Shade Plants for Woodland Gardens

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

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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.


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.

Native Woodland Phlox

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

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.


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.

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