25 Shade-Loving Plants for Containers and Hanging Baskets
Looking to add color to a shady spot in the yard or under a covered patio or porch? Here is our list of perennials that love life in the shade.
Photo By: Ken Schulze/Shutterstock
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/phanasitti
Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners
Photo By: Ball Horticultural Company
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/Neyya
Photo By: ©iStockphoto.com/bigemrg
Photo By: SkagitGardens.com
Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners
Photo By: Julie Martens Forney
Photo By: Amanda Snyder/W. Atlee Burpee & Co.
Photo By: Angela West
Photo By: Shutterstock/Guillermo Guerao Serra
You may think all succulents love the sun, but the truth is there are several that do better in light shade, especially during the summer months. They can tolerate some morning sun, but the scorching afternoon sun may fry them to a crisp. How do you know if your succulents need more sun? If they start to get leggy and weak and refuse to flower, then move them to a spot with more sun. Succulents that like shade include: fairy crassula, sedum, aloe vera, jade, devil’s backbone, many different kinds of Sansevieria (snake plant) and kalanchoe. Good vine-like or cascading succulents for shade include wax plant, burrow tail, mistletoe cactus, string of pearls, string of hearts and rosary vine, Christmas cactus, Easter cactus and night blooming cereus.
Learn More: Growing Succulents in the Shade
Fuchsia prefer temps between 55° to 80° Fahrenheit, if the thermometer consistently stays higher than that they'll probably stop flowering. In regions with naturally cool summers, fuchsias will easily thrive, In warmer climates, fall is a great time to enjoy fuschia. They come in a variety of colors with unique flowers, most all of which spill beautifully over the sides of hanging baskets and tall containers.
Heucheras — also known as coral bells or alumroot — is striking in borders with other shade-loving perennials, but they also look fabulous planted solo in containers. This hardy perennial is evergreen so plant it in a container that will lend interest to your winter landscape. Heucheras prefer partial shade but can take more sun in cold climates. Heucheras are also deer and rabbit resistant.
The begonia family is huge, the topline way to divide the varieties up is by root type. Tuberous begonias are a herbaceous perennial that is usually grown outdoors. Begonias with fine-fibrous root systems are best as houseplants. Both kinds prefer low light and well-drained soil. Tuberous begonias will bloom all summer long in the right conditions. In the warmer climates, plant in dappled to full shade. Up north, give it some more sun. Many tubers can easily overwinter in a pot. Place the pot into a non-freezing, cool, dark location for winter. Barely water once a month. Tubers will start sprouting in spring, signaling it’s time to move the plant into bright light. Begonias look great next to other shade-loving perennials like hosta and heuchera.
Learn More: 9 Beautiful Begonias
There are several compact varieties of hydrangea that make perfect pot dwellers. The biggest challenge to growing hydrangeas in pots is providing sufficient water. They’ll need more water than their in-the-ground counterparts. Plant in big pots, a minimum of 18" to 20" across. This size will provide enough soil to give roots room to spread and to keep you from having to water multiple times a day. Place your hydrangea pots so that they receive morning sun and afternoon shade in all climates.
Learn More: Growing Hydrangeas in Pots
Ferns in hanging baskets are the quintessential front porch accessory, and they're so easy to grow and care for! Keep your ferns out of direct midday sun and make sure to give them enough water to keep the soil damp. A couple of inches of organic mulch will help keep them moist and healthy. Also make sure they are protected from wind and heavy rains.
Learn More: Ferns Are Made for the Shade
Also known as deadnettle, this easy-care perennial is part of the mint family. It’s a shade lover with silvery foliage that blooms in the summer, producing clusters of pink or white flowers that resemble snapdragons. It is often grown as a ground cover but can look absolutely charming in a shady pot as a standalone or as a spiller mixed with other shade lovers.
This common shade garden plant can make a happy home in pots. All hostas like rich, well-drained soil. They don’t like dry conditions so provide ample water and spread mulch around them to help retain moisture. Most hostas grow best in part shade, although some varieties can tolerate a little direct sunshine. Hostas' spikey white to lavender blooms beckon bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, but, unfortunately, their leafy green foliage is a tasty treat for deer and rabbits.
Learn More: Hosta Plants
These eye-catching, spring-blooming perennials like moist, well-drained soil. They are not drought tolerant, however, they will perish if kept in soggy soil, so you'll need to find just the right watering schedule. If you choose to grow bleeding hearts in a container, choose a big pot and give them plenty of room to spread, they will get as wide as they are tall, which can be up to 2' to 3'. After they flower, separate the plants into several pots and give them to friends.
Learn More: Keep Bleeding Hearts Close to Home
For perennial shade flowers, try astilbe (aka - false spirea, meadowsweet and false goat’s beard). Get a mix of varieties with different bloom times for a parade of color all summer long. Astilbes have feathery, plume-like blooms that will stand above ferny foliage making them the perfect thriller in a mixed container garden. They can range in size from 6" to 24", so be sure to get a variety that will fit your containers. Astible likes moist well-drained soil. They can take some sun in northern climates, but too much sun can burn their pretty plumes. Astilbes will attract butterflies and look great in fresh floral arrangements.
Learn More: Growing Astilbe
Hellebores - also known as Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose - are beloved for their timing. In late winter, when most everything in the garden looks drab and lifeless, hellebores bloom in colors ranging from white, light pink to deep purple. This perennial grows about 2' tall and rarely needs dividing, so it won’t outgrow container gardens too quickly. These shade-lovers are drought tolerant once they are established making them ideal for gardeners who like plants that require minimal fuss. They are also deer and rabbit resistant.
