What to plant in a north-facing garden

Updated February 21, 2017

North-facing gardens remain in the shade for most of the day and do not receive much direct sunlight. Therefore, choose plants that will survive and thrive in the shade or partial-shade. Even though most plants need light to flourish, there are plants that thrive in low light conditions. Also, there are different types of shade: dense shade created by woodlands; light or dappled shade, filtered through trees; and open shade, which is basically a north-facing garden.

Vines and groundcover

A variety of vining plants do well in shady areas such as next to a building or by a fence that provides areas to secure the vines. A plant such as English ivy that climbs walls and grows to approximately 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) in height does well in a north-facing garden. Lily-of-the-valley is a common groundcover with white bell-like flowers that do well in shady areas. Lily-of-the-valley is toxic to children and pets.

Perennials and annuals

Familiar annual flowering plants that prefer shady areas include both the tuberous and wax begonias along with impatiens. Some perennials that do well in north-facing flower beds include the foxglove and the bleeding heart, which requires soil with good drainage properties. The hosta and columbine plants are others that do well in shady areas. Foxglove is extremely toxic to children and pets.


Shrubs make a good backdrop for gardens and provide additional protection against severe weather conditions. Placed near a fence or building, they add to the overall beauty of a landscape design. There are a number of shrubs that prefer shady, north-facing gardens, such as abelia that only grows to about 1.5 m (5 feet) in height and produces pink flowers in late summer. Bigleaf hydrangea also reaches approximately 1.5 m (5 feet) in height, and prefers shady areas.

Vegetables and herbs

Leafy vegetables tolerate the shade of a north-facing garden better than other species. Try lettuce, spinach or chard for best results. Vegetables that set fruit from flowers, such as tomatoes and peppers require the most sun and perform poorly in a north-facing garden. Root crops, such as carrots, beets or potatoes will do well if they are positioned to receive about a half day of sun each day. Most herbs prefer full sun. However, parsley and members of the mint family tolerate shade but still perform best in sun.

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About the Author

Keith Allen, a 1979 graduate of Valley City State College, has worked at a variety of jobs including computer operator, medical clinic manager, radio talk show host and potato sorter. For over five years he has worked as a newspaper reporter and historic researcher. His works have appeared in regional newspapers in North Dakota and in "North Dakota Horizons" and "Cowboys and Indians" magazines.