Shade Perennials

Replace annual impatiens with shade loving perennials for a low maintenance landscape.

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Astilbe

Astilbe

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Astilbe is found in shade and woodland gardens. They are clump-forming perennials that feature graceful, fernlike mounds with erect to arching, plumelike flower panicles rising above foliage on slender, upright stems.

Brighten your yard’s shady nooks with shade loving perennials. These eye-catching plants strut their stuff when direct sunlight is off the menu. Shade perennials include plants that thrive in deep shade, as well as those that can hold their own in the dry shade beneath mature trees. Perennial shade flowers feature a variety of bloom colors and forms. Learn about shade tolerant perennials that will make your yard sparkle. 

In the garden, full sun is full sun, but shade is a matter of degrees. You may need shade perennials for the dappled sunlight beneath a tree with a high canopy. Or you might be sourcing shade loving perennials for the kind of deep shade that plagues the north side of a house. In temperate climates, deciduous trees create seasonal shade, offering sunlight in spring followed by summer shade. For these planting areas, you want perennials for shade that can take some early spring sun. 

You can choose from a host of shade perennials with beautiful foliage. Golden Japanese forest grass (Hakonechloa macra ‘Aureola’) infuses any shady spot with beautiful light, courtesy of its green and gold leaves that resemble a waterfall. Variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum ‘Variegatum’) splashes hues of green and white into shade plantings, and lungwort (Pulmonaria) offers silver shades. 

Hosta is probably the most popular of the perennials for shade. Its leaves might be oblong, strappy or even spoon shaped, and plant size varies from foot-size miniatures to wheelbarrow size clumps. Hosta offer a host of leaf colors and patterns, including variegated blends, solids and stripes. Some hosta have a seersucker leaf texture, while others are slick and smooth. These shade loving perennials can grow in even the deepest shade. 

For perennial shade flowers, try growing astilbe (Astilbe chinensis). Plant a mix of astibles, choosing ones that flower in early summer, midsummer and late summer for a parade of color all summer long. Astilbes have feathery, plume-like blooms that stand above ferny foliage. They pair well with goatsbeard (Aruncus dioicus), which puts out white feathery plumed flowers in summer. Goatsbeard prefers moist soil. When goatsbeard is happy, clumps multiply to create a hedge of fern-like leaves topped with white blooms. 

For spring color, plant what are known as ephemerals, plants that appear for a season, flower and then enter dormancy until the next year. Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) and Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are both spring ephemerals. These two shade perennials provide reliable color in a shady border. 

One of the toughest places for shade perennials to thrive is in the dry shade beneath established trees. If you’re dealing with that type of shade, focus on these perennial shade flowers: barrenwort (Epimedium), bear’s breeches (Acanthus mollis), columbine (Aquilegia) and Lenten rose (Helleborus). Toss in some shade tolerant perennials that feature more of a foliage look, such as ferns, Liriope, monkshood (Aconitum napellus) or mondo grass (Ophiopogon japonicus).

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