For many gardeners, shady locations can be a huge challenge. Finding perennials that do well in in the shade can be difficult at times, but once the correct balance of plants is found, the payoff for a garden in the shade is a wonderful woodland retreat right in your back yard.
Preparation for Planting Perennials in the Shade
Since perennial plants will continue to grow year after year, selecting the correct plants for the shade garden is essential. Begin by assessing the light in your shady area, so the correct plants can be selected.
- Partial Shade: Areas that are in partial shade will receive 3–6 hours of sunlight daily.
- Full Shade: A full shade location in the garden will get less than 3 hours of sunlight daily.
Adding organic matter such as peat moss or compost is also essential in a shady area. Most shade gardens are located under trees. Although the tree makes a beautiful backdrop for your garden, the tree’s roots will compete for the water and nutrients your perennials need to thrive. By adding organic matter you are adding needed nutrients to the ground and helping to make the soil drainage more efficient.
The perennials listed below will give you a good starting point of proven winners in a shade garden.
Asters flower in late summer or fall when little else is in bloom in the shade garden. Because of their height, they look best when planted in the back of the garden. Asters will tolerate almost any soil type as long as there is decent drainage. The taller varieties may need to be staked to keep them from falling over when they flower.
Hardiness of Asters: USDA Zones 3–9
Sun Requirements for Asters: Full sun to partial shade
Aster Size: Asters can grow from 1 to 4 feet tall.
Colors of Asters: White, pink, purple, and blue
The Astible flower is a long and feathery spike that sits atop its delicate, fern-like foliage. Although they are not picky about soil type watering Astilbe is necessary. They can take the heat of summer, but if the roots of an Astilbe dry out the plant will wither and be done for the year.
Hardiness of Astilbes: USDA Zones 4–8
Sun Requirements for Astilbes: Partial Shade
Astilbe Size: Astilbe will grow from 1 to 4 feet tall.
Colors of Astilbe: pink, red, cream, and white
When planting Bellflowers in a shady garden a little research may be needed because the Bellflower is quite a diverse plant. Some cultivars will bloom all summer long, some will make excellent cutting flowers, and others can get invasive and take over the garden. The shorter varieties of Bellflowers are the ones that will work best in the shade garden. They prefer moist, well-drained soil, and dead heading will keep them blooming throughout the summer months.
Hardiness of Bellflowers: USDA Zones 4–8. Bellflowers could also grow in Zone 3 if winter protection is provided.
Sun Requirements for Bellflowers: Full sun or partial shade
Bellflower Size: Bellflowers can grow from 12 to 42 inches tall.
Colors of Bellflowers: purple, blue and white
Bleeding Hearts are known for their distinctive heart shaped flowers that bloom along arching stems. Although beautiful in the spring, the flower dies back once summer hits leaving an empty space in the shade garden. Preparing to fill that spot with annuals will keep their disappearance from becoming a problem. Bleeding Hearts are virtually maintenance free, but they do need to be divided about every 4 years.
Hardiness of Bleeding Hearts: USDA Zones 3–8.
Sun Requirements for Bleeding Hearts: Partial shade to full shade
Bleeding Heart Size: Bleeding Hearts will grow anywhere from 12 to 36 inches tall and wide
Colors of Bleeding Hearts: white or pink and white
The intricate spurred flower of the Columbine comes in many colors and can be described as nothing less than stunning. They make excellent cut flowers. Columbines prefer moist, well-drained soil, and blooming can be prolonged by dead heading the flowers. This is a plant that will lose all its leaves once blooming is done for the year, so plant some annuals in the empty space to keep the area from looking barren.
Hardiness of Columbines: USDA Zones 3–9
Sun Requirements for Columbines: Full sun to partial shade
Columbine Size: Columbine grow from 1 to 3 feet tall
Colors of Columbine: purple, white, blue, yellow, purple, red and multicolored
Their regal spikes of colorful flowers make the Delphinium a much desired flower for any shady garden. They make an excellent cut flower, but the stately Delphinium does require some work. When planting Delphiniums proper soil preparation is needed, they need proper fertilization, the flowers need to be dead headed when spent, and they also are frequently subjected to disease. In many parts of the United States the plants are also short lived and new ones may need to be planted every several years. Even with all those issues, the beauty of the blue, pink or white flowers on tall regal spikes make this a perennial worth trying in the shade garden.
Hardiness of Delphiniums: USDA Zones 3–7
Sun requirements for Delphiniums: Full sun to partial shade
Delphinium Size: Delphinium grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and about 12 inches wide
Colors of Delphiniums: blue, purple, red, pink, and yellow
The soft lacy texture of the Fern’s foliage makes this plant a winner in any damp shady location. Ferns require moist soil, so they make perfect plants for that densely shaded area that never dries out. Ferns reproduce from spores that usually are found on the underside of their leaves. When planted in the proper location, Ferns will fill in the area beautifully and require little maintenance.
Hardiness of Ferns: USDA Zones 3–7
Sun Requirements for Ferns: Partial shade to full shade
Fern Size: Depending on the variety, ferns can grow anywhere from 6 inches tall to 4 feet tall.
Colors of Ferns: Grown for their dense green foliage.
Hostas are an extremely hardy plant that are a must have in any shade garden. They can be grown in almost any soil type, and require very little in the way of maintenance. They are grown for their mounding foliage which comes in a variety of greens and yellows. There really is not an easier perennial to grow in a shade garden.
Hardiness of Hostas: USDA Zones 2–10
Sun requirements for Hostas: Full sun, partial shade, full shade
Hosta Size: Foliage grows from 1 to 2 feet tall, but the Hosta’s flowers can grow up to 3 feet.
Colors of Hostas: Although Hostas are generally grown for their foliage, the flower on the Hosta plant will be white of lilac.
Hostas are easily divided to make more plants. This article will show you how to divide Hostas.
Best Annual Flowers for the Shade
Need some annuals to add to your shade garden? Here are the best annual flowers for the shade.
© 2013 Kathy Hull
Virginia Allain from Central Florida on August 01, 2015:
I use a lot of variegated foliage plants in my wooded garden to provide some brightness under the trees. I'm afraid my deep shade won't work for asters, but the rest sound good.
Delia on May 07, 2015:
I got some great ideas from this hub, in particular Aster and Delphiniums ...thanks for sharing!
oldiesmusic from United States on November 25, 2013:
I have lots of ferns, moss and lichens in my garden but I want to have some "color" in it. These are wonderful suggestions, thanks for giving me a list of shade-loving flowering plants. :)
Kathy Hull (author) from Bloomington, Illinois on August 03, 2013:
I love the Delphinium, the photo is totally how they look in my neck of the woods. There are tons of varieties of them though, some even have 2 - 3 inch flowers on stalks...so gorgeous.
It's easy to put the section in blue. Its just a text box, aligned to the right. When you align a text box to the right, it gives you three color choices when you are in edit mode.
Marsha Musselman from Michigan, USA on July 31, 2013:
Great hub, voted up and beautiful. I can't believe you haven't had any comments yet. You did a great job on your research and photos although the picture you have for the delphinium looks more like a tall phlox as I have both in my garden. To me the delphinium has a more dainty look to it although maybe there are more varieties that I've not seen in my area.
Can you tell me how you put the section in blue? The part where a person can click if they want to know how to divide hostas. I've seen the blue boxes a lot on here but haven't a clue how to get them if I want to utilize them myself.