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Shade-Loving Flowering Plants for a Woodland Garden

Dolores has landscaped for private clients, maintained one client's small orchid collection, and keeps 30 houseplants.

Azaleas blooming under trees at the US National Arboretum in Washington DC.

Azaleas blooming under trees at the US National Arboretum in Washington DC.

You Can Plant Flowers in the Shade

The shady areas around our homes are pleasant, but often they are bare spots devoid of flowering plants. Many perennials, annuals, and shrubs can brighten up those partially to fully shaded areas near or under trees, or on the north side of the house.

Some shade-loving plants offer colorful or variegated foliage to brighten up those dark areas. Others produce lovely flowers.

Before you choose a new plant, define the type of shade in the section of the yard where you want to plant it. Below is a classification of types of shade, and then a list of shade-loving plants and their requirements.

Types of Shade

Moist and cool shade on the north side of the house offers an excellent environment for several shade-loving plants. Ferns, while not flowering plants, present an attractive show, with their delicate leaves and arching fronds.

Partial shade means shade for four or five hours during daylight hours. Plants that prefer partial shade will do best in morning sun, as the afternoon sun in hot summer months may be too intense.

Light shade areas are shaded for two to four hours during daylight hours. Even some sun-loving plants can thrive in this type of light, especially in hot regions of the South or if they get sun in the afternoon.

Filtered shade means a sun-dappled area, under or near a tree that does not provide a thick canopy of foliage.

Full shade. Some spots on the north side of the house, or under or near large trees, receive no sun at all.

Dry shade includes fully shaded areas beneath large trees that do not receive a lot of moisture from rain due to the heavy foliage. But even dry-shade-loving plants need to be watered thoroughly when first planted in order to establish a healthy root system. Mulch to retain moisture.

List of Plants

In the descriptions below, the zone numbers refer to the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map, a handy reference tool used to determine if a plant is compatible with the minimum temperatures in your region of the United States. Of course, there are micro-climates (smaller spots in a hardiness zone that are cooler or warmer than the surrounding areas). This tool doesn't help you with soil types, moisture, or other conditions.


(photo by Dolores Monet)

(photo by Dolores Monet)

Astilbe, or False Goat's Beard, is a hearty and trouble-free perennial that prefers soft soil (add humus or peat) and partial shade. Astilbe has feathery, fern-like foliage and sends up plumes of flowers in pink, white. lavender, and red in summer.

Plant in moist, well-drained soil. Divide the roots in spring or fall every three or four years. US Zones 4 - 9.


Azaleas in bloom

Azaleas in bloom

Azaleas are beautiful woody shrubs in the rhododendron family that come in a vast array of colors and types. Many azaleas are evergreen in warmer climates. Azaleas bloom in spring, when the shrub is covered with brilliant flowers in white, pink, violet, or red. Yellow and orange hybrids exist but may be more difficult to grow.

Plant azaleas in light or dappled shade in moist, well-drained soil. Water often during hot, dry summer months and feed with a fertilizer for acid-loving plants. Prune just after flowering. Azaleas do not tolerate extreme cold, and some evergreen azaleas lose their leaves in colder areas. Some azaleas are more cold-tolerant than others, so check the tag carefully.

Bear's Breeches


Bear's breeches or Acanthus mollis do well in partial to full shades in areas with cold winters and hot summers (U. S. Plant Zones 6 - 7). They may be invasive in climates with mild winters.

Drought tolerant and deer resistant, this plant features beautiful, deeply lobed leaves. Tall flower spikes grow over 30" tall with small, snap dragon-like blooms. Flowers are creamy white with mauve hoods.

Bear's breeches is a clump forming perennial.

Bleeding Heart

(photo by Dolores Monet)

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an old-fashioned, two- to three-foot tall cottage garden favorite that likes partial to full shade and moist, well-drained soil. This bushy perennial produces small heart-shaped blooms on arching stems in early spring. Varieties of bleeding heart are available in light or dark pink, red, or all white. The attractive, lobed foliage goes dormant in summer, turning yellow. Plant in US Zones 2 - 7.


(wikimedia commons; photo by Christer Johansson)

Brunnera produces tiny, brilliant blue flowers in early spring. Grow in partial to full shade. The heart-shaped leaves can also be variegated. This slow grower will not need frequent division and will eventually form large clumps. Keep moist to avoid browning at the edges of the leaves. Brunnera is a perennial grown in US Zones 3 - 7.

Actaea racemosa or Bugbane

Actaea racemosa or Bugbane

Actaea racemosa or Bugbane

Actaea racemosa, formerly known as Cimicifuga racemosa, is also called Bugbane, Black Cohosh, Black Snakeroot, and Fairy Candles. Native to the eastern United States, this striking perennial grows between four and eight feet tall in full to partial shade. The tall, white spikes of blooms appear in summer. Deep green foliage set off the slender white flower spikes.

This plant wards off some insects with its unpleasant smell. So this is a good background plant and a fine, vertical accent. Plant in rich, moist, well drained soil. Despite its name, Bugbane attracts butterflies. U.S. Zones 4 - 9.

