Plants For Shady Areas
There are many plants that do well in the shade. Don’t despair … you can grow more than the ubiquitous impatiens and hostas. I do like both of them, but there are a lot more flowers (both annuals and perennials) and shrubs that can give a lift to the part shade to full shade areas of your yard.
First, let’s define what constitutes full shade and part shade. Full shade generally means less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with perhaps filtered sunlight during the rest of the day. Full shade does not mean no sun…all plants need at least some light, except for maybe mushrooms. This kind of dense shade is found under evergreens or closely spaced shrubs and trees that do not allow much direct light to penetrate.
Partial shade is defined as an area that receives up to 6 hours of direct sun, with four or more of those hours being in the morning, and the rest of the day being in shadow. It is the most beneficial for a variety of plants. (Note that if 4 or more of the 6 hours of sun are in the afternoon, it is considered to be full sun). If a plant is listed as “Partial Shade”, the plant will need some relief from the intense late afternoon sun, either from shade provided by a nearby tree or planting it on the east side of a building.
Some people get very frustrated keeping their shade gardens thriving. I’ve found that most trouble occurs when sun-loving plants are mistakenly planted in shady locations.
When the proper plants are selected for the shade, the results can be beautiful and long-lasting. Frankly, it’s a real treat to tend to a cool, shady garden during the hot, humid days of summer!
What happens when a plant gets too much sun? Generally you will see sunburn, light colored foliage, bronzing on the foliage, or brown crispy foliage from too much sun.
Conversely, when plants get too much shade you often see a lack of vigor and lack of flowering. Plants getting too little sun will often have more insect and disease problems too.
Here are some of my favorite shade-loving perennials:
Ajuga – This groundcover is a good fit under trees where grass won’t grow. Quick-spreading, Ajuga adds interesting leaf texture and color to the shade garden. Blooms blue in April and May.
Attracts butterflies and is a deer / rabbit resistant plant. It prefers a nice humus-enriched site, but can tolerate dry soils. Miniature types grow 1 – 3 inches high, while the others hit 3 – 6 inches in height.
Astilbes – These charming shade fans have plume-like flowers to give a jolt of color to the garden. They prefer a rich, fertile soil that is moist in the summer.
Astilbes have attractive foliage and, depending on the variety, bloom in red, pink, white, purple and lavender. Don’t cut them back in winter…wait until spring for a haircut.
Brunnera – Features beautiful, heart-shaped leaves which look good all season. The variegated varieties such as “Jack Frost” (pictured) are lovely with the crackled porcelain look to the foliage. An added bonus are the blue, forget-me-not flowers in May and June.
Brunnera reaches 12 – 18 inches high and likes average to moist soil. Also it’s deer and rabbit resistant.
Heucherella – These are a hybrid cross between heuchera and tiarella. They have a clumping, mounded form and spires of star-like flowers that vary in color from white to dark pink. I love the leaf color of “Sweet Tea” in the photo at the right!
They offer good winter interest and are also good for cutting. Heucherellas perform their best in shade or partial shade, but can grow in full sun too. Most types reach 6 – 12 inches in height with a similar spread.
Hostas – I’ve read that Hostas are the No. 1 perennial (tied with daylilies) in North America for many reasons including: ease of growth, low maintenance, and terrific variety of types. There are more than 2000+ different varieties of hosta ranging from small-leafed varieties with leaves only an inch or so long to giants with 20 inch long leaves.
Pictured is “Touch of Class” a smaller sized hosta that has dark blue leaves with a yellow gold flame in the leaf center. This slow growing hosta has lavender blooms in mid summer. Most hostas bloom lavender in July – August.
Hostas are an invaluable addition to the shade garden with their fascinating array of colors, shapes and textures. They seem happiest with bright dappled shade, rich humusy soil, ample water and balanced fertilizer, but adapt to just about any condition.
For a great selection of shade perennials … Click Here
Lamium – A slow-spreading groundcover that attracts hummingbirds (this plant is also known as “Spotted Dead Nettle). Lamium prefers a semi-shady, dry area with well-drained soil, but will tolerate a wide range of soils and moisture.
It is best to cut this plant back after the first bloom to promote compact growth. Pictured is Lamium “Pink Chablis” with pretty silvery green foliage and pink flowers. Known to be drought tolerant and rabbit / deer resistant.
Bishop’s Cap – (a.k.a. Mitella Diphylla & Twoleaf Miterwort) This native perennial woodland plant has an erect white flowering stalk about 10-18″ tall and maple-shaped leaves. The intriguing tiny flowers are very feathery and on a closeup inspection resemble snowflakes.
A clumping perennial, it makes a great companion to other wildflowers. Blooms in April – June. Grows 12 – 18 inches high and 6 – 12 inches wide.
Oxalis /Strawberry Shamrock – This charming perennial plant blooms like an annual from late spring to early fall if kept moist. Vivid green, five-petaled clover-like leaves are dotted with bright pink flowers that are butterfly magnets.
Oxalis makes a nice green carpet for shady settings. Reaches 6 – 12 inches high. ‘Strawberry Shamrock’ forms a low mound that is the perfect size for edging or containers. Like many oxalis, the leaves of this variety close up at night or when light levels are very low.
Tiarella – Tiarellas or Foamflowers are also called Cool Wort and Gem Fruit and make excellent plants for the shady garden. They mix well with spring bulbs for a beautiful sight. They bloom white or pink in April to May.
Tiarellas prefer a moist, humus rich soil. They are fragrant, attract butterflies, deer resistant and good for cutting. The trailing varieties also are great in hanging baskets.
Tricyrtis – This underused shade perennials is also known as a Toad Lily. They bloom in the late summer – early fall and the flowers are a real treat…they are unique and orchid-like. They are available in shades of purple, lavender, pink and white.
Tricyrtis also add great fall color to the garden. The graceful arching stems with long narrow pointed leaves seem to dance in the breeze. Makes a good cut flower too. Easy to grow in average soil and partial shade.
Viola labradorica – A beautiful member of the violet family, the Viola labradorica has dainty blue purple blooms. The rounded, dark green leaves have purple undertones.
Works well as a groundcover or edging plant. It’s versatile and can handle complete shade or a lot of morning sun. Although it benefits from a bit of regular water, it’s tough enough to survive periods of dryness. Reseeds easily…some folks have found it to be invasive.
Of course, annual flowers can be a great spot filler adding much needed bursts of color in a shady spot either in the ground or planted in a container. Most annuals offer an added bonus … blooming all summer long.
Here are some of my favorite annuals for shade:
For more plants that do well in the shade … check out my post on recommended shrubs for shade gardens. Happy planting!