The Top 10 Perennial Plants for Shade

Updated July 20, 2017

A perennial shade garden can be quite spectacular. The list of top 10 perennials tells a story of beautiful, easy-to-grow plants. Shade in a garden is not a problem, but an opportunity to grow great perennials. The shady spot can have full sun in the morning until around 11 a.m., but thereafter needs shelter from direct sunlight. No plant will grow under the deck, but many will grow under the dappled light of trees. Be sure to speak with your local master gardeners about special conditions and light requirements for your garden.

Shade Royalty

The showy leaves of hosta (Hosta spp.), which range from 5 inches to 5 feet across, make this perennial the queen of the shade garden. Reliably hardy across most of the U.S., hostas are a staple for the shade garden.

The shade garden companion to the hosta is the astilbe (Astilbe spp.), which has a filigreed leaf pattern and spectacular blooms from white through pink to red all the way to royal purple.

Eastern North American Shade Natives

Woodland phlox (Phlox stolonifera), displays spring flowers from white through pink to shades of bluish purple.

Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) creates a low ground cover with drifts of white flowers in the late summer. Foam flower is easy to grow and lights up late summer shade with its sparkling white floral display.

When your shade garden design calls for a native species in a slightly dryer area, the Canada wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is your plant. Ginger out-competes many unwanted plants, and yet works well with bigger hostas and other medium to large shade plants.

In the darker parts of the shade garden where blooming plants can not get enough light, the evergreen Christmas fern (Polystichum acrostichoides) rises to the challenge providing foliage interest and deer resistance.

The stately black cohosh (Actaea racemosa) has tall white flower spikes that glow in the heat of the summer. The deep green to dark burgundy of the foliage provides additional perennial interest.

Shade Beauties

Hellebore (Helleborus spp.) often blooms in late winter when the rest of the garden sleeps. Many species, including the Christmas rose and the Lenten rose, come up through the snow. The indestructible hellebore is a must for the ornamental shade garden.

The Japanese painted fern (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum) has stunning silvery leaves that defy description as they shimmer in the dappled light of summer.

There are now more coral bells (Heuchera x brizoides) than gardeners can count, with leaf colours ranging from pale green and silver laced creations to deep chocolate confections. Some coral bells are treasured for their fantastic leaf colours and shapes, while others are grown for the frothy sprigs of white or pink flowers.

Shade Notes

The Perennial Plant of the Year Program encourages and promotes the use of perennials. Hellebores, astilbes and coral bells have all been designated Perennial Plants of the Year.

Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

John Peter's first article outside of numerous trade magazines was in a 2006 "American Law Institute | American Bar Association" course of study. Peter is a 4th generation nurseryman working in the industry from 1988 until 2008. He has written a book on national invasive species certification policy. Peter studied music composition and theory at the University of Maryland.