Plants That Do Well in the Shade


Shady areas challenge the gardener to create interest while selecting from the brief list of plants that thrive without direct sunlight. However, shade-lovers offer some subtlety that the full-sun show-offs can not match. Shade plants typically have broad, dominant foliage, so the plants can gather the available light for photosynthesis. Shade plants also display some delicate features that would fry in direct sun, like the piano-wire-thin flower stems of the columbine and the delicate blossoms of the bleeding heart. While the palette is limited, it is intriguing.

Trees for Shade

  • Native to large sections of the country, flowering dogwood and redbud trees offer a welcome early sign of spring. Serviceberry is another North American native shade-lover. It offers a brilliant show in both spring and fall and provides forage for wildlife, too. Delicate Japanese maples are available in a thousand different varieties, with variations in leaf shape, color and overall growth habit. Most shade- loving trees are picky about how much shade they get. They like at least a little direct sun each day, or a canopy that admits dappled sunlight. Morning sun, in particular suits, understory trees.

Shrubs for Shade

  • Native shrubs that thrive in the shade include wild hydrangea and witch hazel. Improved varieties of hydrangea deliver spectacular flowering seasons and lovely foliage throughout spring and summer. Azaleas and rhododendrons, likewise, put on a dazzling display of color in the spring, but keep their shiny green leaves year-round, adding some color to the shade garden through winter. Like the trees, shade-tolerant shrubs appreciate a few hours of early morning sun.

Ground Covers and Flowers for Shade

  • Hostas are perhaps the best known shade-lovers, with hundreds of varieties displaying variations in leaf size, shape and color. Some have attractive, pleasantly scented flowers, but most have short-lived flower spikes. Hellebores kick off the new year weeks before most other plants, blooming as early as February in most of the country. Keep them toward the edge of the shade where they can get a bit of sun. The bleeding heart and columbine add splashes of bright red and yellow in the spring. New Guinea impatiens are available in several colors and bloom prolifically from mid-spring through early fall. If your shade also has moist areas, add cardinal flower, blue lobelia, Virginia bluebells, common rose mallow and joe pye weed. Different varieties of coleus add interest through both unusually-colored foliage and attractive flowers. Wild ginger can act as a living mulch throughout the shade garden, hugging the ground with rafts of disc-shaped leaves.

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