Shade Plants for Containers

Containers offer the home gardener a way to introduce colour and texture to shady areas like patios and porches. Using containers allows you to change the plantings with each season, giving the shady area a different look as the year goes on. With a little forethought, the adventurous gardener can find shade plants besides the common impatiens, wax begonias and coleus sold at every garden centre.


The agapanthus, or Lily of the Nile, is a common landscape plant in California and Florida, but it's a good plant for shady containers in the rest of the country, too. It has long, straplike leaves and dense clusters of blue or white flowers in summer that can reach 3 feet in height and that attract hummingbirds. Overwinter the plant by taking it inside before frost.


Hostas, also called plantain lilies, are staples of shady perennial gardens all over the world. Prized for their heart- or lance-shaped leaves--which can be green, yellow or blue and are often striped or splodged--hostas send up tall spires of tubular blooms in white or purple. They make excellent container plants and can overwinter outdoors in their containers in sheltered areas like a carport or unheated garage.

Corydalis or Yellow Bleeding Heart

Corydalis lutea is a fernlike perennial that sends up 12- to 15-inch spikes of yellow flowers from early summer to fall. It is often called a yellow bleeding heart because the flowers are similar to that common spring-blooming perennial. It does best in rich moist soil and dappled or light shade and makes a good companion for blue-flowered plants.


Fuchsias can be either upright or trailing. Most fuchsias have two-toned pendulous flowers. The trailing varieties make excellent hanging baskets for shade. 'Gartenmeister Bonstedt' is a 3-foot upright form with thin tubular orange flowers--it can be trained as a single-stemmed standard. Overwinter fuchsias inside in a cool place--water just enough to keep the stems from shrivelling.

Nicotiana or Flowering Tobacco

Nicotiana has large basal leaves and tall spires of greenish-white, pink or red tubular flowers from midsummer to frost. The flowers on older varieties open after sundown and perfume the summer night air, so locate them near evening seating areas where their fragrance can be appreciated. Flowering tobacco is an annual and easy to start from seed.


Caladiums are grown entirely for their spectacularly variegated foliage. The big heart-shaped leaves can be green, pink, white or red, and are often splodged or speckled as well. These bulbs need rich moist soil and are wonderful in mixed containers with impatiens. Dig and dry off the tubers after frost and store in dry peat moss until time to restart them in early spring.

Torenia or Wishbone Flower

Torenia is sometimes called a summer pansy, since from above, their 2-toned blue and purple flowers resemble pansies. Unlike pansies, though, wishbone flowers love the heat and bloom reliably from early summer until frost. These 1-foot plants make good filler plants for mixed containers.

Japanese Maples

The smaller, lacy-leaved varieties of Japanese maples (Acer) prefer shade and make excellent specimen plants for large patio containers. The varieties with reddish leaves are especially beautiful in shaded areas. Consult a local garden centre for varieties that are suitable your area, as hardiness varies considerably among cultivars.

Vegetables and Herbs

Although you can't grow sun-loving vegetables like tomatoes in a shady area, you can still have fun growing some kitchen favourites in shaded containers. Leaf lettuce is especially well suited to container gardening, as are radishes. Herbs that thrive in shaded pots include chives, parsley and most mints.

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About the Author

Marie Roper began writing in 1987, preparing sales and training materials for Citadel, Inc. and then newsletters for Fullerton Garden Center. A trained horticulturist, she was a garden designer and adult-education teacher for the USDA Graduate School in Washington, D.C. Roper has a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Maryland.