The Best Plants for a Shaded Garden

Turn your shade garden into a calming retreat with maintenance-free ephemeral flowers. Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are a classic, with clusters of frilly blue flowers over dark green or variegated foliage. This perennial self-sows and is deer and rabbit resistant.

Brunnera brings a touch of sparkle to shade gardens with sky blue blooms atop fern-like foliage. Look for a variety with white, pink or burgundy speckles.


Hosta is a classic shade perennial that flowers all summer, even in hot areas. Look for variegated and blue-hued varieties that tolerate the heat. Mulch to help retain moisture and watch out for slugs and snails.

A favorite of woody gardeners, bigroot geranium is another shade perennial that tolerates sun. It grows to 2 feet tall or more and has leaves in shades of green, white, chartreuse, gold, and yellow with hints of purple. In spring, it produces lily-like flowers that are spotted like a toad’s head.

Wild Ginger

Upright wild ginger adds interesting texture to a shade garden with its fuzzy heart-shaped foliage and is also deer- and slug-resistant. This slow-growing perennial can be used as a groundcover or planted to form a hedge and grows well in most types of garden soil.

Coleus plants are easy to grow in shady gardens and come in many colors and variegations. They thrive in shade and do best with rich, moist soil. Their leaves are a welcome texture accent in the garden and the flowers are a bonus for pollinators.

Japanese Forestgrass

Unlike many other grasses, this shade-loving perennial ornamental is tolerant of drought and grows in a neat mounding clump. Depending on the cultivar, its leaves offer shades of green or variegation patterns.

Heucheras are the foliage queens of the shade garden, with ever-more colorful new varieties hitting the market. The hardy plant prefers cool, rich soil in partial to full shade and requires very little watering.

The clump-forming plant is hardy in zones five through nine, and zone 4 gardeners can grow it as an annual by heaping mulch on the plants to help protect them from winter kill.


Brunnera is a reliable shade perennial that blooms from spring to summer. Look for variegated or solid-green cultivars to add interest to your garden.

Also known as helleborus, this tough evergreen offers early flowers in shades of pink, white, yellow, green, or purple. Often called Christmas rose, it grows well in mild-winter climates and is very hardy.

False goatsbeard, aka astilbe, bears dramatic plumes of flowers over fern-like foliage. Plant it with corydalis or bleeding heart for a colorful woodland planting scheme.


Also known as Christmas rose, helleborus is one of the hardiest shade-loving perennials in the garden. Its flowers appear in winter, lasting through spring and sometimes beyond. The intricate flower sepals, which resemble petals, are available in white, pink, green and even reddish shades.

Heucheras, known as coral bells, thrive in partial shade and dappled light conditions. Plant breeders have had a field day with heuchera foliage, with varieties offering burgundy, silvery, chartreuse and salmon colors.

Coleus plants, often called elephant ears, add tropical flair to shady areas. Look for hybrids that offer leaf color variegation and attractive ruffled edges.


Lungwort’s delicate flowers and heart-shaped foliage make this a pretty groundcover for shady gardens. It’s slow to grow, but once it does, its clumps can keep weeds at bay.

Hakonechloa, or Japanese forest grass, is another popular shade-loving perennial. Its fronds come in shades of silver, burgundy, and green, and some varieties offer yellow variegation.

Astilbes are colorful additions to any shady garden. These spiky, feathery blooms are available in a range of colors from white to burgundy.


For a colorful summer shade plant, try false goatsbeard, Astilbe, which displays showy blooms in shades of periwinkle blue and white on fern-like foliage. It grows well in containers and reaches about two feet tall.

Native Western wild ginger makes a pretty ground cover, spreading slowly to form a dense mat that keeps weeds at bay. It tolerates dry shade and is deer-resistant.

Epimediums, also known as barrenwort, add texture and a pop of color to the garden with their bi-colored flowers in spring. They thrive in full to partial shade and are a reliable groundcover.

Bigroot Geranium

This shade-loving perennial needs rich, reliably moist soil to grow healthy and bloom. Loosen the planting area well before sowing and apply a basic fertilizer.

Bigroot geranium should only be exposed to six hours of direct sunlight each day. When ambient temperatures are high, putting up shade cloth or using a misting system for slow releases of cool water around the plant can lower ground temperature.

Heuchera, better known as coral bells, thrive in partial to dappled shade and come in a variety of leaf colors, from deep burgundy to burnt bronze. It tolerates dry conditions and drought and is deer- and rabbit-resistant.

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