20 Shade-Loving Plants That Will Light Up Your Garden

20 Shade-Loving Plants That Will Light Up Your Garden

Why Do Some Plants Grow Better in Low-Light Areas?

As you probably learned in grade school, plants grow and flourish using a process called photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is how plants use light to create their own energy. 

All plants perform this process – even those that don’t need a lot of sunlight to live.

We’re referring to shade plants or those that grow well in areas of low light intensity. Shade plants need a maximum of six hours of sunlight per day. 

The PennState Extension explains that “shade plants often have thin leaves with large surface areas,” making them “anatomically adapted to be efficient at photosynthesis with low light.”

They still need energy but are more sensitive to direct light. In fact, too much light exposure can cause shade-loving plants to scorch, burn, and fade.

Which Plants Grow Best in the Shade?

Now that you understand what a shade plant is, you’re ready to learn about some of the best options for low-light planting. 

Remember that most plant species contain cultivars of varying soil, water, and light needs. If you encounter a plant that doesn’t suit your garden’s light level, there’s likely a similar variety on the market that will do just fine in your space.

The following section will list 20 shade-loving plants to brighten up those dim corners of your garden. We have no doubt you’ll find all the shade plants you need in this list. 

Hosta

Hostas are low-maintenance, shade-tolerant perennials that can outlive their gardeners if properly nurtured. 

Hostas are often grown for their ornamental leaves, which range in color, size, and texture. Some hosta leaves are yellow, green, teal, or a variegated mixture of colors. The plants also produce lovely white and purple flowers in the early summer and fall. 

Hostas prefer areas of full or partial shade, so they’re perfect for the darker parts of your garden. They also like well-drained, highly organic soil that retains moisture and supports their large, supple leaves.

According to Clemson University’s Home and Garden Information Center, “there are more than 2,000 registered cultivars of hosta,” so you’ll have no problem finding a variety that suits your space.

Astilbe

Astilbes are bright spring flowers that will add a splash of color to your shaded garden areas.

These plants can grow 2 to 3 feet tall and boast plume-like flower heads of pink, orange, purple, red, and white. Their bronze fern-like foliage spreads over a foot wide, producing a nice touch of greenery.

Astilbes grow best in moist areas that don’t get dried out by the sun. For this reason, they prefer shady spots with rich, well-drained soil.

Astilbes are an excellent choice for shaded butterfly gardens as they attract various pollinators and deter pests like rabbits and deer.

Bleeding Heart

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture describes the bleeding heart as “one of the showiest spring bloomers in the shade garden.” The bleeding heart – also known as dicentra spectabilis – is as unique as it is beautiful. 

The plant’s growing season begins in early spring as it sprouts segmented ferny leaves. The upper stem then produces flower arms that hold around a dozen “bleeding hearts.” These delicate pink flowers have heart-shaped blooms with a teardrop structure dangling below.

Bleeding hearts prefer soil with sufficient drainage and moisture. They grow best in shaded areas, protected from the sun’s drying heat.

Hellebore

Hellebores are drought-tolerant perennials perfect for areas of dry shade. One popular variety of shade-loving hellebore is the Christmas Rose, which blooms during the cold winter months.

Once established, hellebores will provide your garden with year-round beauty. The plant’s foliage is dark green with textured edges. The leaves refresh in the spring with new growths.

Most hellebores bloom at the end of winter or the start of spring, depending on the variety. The plants produce a wide variety of flower colors, including red, purple, pink, yellow, green, and white. 

Care for your hellebores by providing them with dappled shade and well-drained, fertile soil. 

Heuchera

Heuchera plants – commonly known as coral bells – are shade plants that come in numerous foliage and bloom colors.

Coral bell breeding has produced a variety of heuchera cultivars with leaves “of chartreuse, peach, deep purples, silver, caramels, reds, and many with contrasting venation colors.” The plants also sprout pink, red, or white clustered flowers.

With so many varieties to choose from, you’ll undoubtedly find the perfect heuchera plant for your garden. 

Keep your coral bells healthy by providing them with composted, moist soil with sufficient drainage. The plants don’t do well in direct heat and typically prefer gentle morning sun and evening shade.

Japanese Painted Fern

The Japanese painted fern is a popular foliage plant for shady gardens. The fern boasts lovely green, red, gold, or silver fronds perfect for a woodland oasis. 

The Japanese painted fern grows well in partial shade with access to moist, rich soil. You can add an organic mulch around your ferns to keep them nourished during dry spells. 

The key to keeping your Japanese painted ferns looking their best is to grow them in light shade. Their vibrant color will fade with too much sunlight.

Otherwise, these plants are easy to care for and will refresh their fronds in the spring, bringing a burst of beauty to shaded garden areas.

Lungwort

Lungwort plants are hardy and non-competitive, making them an excellent addition to your diverse shade garden.

