion.

Type Perennial Blooms None Light Full sun to part shade Size 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Astilbe (Astilbe hybrids)

Mounds of fernlike foliage and spires of fluffy flowers make astilbe welcome in any garden. They come in a wide range of sizes, flower colors and bloom times so there's an astilbe to suite everyone's taste. When you're using astilbe in the garden, group three or more plants together so the plume-like blooms create a pool of color and really stand out like the mass planting of 'Visions' astilbe above.

Astilbes prefer some relief from the midday sun because their shallow roots can dry out quickly. And plants need plenty of water — at least an inch a week—to look their best.

Type Perennial Blooms Pink, white, red, peach, cream or lilac blooms in late spring to early fall Light Part to full shade Size 8 to 48 in. tall, 12 to 48 in. wide Hardiness USDA zones 3 to 9

Hosta (Hosta spp. and hybrids)

Sure, you can have a shade garden without hostas but it’s hard to imagine why you’d want to (unless you have deer, it's one of their favorites!). There are so many cultivars of this plant that its versatility is unparalleled and these plants are super-easy to grow.

You can tell how much light a hosta will need based on the leaf color: blue-green cultivars do better with more shade while chartreuse or gold cultivars prefer more sun. And hostas absolutely thrive in moderately heavy, well drained soil. If you have sandy soil, amend it by adding a shovelful of peat moss or compost into the hole at planting time.

Type Perennial Blooms White or lavender flowers in mid- to late summer Light Part to full shade Size 4 to 48 in. tall, 10 to 60 in. wide Hardiness Cold hardy in USDA zones 3 to 9

Published: Feb. 25, 2021
Share:
GDT Notes Ad_Printful_zone5

Product Recommendations

Here are some supplies and tools we find essential in our everyday work in the garden. We may receive a commission from sales referred by our links; however, we have carefully selected these products for their usefulness and quality.

GDT Ad_Summit 2021 zone 6

Related Tags

part shade shade

Also in This Newsletter


GDT Free Issues zone7and11 Mobile_Spring
Last Week’s Newsletter

February 18, 2021

Spring-Flowering Bulbs

Spring is just around the corner! Check out our favorite spring-flowering bulbs that will bring loads of beauty & color to your early season garden.

Burpee New Plant Giveaway

Want to win free veggies this spring? Enter our giveaway for your chance to receive a selection of 2021’s new vegetable introductions from Burpee Plants!

GDT Free Issue zone15 Spring