Best Plants for Shaded Areas

Updated February 21, 2017

Shade gardens are often considered a challenge, but the cool beauty of a shady or woodland garden setting is undisputed. Most plants will tolerate some degree of daily shade, while a smaller set will thrive in only dappled shade or full shade conditions. It is important to know exactly how much daily sun or shade your area receives and choose plants accordingly. Although there are fewer flowering plants that thrive in shade, there are some, and the complexity of shade-loving foliage plants easily compensates to create interest in the shade garden.

Plants for Partial Shade Exposures

Partial shade conditions are defined as those that receive morning sun for three to five hours per day. Some partial shade plants to consider for your garden include: false spiraea, known botanically as Astilbe and producing feather-like spikes in red, pink or white; bleeding heart, Dicentra spectabilis, which blooms with heart-shaped flowers on arching stems; columbine, Aquilegia, produces trumpeted blue, white, lavender, red, or yellow blooms; coral bells, Heuchera, an evergreen with purple-bronze leaves and coral flowers; European wild ginger, Asarum europaeum, a ground cover with curly, textured, glossy leaves; Hakone grass, Hakonechloa macra, mounds with arching gold leaves; impatiens walleriana varietal with flowers in red, pink, purple or white on deep green leaves; Indian pink, Spigelia marilandica, producing small, star-shaped yellow and red flowers; snowdrop, Anemone nemorosa, with tiny star-shaped white flowers; spider lily, Lycoris albiflora, with long, white petals; spotted geranium, Geranium maculatum, with bright green and yellow and purple-blue flowers; and tuberous begonia, Begonia tuberhybrida, which sports frilly flowers on serrated-edged foliage.

Plants for Full Shade Exposures

Full-shade exposures are considered those that receive sun for two hours or less each day. The plants that thrive in these conditions are vigorous perennial varietals that enjoy a rich moisture-retaining soil. Some full-shade varietals to consider are: Allegheny foamflower, known botanically as Tiarella cordifolia, which blooms with crisp white flower spikes; barrenwort, Epimedium grandiflorum, which has light-green heart-shaped leaves; bugleweed, Ajuga reptans, for dense groundcover in purple and green; cinnamon fern, Osmunda cinnamomea, which has red-brown stalks and green fronds; maidenhair fern, Asplenium trichomanes, with fine-textured, airy fronds; ostrich fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris, which grows tall for a shade plant at 5 feet; dwarf crested iris, Iris cristata, with white, blue or purple flowers; and dwarf periwinkle, Vinca minor, that is a glossy-leafed groundcover that throws blue blooms.

Mixing Size, Color & Texture for Interest

The diversity of colour, texture, plant and foliage size is what gives a year-round sophisticated complexity and interest to a shade garden. In addition to situating plants with similar soil requirements adjacent to one another, combine plants with contrasting size and shape, such as placing a low-massing hosta next to the tall airy spikes of Astilbe to give dimension and better show off each plant to advantage. Varying the texture and colour of plants that live next to one another also draws the eye around the garden creating a sense of depth and abundance of space. The deep, glossy, bronze-green leaves of Heuchera are beautifully contrasted against the red and silvery-blue of a Japanese painted fern. The Hadspen Blue varietal of hosta has deep blue-green rounded leaves that almost resemble small heart-shaped lily pads. Plant this next to the bright, fresh green and floaty textured Maidenhair fern for a visually arresting pairing. What might clash in fashion is often complimentary in the garden, so be bold in mixing foliage hues and textures.

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