Lungwort, or pulmonaria officinalis, is an eye-catching herbaceous perennial. The plant has ornamental flowers and foliage, so it’s sure to impress onlookers at any stage of the growing season. 

Lungwort flowers change colors depending on the pH level of the soil. For this reason, flowers that bloom later might differ from earlier blossoms. You’ll see lungwort plants covered in pink, purple, lavender, and white flowers. 

The blooms may be beautiful, but lungwort gets its name from its dappled foliage. These leaves, which are covered in small white blotches, resemble diseased human lungs.

Lamium

Lamium – commonly called spotted deadnettle – is an excellent groundcover plant for shady areas. 

This member of the mint family is evergreen in mild climates and will adapt to varying levels of shade. The plant has lovely green leaves in various shapes, sizes, and variegations. Some deadnettle leaves are covered in a layer of downy fuzz.

The deadnettle’s adaptability and diversity make it a solid choice for transitional garden areas.

Lamium plants bloom in late spring to early summer, attracting pollinators to their vibrant purple blossoms.

Like many other shade-loving plants, spotted deadnettle prefers moist, well-drained soil. Most Lamiums grow best in partial shade, but you can find varieties that work in full sun.

Primrose

Primroses are eye-catching perennial herbs with white, red, purple, pink, blue, and yellow flowers. They have rosettes of waxy green foliage sprouting around the bases of their stems. 

These showy flowers are also pleasantly fragrant and will attract the attention of garden visitors. 

Your primrose’s environment is essential to its health. These early spring bloomers don’t do well in cold climates, dry conditions, or full sun. They do best in temperate or subtropical climates with partial to deep shade coverage.

Give your primroses ample organic matter and shaded, moist soil to see them produce clumps of lovely flowers.

Toad Lily

The toad lily is a showy ornamental that will brighten up dim areas in your garden. 

Toad lilies are herbaceous perennials that produce bold, exotic purple flowers. These flowers have a lovely marbled appearance and shape that some compare to an orchid. 

You can also mix them with other shade plants in moist, highly organic soil.

According to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, “toad lilies are best planted where their small, unique flowers can be appreciated up close.” We recommend planting your lilies on borders or next to woodland walkways. 

They’ll grow well in these partial- to full-shade areas and provide a pleasant sight to passersby. 

Foxglove

Common foxglove, or Digitalis purpurea, is a summer-blooming herb that can grow 3 to 4 feet tall. These lovely biennials – short-lived perennials – are perfect for adding height dimension to your garden. 

Foxgloves have a basal rosette of leaves and then a tall spire-like stem. The stem produces 20-80 tubular flower heads that vary in color depending on the cultivar. Foxglove flowers will have your garden buzzing with bumblebees and hummingbirds eager to enjoy the pollen.

Care for your foxgloves by planting them in light shade with moist, organic soil. If the plants grow too tall to stand by themselves, you might need to stake their stems for support.

Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are deciduous shrubs that come in a variety of cultivars. Most hydrangeas will grow 4 to 12 feet tall – the perfect height for filling a gap in your shade garden. 

Hydrangeas thrive in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. 

Planting your hydrangeas in full sun could cause wilting. Instead, they need morning sun and evening shade to stay healthy.

Hydrangeas typically have pink or blue flowers, depending on the soil’s pH level. Blue hydrangeas result from acidic soil, and pink hydrangeas from alkaline. If you need to test your garden’s soil pH, just plant one of these beautiful bushes.

Impatiens

Impatiens are distinct flowering plants that will keep your garden buzzing with pollinators. They come in many colors, including purple, white, red, orange, and pink. Their blooms are also low-maintenance; you won’t need to pinch or prune them to maintain shape.

These ornamental annuals typically do best in partial shade but can tolerate sunnier areas depending on the cultivar you select. We recommend using them as a border plant in your shade garden.

Impatiens are heat-tolerant but need plenty of water to prevent their stems from wilting. If your impatiens are in an area of dry shade, mulch around them to keep the soil moist and well-structured. 

Wax Begonia

Begonias are a popular choice for containers and window box displays, but the wax begonia variety does particularly well in landscaping. 

These hardy annuals will grace your garden with vibrant colors, even in the summer heat. Plant them after the last frost of spring for a garden full of white, pink, orange, and red blossoms. 

Grow healthy begonias by planting them in an area with moist, well-drained soil. Apply mulch around the plants in the summer to keep their roots hydrated.

Wax begonias are low-maintenance succulents that can live in sunny or shady areas. Their adaptability to light conditions makes them an excellent transition plant for your shade garden.

Brunnera

Brunnera is a shade-loving perennial known for its iridescent foliage. 

The Jack Frost cultivar is incredibly stunning in shaded areas; its foliage lights up dim garden spaces with silvery-white, dark-veined leaves. The leaves are rough to the touch yet slightly fuzzy, providing a nice element of texture to your flower bed.