Coral Bells

(wikimedia commons; photo by Anneli Salo)

Coral Bells or Heuchera is an easy-care, heat-tolerant perennial, with 6 - 18" tall foliage that resembles the leaves of geraniums, and produces spikes lightly covered with tiny flowers in pink, red, and white. Coral bells prefer alkaline soil.

They bloom in June. Deadhead for repeat flowering. Coral bells prefer partial shade to full sun and moist, well-drained soil in US Zones 3 - 9.


(wikimedia commons' photo by Jensflorian)

Foxglove or Digitalis purpurea is a tall plant with tubular flowers that grow on 2 - 5' spikes, a showy attractive plant for dry partial shade. Foxglove is a biennial plant that forms a rosette of leaves that grow low to the ground the first year, sending up flowers the next. It often reseeds, so after a few years, you may have foxgloves blooming every year. Plant in well-drained, acidic soil; add humus.

Foxglove attracts hummingbirds. The plants are poisonous. US Zones 3 - 9.

Hellebore (Lenten Rose)

(wikimedia commons; photo by Kieth Edkins)

Lenten Rose or Hellebore is an attractive perennial, blooming in late winter or early spring, that has become recently more popular. This is not a true rose. Varieties include pale pink, light yellow green, deep red, lavender, greenish white, and dark purple blooms.

This old-fashioned plant will grow for many years without needing to be divided. Hellebore enjoys partial to full shade, making it an excellent addition to a woodland garden. US Zones 5 - 9.


Hosta in bloom

Hosta in bloom

Hosta is a low-growing (2' tall) perennial plant with large, heart-shaped leaves that come in several shades of green, including bluish green as well as variegated forms. Some varieties feature bubbled leaves. Hosta prefers light to full shade and has become very popular due to its propensity to spread. Plant the blue-leaved types in full shade, and gold-leaved varieties in full sun.

Hostas bloom in summer with spikes of narrow, tubular flowers, some of which are sweetly aromatic. Make sure they have plenty of water in the hot months. Remove dead leaves in fall as the fallen, rotting leaves will attract slugs. Plant in US Zones 3 - 9.

Wood Hyacinth


Wood hyacinth or Spanish bluebell (Hyacinthoides hispanica) is a bulb that will grow in light shade, partial shade, or full shade, and does well planted under trees. The tiny, bell-shaped flowers appear in late spring, in white, light blue, blue-violet, or pink. Wood hyacinth is poisonous and can cause skin irritation when touched by sensitive individuals. It is deer-resistant. Wood hyacinth can be invasive in some areas, including the Northwest US and the UK. It is native to southwestern Europe and northern Africa. US Zones 3 - 9.


(wikimedia commons, photo by Kenpei)

Impatiens is a popular bedding plant, used as an annual in areas with cold winters, or as a perennial in warm southern climates. The low-growing plant has small, ovate leaves and enjoys light to full shade and moist, well-drained soil. Impatiens provides bright, colorful blooms in pink, rose, lilac, orange, white, or bicolor all summer long without deadheading (the removal of dead flowers). Pinch back stems early on to encourage branching. US Zones 1 - 11.

Lily of the Valley

(wikimedia commons - photo byLavoi)

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is an easy-to-grow, spreading perennial that enjoys partial to full shade. The 8" plant has sword-shaped leaves and bears white flowers resembling tiny bells in April or May. Also called Mary's tears and little maybells, lily of the valley is poisonous. The flowers are highly and sweetly aromatic.

Plant the rhizomes, called "pips," in moist well-drained soil in spring or fall, deep enough so just the tips show. If planting in spring, soak the pips in lukewarm water first for several hours. Water after planting. Mulch in winter to protect roots. US Zones 2 - 7.

White Trillium

(Flickr; photo by pfly)

White trillium (Trillium grandiflora) or wood lily is native to the eastern United States. It prefers light to partial shade and moist, humus-rich, well-drained soil. This woodland plant grows about 12" tall. Three broad, ovate leaves surround a 3" white flower that turns pink, then red as it ages. US Zones 2 - 8.

Plant Hardiness Zone

The US Plant Hardiness Zone is a handy reference tool used to determine if a plant is suitable for your region of the United States. Hardiness zone is based on the temperature ranges of each area. Of course, there are micro-climates, smaller spots in a hardiness zone that are cooler or warmer than the surrounding area. US Plant Hardiness Zone does not apply to soil types, moisture, or other conditions.

Planting Tips

When planting shade-loving plants, remember to improve and enrich the soil with compost, peat, or humus. Many of these plants are adapted to life on the floor of mature forests, in soil with abundant organic matter from years of falling leaves or needles. If planting a new area, dig down six to ten inches, add the compost or other enriching agents, and mix it with the existing soil. But do not dig down into, or chop, tree roots, as you can cause permanent damage to the tree.

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.

Questions & Answers

Question: Could I have seen Clivias growing under trees in the Woodlands, Texas?

