Gardening in the Shade: Annual Plants for Shady Areas

The best annuals for shady gardens
The best annuals for shady gardens

Gardens under trees or next to buildings can be a challenge to some gardeners, but don’t be discouraged. There are many annual plants that actually thrive in the shade. Planting the right annuals will have your shady garden in bloom all summer long. So take heart, gardening in the shade doesn’t have to be frustrating. With a little planning and the right plants, you can create a wonderful woodland retreat in your backyard.

Asses the light in your shade garden

Before you begin you must figure out how much light the plants in your shade garden will actually receive. This will assist you greatly in choosing the right plants for your shade garden.

Partial Shade – Partial shade is when sunlight is blocked for all but 3 - 6 hours a day. A partially shaded area may be shaded in the hottest parts of the day which can be beneficial to many plants. Most yards with mature trees will have areas of partial shade.

Full Shade – Full shade is when an area will receive less than 3 hours of sunlight a day. The area will only receive filtered sun for the rest of the day.

Also keep in mind that as trees and shrubs mature, gardens will change their degree of shade. An area that was once in full sun could transform into partial shade over several years. You’ll need to make sure to continue to assess the areas in your garden.

Why plant annuals in the shade garden?

There are many varieties of shade tolerant annuals for you to choose from. Annual flowering plants are plants that complete their full growing cycle in one year. Unlike perennials, they must be replanted each year, but if you are looking for blooms that last from late spring to frost annuals are the way to go. Keep in mind though that in full dense shade they will not have as many flowers as their counter parts that receive filtered sun.

The annuals listed below are shade tolerant plants. Since annuals are so inexpensive and have to be replanted each year, you can try many different ones out to see what works best in your shaded garden.


Alyssum will proved a carpet of tiny little flowers in your shade garden which makes it an excellent edging plant. It will tolerate a variety of soil types, but it will do best in areas with good drainage. Although all the colors will all grow in the shade, the purple varieties do better.

Sun Requirements for Alyssum – Full sun to partial shade

Alyssum Size – Alyssum can grow from 4 to 8 inches tall. It will spread as wide as 12 to 18 inches

Colors of Alyssum – White, purple, and pink

Begonias, Alyssum, and Coleus are beautiful when combined together in a shady garden.
Begonias, Alyssum, and Coleus are beautiful when combined together in a shady garden.


Begonias bloom nonstop all season. Their foliage is a glossy which gives them one of their more common names: Wax Begonia. They tolerate most soil conditions, but they do need adequate moisture and good drainage.

Sun Requirements for Begonia – Full sun, partial shade, full shade

Begonia Size - Begonia grow anywhere from 6 – 18 inches tall and wide.

Colors of Begonia – White, pink and red. Foliage is also varied as it comes in shades of green and red


Browallia provides tons of star-shaped flowers on a neatly mounded plant. The plant works well in both containers and in the garden. They do require a rich, well-drained soil. Since Browallia is a rainforest native, it likes humid weather and needs watered frequently during dry spells.

Sun Requirements for Browallia – Full sun, partial shade, full shade

Browallia Size – Browallia will grow from 12 – 18 inches tall

Colors of Browallia – White, lavender, or blue

Coleus can give a punch of color to the shade garden not from its flowers, but from its leaves.
Coleus can give a punch of color to the shade garden not from its flowers, but from its leaves.


Coleus is the only annual on this list that is not grown for the flowers it brings to a shade garden. It’s actually grown for its colorful foliage. Each leaf of the plant can be beautiful combination of many colors. These tender plants will not tolerate frost, and they need moist, well-drained soil.

Sun Requirements for Coleus– Partial Shade

Coleus Size – Coleus will grow from 9 – 16 inches tall and wide.

