10 Plants That Will Grow in the Shade
Have you ever planted seedlings, bulbs, and cuttings with great enthusiasm and considerable expense, only to find that the plants become weedy and die off? I certainly have! And what a disappointment it was.
You do all that work—clearing, digging, planting and watering—only to find it was all in vain, and you begin to wonder whether there's any point in even trying to create a nice garden.
It helps to know which plants actually need or tolerate shade, and which ones need bright sunshine and will simply fail to thrive in the shade.
It helps to be imaginative and think about how the plants would grow in their natural habitats—are they woodland plants, or sun-loving plants which grow in open ground, like meadows, or even desert?
I have found out the hard way that it's no good planting sun-loving plants in the shade, or shade-loving plants in the sun. It has taken years of trial and error to discover what plants will tolerate shade and which ones simply don't flower or wither and die when they are not in full sun. Most of the plants listed below will grow in dappled shade but you may be lucky and find they grow in full shade.
Here are the secrets I have learned about shade-loving plants, through trial and error.
10 Plants That Tolerate Shade
Learn more about each below.
Vinca Major and Vinca Minor
Bleeding Heart - Dicentra Spectabilis
- Big green leaves with pink flowers in spring and early summer.
- Evergreen (sometimes known as elephants' ears), low lying, about 1 - 2 feet high.
- Bergenia is a very hardy plant which spreads very gradually. It flowers in mid to late spring for about two months and you can propagate it by tearing off a few leaves and stem with some roots attached.
2. Vinca Minor (aka Periwinkle)
- Small, shiny leaves; small violet star-shaped flowers in spring and then intermittently during summer and autumn.
- Good ground cover. Vinca is evergreen and low-lying and gradually spreads, so needs to be kept under control.
Vinca Minor Also Known As Periwinkle
3. Vinca Major
- Similar to Vinca minor, but slightly larger leaves and flowers, and not quite as hardy, so make sure it is watered when very dry.
- It will grow in dappled shade.
- Propagate by tearing off a few stems which have rooted.
4. Solomon's Seal
- A root which puts out a few stems in spring with tiny, white, drooping flowers tinged with green.
- The flowers last about two months and gradually the plant dies off and disappears, only to return the following spring.
Here's a Parody of Solomon's Seal - a Famous Illustration by Edward Lear Called Manypeeplia Upsidedownia
5. Dicentra Spectabilis (or Bleeding Heart)
- In spring, roots put out stems with soft, interesting-shaped leaves with a small dark pink or sometimes pink-and-white flower which does indeed resemble a heart.
- It flowers for about two months and looks lovely grown near bergenia and Solomon's seal.
- Propagate by dividing the roots after it has finished flowering. I have never found it very easy to increase and usually end up buying more plants.
Bleeding Heart (Dicentra Spectabilis)
- There are numerous types of hellebore, including the one called Christmas rose which flowers shortly after Christmas and is fairly low growing, with palmate leaves. Some of them are taller.
- They are mostly creamy white tinged with green, sometimes with mauve or pink colours.
- They flower for about three months, sometimes more, and when they die back, they put out new leaves which are very attractive in their own right and ensure the garden doesn't look bare in winter.
- You can propagate them very easily from seeds which form in large seedpods when the flowers have finished. Be very careful, though, when harvesting the seeds. It is best to wait until the seed pods dry out and then just shake them into a container or collect them from the ground.
A Warning Story About Hellebore Seeds:
Last summer, I picked the seed pods whilst the seeds were still green and spent about twenty minutes squeezing the seeds out of the pods, so that my fingers were in constant contact with the sap. I began to feel a tingling pins-and-needles feeling in my fingers and thumbs and it got so bad that I had to sit down and my hands were almost paralyzed and burning.
After a few more minutes, I realized what had caused the problem and ran my hands under cold water to wash away the juice. My fingers turned very red, almost purple, and were throbbing.
After 24 hours they were worse, and I went to the doctor. She said I had done the right thing washing off the poison, and prescribed an emollient cream to rub on, and I certainly needed that.
Over the next few days the skin on my fingers and thumbs turned almost black and became so hard that I could actually hear them scratching like a beetle when I tapped them on the table. They were very painful and burning, and I couldn't bear to come into contact with anything for a few days.
It took nearly two weeks for the dead skin to peel off and the pain to go away, leaving a rather red-looking layer of skin underneath, which eventually took on a healthier hue and there were no lasting ill effects. It was pretty scary at the time though.
- Mahonia is an evergreen shrub with very shiny dark green leaves, a bit like holly and just as spiky, with purple-black berries from autumn through winter, and a mass of bright yellow tiny frothy flowers in spring.
- They multiply by sending out sucker-type shoots, so keep them under control. The type I grow (Mahonia aquifolium) is fairly short, no more than 3 feet high, but my neighbours have a different type which is more like a tree, about 10 feet high.
8. Myasotis (Forget-Me-Not)
- They range in colour from bright to pale blue, some tinged with pink, with soft small leaves, and flower in late spring for about four months.
- Forget-me-nots are about 6 - 8 inches high and quite bushy.
- They are annuals, not perennials, but always seed themselves abundantly, so they never go away if the position is right for them. They grow in sun and shade.
- After a few years, they tend to spread and become invasive, but it's easy to control them by digging up unwanted plants. The trouble is, it's tempting to keep them anyway, because a sea of blue spring flowers round a garden is breathtakingly beautiful.
- Small pink and blue flowers and green leaves speckled with white spots.
- Pulmonaria is a small perennial which grows to about a foot high, flowering in late spring.
- It can be propagated by dividing the plant and roots after it has flowered.
- This is a shrub which comes in many different bright, almost fluorescent colours to pale mauves, pinks, whites and oranges and can be anything from dwarf (1 foot high) to about 6 feet, depending on the type.
- Azaleas flower in late spring and need to be kept watered in dry weather.
- They also benefit from being fed with Sequestrene or anything else suitable for Ericaceous plants.
Azalea - Shade-Tolerant Plant Which Flowers in Spring
Always Check Whether New Plants Are Shade or Sun Lovers
That is the best way to avoid disappointment!
My Favorite Gardening Tool
I suppose everyone has a favorite tool. Mine is my Gardena Weeding Trowel, shown in the photo below. It's very strong and hard-wearing, and I've had it for ages. Because it is much narrower than an ordinary trowel, it is good at digging down quite deep under roots, without disturbing nearby plants unnecessarily. I haven't seen one exactly like this on sale recently, but if you are interested in taking a look at the up-to-date version, try this link for the Gardena Weeding Trowel on Amazon.