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7 Best Perennials to Plant in a Shade Garden

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Kathy has been an online writer for over eight years. Her articles focus on everything from childcare to home gardening.

List of the best perennials for shady gardens.

List of the best perennials for shady gardens.

For many gardeners, shady locations can be a huge challenge. Finding perennials that do well in the shade can be difficult, but once the correct balance of plants is discovered, the payoff is a wonderful, lush woodland retreat in your back yard.

Preparation for Planting Perennials in the Shade

Since perennial plants will continue to grow year after year, selecting the correct plants for the garden is essential. Begin by carefully assessing the light in your shady area so the correct plants can be selected.

What Is "Partial Shade"? Areas that are in partial shade will receive 3–6 hours of sunlight per day.

What Is "Full Shade"? A full shade location in the garden will get less than 3 hours of sunlight daily.

What Shaded Soil Needs

Adding organic matter such as peat moss or compost is essential in a shady area. Most shade gardens are located under trees. Although the tree makes a beautiful backdrop for your garden, the tree’s roots will compete with your perennials for the water and nutrients they need to thrive. By adding organic matter, you add needed nutrients to the soil and help to make the its drainage more efficient.

The perennials listed below will give you a good starting point of proven winners in a shade garden.

Asters will easily naturalize in the shade garden.

Asters will easily naturalize in the shade garden.

Asters

Asters flower in late summer or autumn when little else is in bloom in the shade garden. Because of their height, they look best when planted in the back of the garden. Asters will tolerate almost any soil type as long as there is decent drainage. The taller varieties may need to be staked to keep them from falling over when they flower.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–9

Sun Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Size: Asters can grow from 1 to 4 feet tall

Colors: White, pink, purple, and blue

Astilbe can add a punch of white, pink or red to any shady area.

Astilbe can add a punch of white, pink or red to any shady area.

Astilbe

The Astible flower is a long and feathery spike that sits atop its delicate, fern-like foliage. Although they are not picky about soil type, watering Astilbe is necessary. They can take the heat of summer, but if their roots dry out, the plant will wither and be done for the year.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4–8

Sun Requirements: Partial shade

Size: Astilbe will grow from 1 to 4 feet tall

Colors: Pink, red, cream, and white

Bellflowers get their name from their bell shaped flower.

Bellflowers get their name from their bell shaped flower.

Bellflowers

When planting bellflowers in a shady garden, a little research may be needed because the bellflower is quite a diverse plant. Some cultivars will bloom all summer long, some will make excellent cutting flowers, and others can get invasive and take over the garden. The shorter varieties are the ones that will work best in the shade garden. They prefer moist, well-drained soil, and dead-heading will keep them blooming throughout the summer months.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 4–8; bellflowers could also grow in Zone 3 if winter protection is provided

Sun Requirements: Full sun or partial shade

Size: Bellflowers can grow from 12 to 42 inches tall

Colors: Purple, blue, and white

Bleeding Hearts are known for their heart shaped flowers that appear to be "bleeding".

Bleeding Hearts are known for their heart shaped flowers that appear to be "bleeding".

Bleeding Hearts

Bleeding hearts are known for their distinctive, heart-shaped flowers that bloom along arching stems. Although beautiful in the spring, the flower dies back once summer hits, leaving an empty space in the shade garden. Preparing to fill that spot with annuals will keep the bleeding hearts' disappearance from becoming a problem. They are virtually maintenance-free, but they do need to be divided about every four years.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–8

Sun Requirements: Partial to full shade

Size: They will grow from 12 to 36 inches tall and wide

Colors: White or pink-and-white

The spur-shaped flower of the columbine comes in a variety of colors.

The spur-shaped flower of the columbine comes in a variety of colors.

Columbine

The intricate spurred flower of the columbine comes in many colors and can be described as nothing less than stunning. They make excellent cut flowers. Columbines prefer moist, well-drained soil, and blooming can be prolonged by dead-heading the flowers. This is a plant that will lose all its leaves once blooming is done for the year, so plant some annuals in the empty space to keep the area from looking barren.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–9

Sun Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Size: Grow from 1 to 3 feet tall

Colors: Purple, white, blue, yellow, purple, red, and multicolored

The regal stalks of the Delphinium flower make excellent cut flowers.