Colors of Coleus – Green, red, maroon, pink, white, and yellow

Four O'Clocks

Four O’Clocks are named such because their flowers open up late in the afternoon every day…at 4:00. They also are unique in the fact that each plant may contain multiple flower colors. Although they will not be found in most nurseries, they are very simple to start from seed after the first frost. These undemanding annuals will tolerate almost any soil condition.

Sun Requirements for Four O’Clocks – Full sun to partial shade

Four O’Clocks Size – Four O’Clocks will grow 36 inches tall and wide

Colors of Four O’Clocks – Yellow, pink, white, red or striped

Want more information on Impatiens and other great annuals? You may want to read

The Best Flowering Annuals for Your Garden


Impatiens are covered with beautiful flowers from late spring until frost, and they come in a variety of colors. They are the perfect shade loving annual flower because of the variety of colors and the punch of color they provide to a shady garden area. Impatiens prefer moist, well-drained soil.

Sun Requirements for Impatiens – Although some Impatiens will tolerate full sun, most do best when planted in full to partial shade.

Impatiens Size – Impatiens can grow from 8 – 16 inches tall, and from 12 – 24 inches tall. The closer they are planted to each other the taller the plant will grow.

Colors of Impatiens – Red, white, salmon, pink, orange, purple, and yellow.

Blue Lobelia and Impatiens in a patriotic red, white and blue display in the shade.
Blue Lobelia and Impatiens in a patriotic red, white and blue display in the shade.


Lobelia is one of the few flowers that come in a true blue. Its dainty blooms make a perfect accent in both the garden and in containers. Blooming may halt in the most extreme heat of the summer, but it will flourish again once the temperatures begin to cool. Lobelia is easy to grow and it prefers moist, well-drained soil.

Sun Requirements for Lobelia – Full sun to partial shade

Lobelia Size – Lobelia will grow 6 inches high with a spread of 12 – 18 inches wide

Colors of Lobelia – Blue, white, pink and purple

Full instructions on how to make this terra cotta flower tower can be found at the link below

How to Make a Terra Cotta Flower Tower

The cheerful Pansy can bloom all summer long if planted in the shade garden.
The cheerful Pansy can bloom all summer long if planted in the shade garden.


At the end of a long winter the cheerful face of a Pansy is a welcome sight for most gardeners. Pansies like cool weather, in fact, they can withstand a freeze. That means these hardy annuals can be planted in the ground as soon as the soil is workable. Pansies are known for dying out once the weather gets hot, but when planted in the shade they will bloom all summer long.

Sun Requirements for Pansies – Full sun to partial shade

Pansy Size – Pansies will grow from 4 – 8 inches tall and 12 inches wide.

Colors of Pansies – purple, yellow, maroon, white, and peach. They can be tri-colored on their “face”.

Snapdragons can add a variety of colors to your shade garden.
Snapdragons can add a variety of colors to your shade garden.


Snapdragons are adored by children because they can snap the flowers of the plant open and closed like a jaw. The shorter cultivars make nice edging plants and the taller once can look stunning in the back of the border. They will continue to bloom all summer long if the plants are deadheaded after the flowers are spent. Snapdragons prefer cooler weather which is why they do so well in a shaded area of the garden.

Sun Requirements for Snapdragons – Full sun to partial shade

Snapdragon Size – Depending on the variety, Snapdragons can grow from 6 – 30 inches tall

Colors of Snapdragons – white, red, yellow, orange, purple, and pink

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Comments 3 comments

RTalloni profile image

RTalloni 3 years ago from the short journey

I have some trees that are putting on a lot of growth, providing more summer shade and I need to be thinking about the best shade plants to use. I'm interested in learning more about some of these for our area--thanks!

Krysanthe profile image

Krysanthe 3 years ago from Bloomington, Illinois Author

I've always found gardening in the shade to be much easier than in full sun! Not as many weeds!! Embrace your new shady area, you'll love what you can do with it.

Ersek maria 15 months ago

I love it . Gardening is my hobby and i also work in it in summertime at calodonia garden center in toronto

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