25 Shade-Loving Plants for Where the Sun Don’t Shine
Hardy shade plants and flowers bring beautiful blooms to parts of the yard that receive little light. Read on to discover gorgeous plants that don't need a ton of sun to flourish.
No, not every plant wants all sunshine, all the time. Many lovely, low-maintenance options exist for those miscellaneous low-light areas of your landscape. These 25 sensational shade plant species thrive without much light.
Though unfit for heavy shade, hydrangeas deliver bountiful blooms in spring and summer, with some pretty fall foliage to boot. All they need is a little morning sun. Remember to avoid planting perennials too near a tree whose roots might compete for soil nutrients.
Only some species can withstand the relatively sunless and cold conditions of a north-facing wall. Chaenomeles, or flowering quince, are perfect plants for shade. These hardy flowers can not only survive, but they do so with gusto, rewarding gardeners with a fragrant golden-yellow fruit.
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3. Lady Ferns
Ferns—lady ferns, especially—come about as close as any plant gets to being able to grow in total darkness. The playful fronds of this hardy shade plant initially develop in a pleasing shade of light green, then darken as the fern matures.
4. Bleeding Hearts
In many hardiness zones, Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) carries its pink or white, heart-shaped flowers from spring through early summer. Satisfyingly easy to grow, this exotic-looking perennial shade plant stands out from the rest in low-light garden beds.
Many dogwood varieties don’t need sun and will tolerate partial- to full-shade conditions. One spectacular species to try is Cornus florida, a tree with reddish-purple fall color surpassed only by its famous white flowers in spring.
Use begonias to add vibrancy to container gardens placed in shady spots of your patio. A range of hues appear, even in a single bloom, and if stored in a dry spot over winter, their tubers can be recycled the following year.
7. Dutchman’s Pipe
Known for dense foliage, unusual purple flowers, and its ability to spread, Aristolochia macrophylla, or Dutchman’s Pipe, is a fast-growing shade plant that can reach heights of up to 30 feet tall (with the right guidance) and is just one of many stunning climbers for shade.
One of the most ubiquitous flowers in the U.S., impatiens flowers also are among the most shade tolerant. More than 1,000 species are available. Experiment with an exotic variety, such as Impatiens balsamina or Impatiens rosulata.
The forgiving foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia) boasts two especially appealing attributes. One, its attractive flower spikes grow tall and two, it can cover large areas of your shaded garden with subtly enchanting foliage.
Tough enough to handle shady spots with moist or wet soil, astilbe—instantly recognizable by virtue of its colorful spikes—arrests the eye when grown in clumps. Be sure to divide this perennial once fall comes around again.
Coleus doesn’t need flowers to make a colorful splash in your garden. Its leaves are flashy enough, and come in rich reds, greens, purples, yellows, and oranges—perfect for standing out among your other garden plants that don’t need sun. Each variety of this plant boasts different leaf textures, whether scalloped, velvety, or fringed—and add incredible depth and variety to shady beds in any landscape.
Known commonly as lungwort, pulmonaria has a reputation for being one of the easiest low-light perennial plants for shade. Growing 6 to 12 inches tall, and blooming in blues, pinks, and whites, it makes an excellent ground cover to complement other early spring bloomers, like daffodils.
Hellebore is essentially evergreen and ever easy to care for. Often called Lenten rose because they bloom early in spring close to the season of Lent, they will rouse you out of winter doldrums, and continue to bloom all season long. Hellebores love shade, but will tolerate part sun in most planting zones.
14. Toad Lily
With orchid-like blossoms ranging from white, to pink, to purple, the toad lily (Tricyrtis) serves up exotic autumn color. This perennial enjoys full to partial shade, and will delight you every year as summer comes to an end.