The regal stalks of the Delphinium flower make excellent cut flowers.

Delphinium

Their regal spikes of colorful flowers make the Delphinium a much desired flower for any shady garden. They make an excellent cut flower, but the stately Delphinium does require some work. When planting, proper soil preparation is needed—they need proper fertilization, the flowers need to be dead-headed when spent, and they are vulnerable to disease. In many parts of the United States, the plants are short-lived and new ones may need to be planted every several years. Even with all those issues, the beauty of the blue, pink, or white flowers on tall regal spikes make this a perennial worth trying in your shade garden.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–7

Sun requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Size: Delphinium grow from 2 to 6 feet tall and about 12 inches wide

Colors: Blue, purple, red, pink, and yellow

Ferns are a shade plant that are grown for the texture its foliage gives to the garden.

Ferns are a shade plant that are grown for the texture its foliage gives to the garden.

Ferns

The soft lacy texture of the fern’s foliage makes this plant a winner in any damp, shady location. Ferns require moist soil, so they make perfect plants for that densely shaded area that never dries out. They reproduce from spores that are usually located on the underside of their leaves. When planted in the proper location, ferns will fill in the area beautifully and require little maintenance.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 3–7

Sun Requirements: Partial shade to full shade

Size: Depending on the variety, ferns can grow anywhere from 6 inches tall to 4 feet tall

Colors: Grown for their dense green foliage

Hosta plants are essential to any garden in the shade.

Hosta plants are essential to any garden in the shade.

Hostas

Hostas are an extremely hardy plant that are a must-have in any shade garden. They can be grown in almost any soil type and require very little in the way of maintenance. They are grown for their mounding foliage which comes in a variety of greens and yellows. There really is not an easier perennial to grow in a shade garden.

Hardiness: USDA Zones 2–10

Sun requirements: Full sun, partial shade, full shade

Size: Foliage grows from 1 to 2 feet tall, but the hosta’s flowers can grow up to 3 feet

Colors: Although generally grown for their foliage, the hosta's flower will be white or lilac

Hostas are easily divided to make more plants. This article will show you how to divide hostas.

Best Shrubs and Annual Flowers for the Shade

Since perennials will die back seasonally, leaving a hole in your garden, you might want to fill that hole with an annual. Here is a list of the best annual flowers for the shade.

And if you're looking for larger shrubs to plant, check out The Best Shrubs That Grow in Partial, Dappled, or Deep-Shade Gardens.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2013 Kathy Hull

Comments

Virginia Allain from Central Florida on August 01, 2015:

I use a lot of variegated foliage plants in my wooded garden to provide some brightness under the trees. I'm afraid my deep shade won't work for asters, but the rest sound good.

Delia on May 07, 2015:

I got some great ideas from this hub, in particular Aster and Delphiniums ...thanks for sharing!

oldiesmusic from United States on November 25, 2013:

I have lots of ferns, moss and lichens in my garden but I want to have some "color" in it. These are wonderful suggestions, thanks for giving me a list of shade-loving flowering plants. :)

Kathy Hull (author) from Bloomington, Illinois on August 03, 2013:

I love the Delphinium, the photo is totally how they look in my neck of the woods. There are tons of varieties of them though, some even have 2 - 3 inch flowers on stalks...so gorgeous.

It's easy to put the section in blue. Its just a text box, aligned to the right. When you align a text box to the right, it gives you three color choices when you are in edit mode.

Marsha Musselman from Michigan, USA on July 31, 2013:

Great hub, voted up and beautiful. I can't believe you haven't had any comments yet. You did a great job on your research and photos although the picture you have for the delphinium looks more like a tall phlox as I have both in my garden. To me the delphinium has a more dainty look to it although maybe there are more varieties that I've not seen in my area.

Can you tell me how you put the section in blue? The part where a person can click if they want to know how to divide hostas. I've seen the blue boxes a lot on here but haven't a clue how to get them if I want to utilize them myself.

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