Answer: The U.S. Plant Zone for the Woodlands, Texas is 9a which means there can be some cold winter temperatures, down to 25 degrees Fahrenheit. A Clivea would not survive such cold temperatures. You may want to research similar plants with strappy leaves. You could also find an app for that including PlantSnapp, Nature gate, LeafSnapp, Plantifier, and many more. If you use one of these apps you should always double-check the results by another method. I have used one of these before and the results were wrong.

Someone could always plant a tropical plant like Clivea and bring it in during the winter.

Question: What are the best flowering plants to use on a patio?

Answer: The best flowering plants for your patio depend on how much light the patio gets. There is a difference between partial shade and no sun at all. Also, consider the size of your containers. You don't want plants that may have too large of a root system for the pots.

Containers look nice with a variety of plants. Consider adding something tall for vertical interest as well as a trailing plant that will hang over the lip of the pot. A tall container might not look right without a tall plant for visual harmony. Make sure that the plants you include in one container have similar watering needs. For instance, you do not want to mix succulents with water-loving plants.

Hydrangeas have become popular container plants if the plants are small enough for the pot. Make sure they have room to grow. In fall, you can take them out of the pot and plant them in the ground, so they live through the winter. Hydrangeas blooms last a long time so will look nice for a long time.

Impatiens, begonias, lobelia, some salvia, and fushsia all do well in partial shade. It would be best for them if they get their sun in the morning as afternoon sun can be so harsh. Many types of begonias produce flowers and many that offer interesting foliage. Consider foliage plants with colorful leaves like coleus and caladium.

When you visit your local plant store, look at the tags to check sun needs of each plant. Remember that potted plants need to be watered more often than plants in the ground because they dry out faster. Also, heavy watering can leach nutrients out of the soil so you will want to feed them more often than you do plants in the ground. Mulch the container to help retain moisture.

Question: Is there any way to prevent deer from browsing on azalea in a woodland garden?

Answer: Hungry deer can be deterred by odd sounds, smells, netting, or sudden bright lights. Scent based deterrents like grated Irish Spring soap will work for awhile until the deer get used to the smell. The same goes for hanging aluminum pie tins or bells. I like the idea of a solar powered motion based light. The light startles the deer so they flee. However deer will get used to any of these. Your best bet would be to switch deterrents once a week or so. For instance, move the light, change the scent source, or switch from hanging bells to lights.

All this sounds like a lot of work. Hungry deer will even eat plants that are considered not on the menu. If you like a woodland setting, you should be prepared for the wildlife that lives in such an area.

Question: What about Edelweiss?

Answer: Edelweiss is a short-lived perennial that grows in full sun to partial shade. It has a light sweet aroma. The plant grows to about 4 inches tall with flowers reaching eight inches tall. What we think of as the white flower are actually bracts surrounding a tiny flower. Edelweis is drought tolerant and may not survive wet seasons. Grow in U. S. Plant Zones 4 - 9.

Edelweiss prefers rocky to sandy soil with good drainage.

There is a form of lavender that is called Edelweiss. True Edelweiss is Leontropdium nival.


Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on July 14, 2020:

Hi Linette - Conditioning the soil is always a good practice. Also, in those shady, dry areas where the rain may not wet the ground under the canopy of trees, you should water any shade loving plants. Pachysandra and Vinca should also work well in those spots.

Linette Gibson on July 13, 2020:

I have a shaded area in my back yard with original trees before the land was developed. Tall trees that provide lots of shade in one area. I have noticed that anything I plant has difficulty with the trees soaking up all the water and with the clay soil. I have begun conditioning the soil with leaf compost and garden soil. This spring I planted some ferns in a shady area. So far so good.

Louise89 on December 28, 2019:

Good to know that there are options for a shady yard. Thank you so much for the tips!

Barbara Badder from USA on March 23, 2018:

We've moved to a new house that has lots of shade. Thanks for reminding me of all these shade loving plants.

Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on January 31, 2012:

sgbrown - Remember that in a woody area where there is very little sunlight, you are a bit limited. Also, many plants that bloom in shade still have trouble under trees as that area can be dryer. Tree roots really suck up a lot of water. I had hydrangeas planted under trees and as the trees grew, the hydrangea flowers shrunk. I moved them all out last fall, so am hoping for a better display this year. Thank you!

Sheila Brown from Southern Oklahoma on January 28, 2012:

Very good information for those of us who love flowers in our yards. Most areas around my house are in shade as we basically live in the woods. I have tried several of the flowers you mentioned, some worked some did not. I do have many varieties of hostas, I love hostas! I will take your advise on some of the other shade flowers you mentioned and see what kind of luck I have this year. Very good hub! Thank you for sharing this information! Voted this up and sharing! :)

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on July 09, 2010:

Another beautiful, informative, and very useful Hub!

About astilbe, one of my's a truly versatile plant. I have astilbe plants in nearly full shade as well as in full sun. All do equally well, except that the plumes in full sun lose their color a bit sooner than the others. Once the blooms are spent and cut away from the foliage, the plant is a lovely mound of greenery for the rest of the season.