20 Shade Plants for Woodland Gardens

Grow a lush, woodland garden with this selection of shade-loving shrubs, flowers and foliage.

©2009, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Photo by Felder Rushing

Photo By: Image courtesy of ProvenWinners.com

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Atlanta Botanical Garden

Photo By: Image courtesy of Monrovia.

Photo By: Image courtesy of Felicia Feaster

Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Photo By: Image courtesy of Julie Taylor Fitzgerald, American Hydrangea Society

Photo By: Photo courtesy of North Creek Nurseries

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image provided by Felder Rushing

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of Walters Gardens, Inc.

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Photo By: Image courtesy of East Tennessee Wildflowers

©2011, Dorling Kindersley Limited

©2008, Dorling Kindersley Limited

Fragrant Viburnum

Fragrant viburnum (Viburnum x carlcephalum), often called fragrant snowball, produces glossy, dark green foliage that turns reddish purple in fall. Fragrant white flowers open from pink buds in late spring on irreguarly-shaped cymes. Red to black fruits appear in the fall but aren't showy.


Who hasn't at one time or another felt at peace in a quiet woodland fern glade? Ferns come in a variety of shades, sizes and naturalize with ease.


Nothing says spring like a rhododendron in full bloom. You can find varieties with blossoms in nearly any shade, although pastels and reds are most common. This flowering beauty grows best in part to full shade. Avoid clay soil to prevent root rot. Hardy in Zones 4 to 8.

Grape Hyacinth

Grape hyacinth features spikes of tightly-clustered, tiny blue flowers in spring. It's perfect for containers and rock or woodland gardens.


Cheerful daffodils grow easily in woodland conditions. One of the best features of the daffodil is that given the right conditions, the bulbs will naturalize, or multiply, over time.


Ninebark is a classic, long-lived garden choice that’s been around for many years, but many gardeners are still unfamiliar with it. Offering four-season interest, this hardy plant sets white flowers in spring which turn into berries.


Hosta are one of the most-loved shade plants, growing happily even in full shade.

Anemone 'Wild Swan'

Look for delightful anemones to bloom in fall or spring, depending on the variety. The flowers come in various hues, from white to pink to blue. Plant the corms in fall (if it's a spring-bloomer) or spring (for late summer and fall bloomers). 


Heucheras, also known as coral bells, are versatile plants that come in a wild variety of shades. They thrive in the shade and can tolerate both cool weather and drought. Try planting low-growing varieties in mass as a vibrant groundcover.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Oakleaf hydrangeas take their name from the shape of their leaves. These shade-tolerant shrubs have a mounding growth habit and top out at 6 to 10 feet high. Use them at the edge of woodlands or in naturalized areas.


This intricate bloom adds a grace note to shade gardens all over the country. Although the columbine comes in many hybrid forms and a wide palette of colors, we recommend the native columbine, Aquilegia canadensis (shown), because it’s trouble-free, a reliable reseeder and impossibly beautiful.


Though crocuses are typically known as the first blooms of spring, often popping up through snow in frigid areas, there is also an autumn crocus that welcomes fall in late summer. Tuck both in your woodland garden for a treat.

Native Woodland Phlox

Woodland phlox is a spreading, native wildflower that often appears along streams and in forests and woody areas.


Beautyberry, as the name suggests, is known for its bright berries that appear in the fall. 'Profusion' (pictured) has an upright, slender branches providing interest from bronze-green leaves spring. Summer brings pink flowers followed by long-lasting violet berries in the fall.


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.

Toad Lily

Tuck toad lily into part to full shade, but reserve it for places you can view the blooms up close. Flowers are small enough that the plants can be lost in a large border. It's hardy in zones 4 - 8.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart is native to woodlands and a shade-loving perennial. The name bleeding heart describes the unique flowers, which resemble tiny pink or white hearts with drops of blood at the bottom.


Violets love rich soil and provide vibrant color. Long-spurred violet (Viola rostrata), pictured a native violet, is easily identified by the elongated spurs behind its nodding flower heads.


Lungwort is a semi-evergreen perennial with ovate leaves that is typically hardy in zones 4 - 8. It produces tiny flowers in mid-spring.

Winter Aconite

Winter aconite produces bright yellow flowers in late winter and early spring.