22 Lush Plants for Your Shade Garden
Turn a shady spot into a thriving garden with our favorite, shade-loving plant picks.
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There's no need to skimp on color in a shade garden. Heucheras, also known as coral bells, come in a wide variety of colors — from chartreuse to red to purple to pink — and pair perfectly with other shade-loving perennials or on their own in containers.
Read More: Heuchera
Do you have a shady corner you want to brighten? Count on hosta plants to fill those shady spots with their leafy textures and colors that pop. Hostas are long-lived perennials with easy-growing personalities. These undemanding plants require minimal upkeep to look their best. For low-maintenance shade garden beauty, it’s tough to beat hostas.
Read More: Hosta Plants
Ferns come in an abundance of varieties, sizes and colors, and they are especially ideal for a shade garden. Many hardy ferns tolerate both cold and hot temperatures, average one to three feet in height and width and for the most part, are slow growers. They work great as an understory plant and pair beautifully with broad-leaf hostas.
Read More: Ferns Are Made for the Shade
An old garden favorite, bleeding heart has inch-long, heart-shaped flowers that dangle from arching stems. Its blooms can be pink or white, it loves heavy shade and it looks great in a woodland garden among other shade perennials.
If you have a spot where hosta, ferns and bleeding-heart grow well, you should include lungwort in the mix. ‘Raspberry Splash’ is one of the best lungwort varieties available, offering excellent disease resistance. Lungwort offers a great display with flowers that change colors from bud to bloom, and the silver-flecked leaves look nice all season long.
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 flowery beauty grows best in part to full shade. Hardy in Zones 4 to 8.
Read More: 7 Shrubs for Shade Gardens
Caladium, or angel wing, is a summer bulb which, with its palm-like appearance, adds a tropical look to the garden. This South American native is well known for its performance in shade, and the colors of the heart-shaped leaves range from bright red, pink, green and white in multiple variegations.
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Begonias, like the 'Nonstop Apricot' variety seen here, are annuals or tender perennials that come in a striking array of colors and varieties. The hardy plant is ideal for shade gardens and can tolerate part and filtered sun as well as full shade.
Read More: The Begonia 411
Looking for a plant that offers a burst of color in your shade garden and thrives all year round? Look no further. Aucuba, also known as spotted laurel or gold dust, is a shade-loving, evergreen shrub known for its yellow-speckled leaves and red berries in the fall.
READ MORE: 15 Shrubs for Shade Gardens
Native to the eastern United States, mountain laurel has pink buds in spring that open to white, cup-shaped flowers. This plant typically grows five to eight feet tall and equally as wide. This standout evergreen shrub tolerates shade but blooms best in light shade.
Read More: Mountain Laurel Care
Hardy in Zones 4-9, astilbe is a classic shade garden performer, strutting its feathery blooms in part to full shade. ‘Fanal’ (seen here) unfurls its flowers in early summer, making it one of the earliest reds in the astilbe family.
As if you needed another reason to love these beautiful flowering shrubs, hydrangeas love a little shade to show off their best color, especially in hot southern regions. The further north you live, the more sunlight they can take.
Read More: How to Plant, Grow and Care for Hydrangeas
Don’t judge a plant by its size. Ajugas, or bugleweed, may be small, but these little groundcovers are durable and tough. They can help control erosion on a bank or hill, fill in a patchy lawn where grass refuses to grow, or simply add color to shady spots. They’re also great for growing underneath shrubs and trees.
Read More: All About Ajuga
Colorful and versatile, coleus has long been known as a shade plant. But it can also thrive in full sun. The ideal scenario for coleus plants is sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon.
Read More: Coleus Plant and Varieties
Foxgloves are stunning biennials that are yesterday's wildflowers and today's garden beauties. One of the greatest attributes of the plant is that they prefer partial shade in the afternoon, brightening a less-than-sunny area of the garden with sparkling color, which hummingbirds love.
Read More: Fabulous Foxgloves
Persian shield is a shade-loving, exotic perennial, hardy in Zones 10 and 11 and valued for its vivid purple foliage. In cooler areas, Persian shield makes a wonderful annual, great for use in containers or in the garden. Lavender flowers appear in summer, but they're far less showy than the foliage.
When it comes to difficult shady areas, you can’t beat impatiens for performance. Though impatiens are annuals and must be planted every year, their colorful show throughout the summer makes them well worth the effort.
Read More: Impatiens Is a Virtue
Cardinal flower is a hummingbird favorite with a rich, red bloom that inspired early Native Americans to craft love potions from its roots. The plants thrive in moist spots that receive sun to part shade and, although they are hardy in Zones 4 to 8, they’re not true perennials in that plants die once they set seed.
Celebrated for its large, sculptural leaves, ‘Bronze Peacock’ Rodgersia pinnata thrives in a part-shade location with wet soil, such as a water garden or the edge of a shady pond. Count on these plants to make a strong architectural statement in any garden. Pink flowers appear on spikes in summer and plants grow 20 to 24 inches tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Other plants that can tolerate standing water include giant rhubarb (Gunnera manicata), sedge (Carex) and rush (Juncus effusus).
Hens and Chicks
Plants like hosta and ferns may initially come to mind when discussing shade plants, but in a dry desert climate, versatile succulents reign supreme. Sempervivum tectorum, also known as hens and chicks, are ornamental succulents that will tolerate shade and sun.
Bring on the color with a vine of shade-loving honeysuckle, which produces extremely fragrant flowers followed by small red berries. The first flush of flowers is the strongest, transforming the vine into a golden waterfall. After that, blooms continue to appear well into fall.
Bottlebrush buckeye is a suckering, multi-stemmed shrub that is native to the southeastern United States. While plants are slow to establish, mature plants are well worth the wait. Given time and space, they form a rounded, eight to twelve-foot-tall mound that spreads from eight to fifteen feet wide.
Read More: Bottlebrush Buckeye