Brunnera foliage grows in mounds that create a perfect shape for ground cover. For a dazzling display, the Wisconsin Horticulture Division of Extension suggests planting them with contrasting shade plants like Japanese painted ferns, heucheras, and bleeding hearts.

Brunnera plants are easy to maintain. They only require partial to full shade and moist soil with sufficient drainage.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the Valley is a ground cover plant perfect for carpeting your garden’s shaded floor. 

These spring bloomers have broad green leaves that spread up to 2 feet wide. From the leaves grows a tall stem with dainty bell-shaped flowers. Most Lily of the Valley blossoms are pure white, but some cultivars come in pastel pink shades.

Lilies of the Valley grow well in full shade areas with moist, rich soil. These perennials are resistant to drought and pests, making them a versatile, low-maintenance option. They also resist erosion, so consider planting them on a shaded woodland hill.

Keep your Lilies of the Valley healthy during dry spells by mulching around them with compost or manure.

Coleus

Coleus is a popular accent plant in shade gardens because of its vibrant multicolored leaves. The plant produces small flowers during the summer, but it’s mainly known for its foliage. 

Coleus plants come in many colors, including red, maroon, yellow, pink, green, and orange. Some even have multicolored leaves with variegated patterns. 

Well-drained soil is crucial to your coleus’ success. Plants with overwatered roots will produce brown leaves and shorter stems.

Most coleus varieties thrive best in areas of partial to full shade. However, light needs vary across cultivars, so you can select the type that works for your garden.

Epimedium

Epimedium – commonly known as barrenwort – is an herbaceous groundcover plant. Most grow to be approximately a foot tall and 2 feet wide.

Epimediums have heart-shaped leaves that can be green, bronze, or burgundy. Some are considered semi-evergreen because they can last through most of the winter season.

Epimedium flowers are unique and delicate, boasting four-petaled blooms in various colors. Its light, wispy appearance has gained the plant the nickname “fairy wings.”

The epimedium is an adaptable, easy-to-maintain landscape plant for your shade garden. 

These perennials grow best in partially shaded areas with moist, well-drained soil. If your epimediums’ dirt gets dry, treat it with organic fertilizer. 

Some hybrids are tolerant of full shade and dry soil, so you can find a variety that works for you. 

Foamflower

Foamflower, or tiarella, is a shade perennial native to the Eastern U.S.

This small evergreen grows between 1 and 3 feet tall and spreads about 1 foot across, making it an excellent choice for bringing “beauty to shady nooks.”

The tiarella’s delicate size also brings size variation to your garden. Combine it with fellow shade-lovers like coral bells, hostas, heucheras, and ferns for a marvelous display.

Tiarellas bloom early- to mid-spring, depending on the climate. They sprout foamy pink and white flowerheads that eventually die back during the blooming season, leaving a mound of bright green foliage. 

Foamflowers prefer full shade and highly organic matter. They don’t do well in thoroughly wet or dried-out areas, so plant them in moist, well-drained soil for the best results.

Geraniums

Geraniums are show-stopping ornamentals that come in countless colors, shapes, sizes, and varieties. These spring flowers have attractive foliage with clusters of pink, white, red, purple, or lavender blossoms.

Geraniums thrive in cool, well-drained soil. Partial shade is best for these flowers, especially in hot areas.

Help your geraniums develop robust root systems by feeding their soil with organic matter or mulch. Fertilize them during the growing season to ensure proper nutrient intake.

Geraniums are intolerant of heat or drought, so keeping them hydrated and cool is crucial. Water your geraniums regularly to keep them from wilting. If dead flower buds develop, pull them off to promote new growth.

Caring for Your Shade-Loving Plants

As you’ve probably noticed, the shade-loving plants we discussed have several needs in common. 

Some may thrive in partial shade, while others require full shade. Nonetheless, their soil, drainage, and fertilizer needs are comparable.

Here are a few quick tips for maintaining your shade garden, no matter which plants you select:

  • Mulching – Mulch around flower beds to improve soil structure and fertility. Mulch contains organic matter that breaks down naturally, allowing the soil to retain water and absorb nutrients better. 
  • Soil drainage – Ensure your shade plants have well-drained soil. Well-drained soil is crucial because it prevents your plants from sitting in standing water. Moisture in shaded areas evaporates more slowly, so drainage is key to healthy plant growth.
  • Sun schedule – Make sure the plants have morning light and evening shade. The early light will dry up mildew-causing moisture, and the afternoon shade will protect tender leaves from hot sunlight.

Now you know how to light up your shade garden with various colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. You can border shady walkways with vivid impatiens or line brick walls with showy hostas.

The key to successful shade gardening is knowing which plants thrive best in low-light areas. A shade garden bursting with low-maintenance, harmonious bloomers provides you a space to enjoy even when the sun is hiding away.

We hope this list showed you all the possibilities of gardening in the shade. With an assortment of these shade-loving plants, you’ll have a tranquil woodland oasis right in your backyard!

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