Learn More: Hellebores Are Made for Shade
Hakone Grass, Siberian Bugloss + Heuchera
A mix of hakone grass (aka - Japanese forest grass), two varieties of heuchera (aka - coral bells) and Siberian bugloss combine to make a cascading basket full of dramatic texture and earthy color. Hakone grass is one of the best ornamental grasses for shade containers, it is slow growing and spills nicely. The color may change from deep green to lime green depending on the amount of shade. Siberian bugloss has variegated heart-shaped foliage and in the spring it blooms with the tiny, darling blue flowers. It gets about 12" to 18" tall and it mounds and spills beautifully making it perfect for containers, hanging baskets and baskets. This shade lover likes moist soil and can tolerate some sun in northern climates. Heuchera is mentioned earlier in this collection (slide #3).
Learn More: Heartleaf Brunnera, Siberian Bugloss
Carex 'Toffee Twist'
Slender, bronze-green foliage forms a loose mound to 18" tall and 12" wide. A cool-season grass, 'Toffee Twist' grows actively in spring and fall — whenever temperatures stay below about 75° F. Give it moist, well-drained soil or potting soil in part shade to full sun. Cut back by two-thirds in early spring.
Learn More: Using Grasses in Containers
Clematis has about 300 species and an even bigger number of hybrids. With that many to choose from you should be able to find one that will grow in your yard’s conditions in just the right color. And as an additional bonus, there are varieties of clematis that are evergreen. Check with your local extension or garden center to see what does well in your area. Vining clematis looks wonderful in a container climbing up an arbor, pergola or trellis. Clematis does best in moist, well-drained soil. Plant them deeply and add mulch, but don’t pile up the mulch around the stems, it can cause wilting. Fill the rest of the container with flowering annuals or other small, shade-loving perennials.
Learn More: 17 Different Types of Clematis
Toad lilies burst in the fall with beautiful speckled orchid-like flowers, but even when not in bloom, its lush foliage is super attractive. The pollinator-friendly flowers are so pretty, you’ll want to enjoy them up close, so site them in a container close to your outdoor living space. The cut stems also make a great addition to fresh floral arrangements. Keep toad lilies’ soil moist and amend with organic matter. They don’t spread too quickly so you can keep them in the same container for two to three years before you’ll have to divide them. Deer and rabbit have a taste for toad lilies so keep them protected.
Mint comes in a variety of fragrances, including peppermint, spearmint, apple, chocolate and orange. Harvest it to flavor teas, salad or cocktails. Mint is best grown in a container because it is a quick grower and tends to be invasive.
Get the Recipe: Frozen Mint Julep Cocktail Recipe
If you have a spot where hosta, ferns and bleeding-heart grow well, you should include lungwort in the mix. Also known as cowslip or Bethlehem sage, lungwort is ignored by deer and rabbits. Lungwort is an early spring bloomer that stages a great display with flowers that change colors from bud to faded bloom. Its silver-flecked leaves look good all season, and some varieties are semi-evergreen in warmer climates.
English ivy is a popular container plant for many reasons. It looks great as a spiller mixed with flowering plants or other textural greenery like ferns and hostas. It is perfect for the lazy gardener, just give it a little water when it gets dry and you're good to go. English ivy is available in a variety of sizes and variegated green and white foliage. It’s also evergreen, so it’ll look great with your spring and summer bloomers as well your fall mums, winter cabbages and cold-hardy pansies.
Columbine is easy to grow because it adapts to a wide variety of conditions. In warmer climates, site it in a shady spot and in colder climates, give it some morning sun. Columbine attracts hummingbirds and butterflies, but deer and rabbits will leave it alone. It will self-seed so put it in a container that offers room to grow. Columbine varieties offer an array of colors and growing height.
Rosemary can be such a versatile part of your landscape. This easy-to-grow herb is known to be a sun lover, but it can also thrive with heavy afternoon shade. Rosemary - whether it’s a variety that grows upright or spills like ivy - makes a great ornamental addition to large containers and hanging baskets. It’s evergreen above Zone 6 and does prefer moist, well-drained soil. Harvest it to season meats, potatoes and even cocktails.
Learn More: 25 Herbs That Grow in the Shade
There is a slew of primrose varieties. Probably the most popular is the early-spring bloomers that pop just when you most need a vibrant burst of color. Primrose is evergreen in most parts of the country. They can stand some sun in the winter months but make sure you’ve got them tucked into the shade when summer comes. Check with your local extension or garden center to see what type of primrose grows best in your area.
Learn More: Primrose Pointers: Follow the Primrose Path
Creeping Jenny (aka - moneywort) is a ubiquitous ground cover because it's easy to grow, but it can be aggressive, so using it in a container is a smart idea. It prefers soil on the moist side and it grows well in sun or shade although it may acquire a golden hue if kept in a sunny spot. In the deep cold, the color will fade, but next season it will strike back with a vengeance.
'Snow Cap' Sedge
If you need a dose of brightness in your shade containers, the white leaves of 'Snow Cap', a broad-leaved sedge will do the trick. This white-striped grass will add a lighter tone and additional texture to a spot with other greens like hosta or ferns. Or place it in a pot with spilling ivy or flowering annuals. This low-maintenance sedge will get 6" to 8" tall so it’ll make a great border planting as well.
Loropetalum 'Purple Pixie’ is a dwarf Chinese fringe-flower that grows 1’ to 2’ in length. It cascades making it a wonderful specimen for a large container or use it as a ground cover. In spring, it blooms with pink tassel-shaped flowers. It is drought tolerant and deer resistant.
Learn More: 24 Deer-Resistant Plants
Musk geranium is an aromatic, hardy perennial with gray-green lobed leaves and pink flowers. It's most valued for its distinctive, warm musky fragrance, primarily used in perfume and potpourri. For best results, plant musk geranium where it will receive morning sun and afternoon shade.