Though it doesn’t flower, shade-loving caladium will treat you to robust foliage color all summer long. With varieties ranging from white, to dark reds, and brilliantly variegated, this bulb will not disappoint. In hotter zones, you can leave this easy-care shade plant in its bed at the end of the season, and it might return the following year. Or dig it out of the ground to overwinter, and then replant it the following spring.
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16. Bee Balm
Bee balm (Monarda) does best in a sunny corner of the yard, but it can tolerate shade quite well. A member of the mint family, this pollinator plant will spread, so divide it every few years to bring bright color to adjacent garden beds. This native also brings bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden.
17. Lily of the Valley
With delicate blooms that resemble bells, lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) can spread throughout a shaded area to provide low-maintenance ground cover. Although beautiful, this flowering plant is highly poisonous, so avoid planting it if you have cats, dogs, or young children at home.
Growing in sun or shade, myrtle (Myrtus) is a drought-tolerant shrub that does best in temperate climes. A deer- and disease-resistant plant, some species can grow to be 8 to 12 feet high and make an attractive hedge. Smaller species, like a dwarf myrtle, are terrific for decorative outdoor garden pots.
Shade-loving, low-maintenance hosta is a busy gardener’s dream plant. Each type of hosta thrives best in slightly different light conditions: For a deeply shaded garden bed, choose hostas of a dark green color; for gardens in partial shade, opt for hostas in lighter or variegated varieties.
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Also known as coral bells or alumroot, these low-habit plants provide seasonal color even when not in bloom with their dark purple foliage. Heuchera is resistant to drought and can be grown in full sun or shade.
Euphorbia, or spurge plants, are known for their green-yellow flowers that instantly add brightness to dark backyard areas or decorative beds that are begging to be filled out. These flowering plants come in more than 2,300 species, including perennials, annuals, and biennials. They grow well in partial or full sun, but certain varieties, like the marsh spurge (Euphorbia palustris), love light shade and cool ground.
These plants typically grow with woody green stems, and they’re better to look at than to touch. Whenever you handle these types of plants, you must wear gloves and beware the sap—it’s an irritant and poisonous.
22. English Ivy
If you appreciate a shade-loving climber, English ivy is a must. With its dark green leaves and thick coverage, these plants can cover walls, or be trained to climb up and spread out over pergolas, trees, fences, or other structures. They can cling to almost any surface thanks to small roots that grow along their stems.
Expect the vines to grow very slowly in the first year, gain momentum in year two, and by year three, English ivy becomes a fast-moving plant. These plants grow best when they’re watered often, but once they’ve firmly established themselves, they can tolerate dry conditions.
Easily identified by their tall spires of bell-shaped blossoms, foxglove (Digitalis) gives a garden varying heights of beautiful flowers. Foxglove is a woodland plant that fares best in dappled or partial shade, especially if the shade hits in the afternoon. Under the right conditions, these plants grow up to five feet tall.
Many species of foxglove are biennials, which means they spend their first year growing foliage, and the second year flowering before dying off. The plants usually reseed themselves, so you could wind up having flowers every year.
Primula, or primrose plants, fare best in environments with woodland-like growing conditions. They need shade (or partial shade) and moist soil to produce explosions of colorful flowers in shades of pink, yellow, orange, and more. Expect the blooms to show up in early spring, but with some species the flowers show up much later.
With more than 400 species of primula out there, you can find ones that grow to only a few inches or up to 4 feet tall. The best part is, these plants need very little attention, growing well on their own or in a flower bed with other spring flowers.
Aquilegia plants are also called columbines or Granny’s bonnet, thanks to their bonnet-shaped flowers. This easy-to-grow perennial generally has dark green stems and leaves, which transition to a maroon color come autumn. In general, aquilegia prefers partial shade, where it won’t get too hot.
In spring, the flowers bloom in plenty of different colors, and these blossoms are sought out by hummingbirds. Regular deadheading will encourage extra blooming, so you can get the most beauty from your flowers. Once they’re established in your garden beds, aquilegia readily multiply with no extra effort from you.
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