10 Plants That Grow Well in the Shade
Many new gardeners bemoan having too much shade in their garden. This is understandable if they just wanted to sunbathe, but if you think that nothing much will grow in the shade, think again. I will show you how to choose appropriate plants that will gladden your borders throughout the year.
Think of it as a challenge. You'll be thrilled with the results.
A Quick List of Shade-Tolerant Plants to Grow in Your Garden
With thanks to the many readers who gave their suggestions, here is a preview of the 10 shade-loving plants that I'll be going over in this article:
- Busy Lizzie or Impatiens
- American Wood Lily or Trillium Grandiflorum
- Columbine or Aquilegia
- Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema Candidissimum
- African Daisy or Dryopteris Erythrosora
Astilbe come in a range of colours, including white, pink, mauve and red. They grow to about 3 feet tall and flower in summer with glorious plumes.
They are quite at home in full shade or dappled shade. Their small leaves are very ornamental and give a good show, even when the plants are not in flower. The leaves turn brown and die back in winter, and new leaves begin to unfurl as spring advances. There are also about 18 different varieties of Astilbe.
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a small perennial woodland plant that grows about 12" high from rhizomes. It flowers in late spring but will flower early if the winter has been mild—in my London garden, it flowered in May this year. The flowers are like delicate little bells of white tinged with green. So pretty.
According to my research, they can become a bit invasive. Unfortunately, this has never been the case in my garden, and until this year, I have found them a bit difficult to grow. This could be because I have tried to grow them in the sun on my rockery, and perhaps they just didn't like that position.
This year, I tried growing them in full shade in a pot that I kept well watered. They were far more successful than the rockery group.
Hostas are grown as much for their broad ornamental leaves as for their somewhat insignificant, short-flowering blue or white flowers.
They are perennials that start producing their clump of leaves in late spring to early summer and die off in autumn. The leaves vary in colour from pale green or yellowy green in some types, to very dark green or blue-green in other types, or even variegated stripes. They make good ground cover in the shade and also make very ornamental pot plants when planted up in large containers.
Sadly, slugs and snails love them and can wolf down the lot in one night. I have even bought some which were said to be "slug-resistant," but they certainly weren't, and they just went the same way as the others. This can be very annoying if you have paid a lot for them. Not all gardens have a lot of slugs, and you might be lucky.
In my garden, I have found the secret is to grow the hostas in large planters with a copper ring round the outside, which stops slugs in their tracks. You can buy the strips of metal at garden centers.
4. Busy Lizzie or Impatiens
Impatiens grow in various shades of white, pink, salmon and red and can brighten up a dark and shady border. They do need some sunlight but will tolerate partial shade.
They are long flowering and usually treated as annuals, although in warmer climates they may be perennials. As they like warmth, they should not be planted outside until late spring. They rarely need deadheading. But if they look straggly, you can cut them back a little, and they will sprout new flower heads and last from spring to autumn.
5. American Wood Lily or Trillium Grandiflorum
Also known as large white wood lily, snow trillium, wake robin or white wake robin, Trillium grandiflorum is a perennial plant that grows vigorously in full or partial shade. It grows from rhizomes in a large clump with erect stems, which bear just one white flower with three petals up to 10 centimeters across. It grows in spring to about 6–9 inches (10–15 cms) high, with a similar spread.
It needs a sheltered position and likes moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil, mulching with leaf mould in autumn. As propagation by seeds takes several years to mature, it is preferable to divide the rhizomes after flowering.
Trilliums do not need pruning and are normally disease free, but they are liked by slugs and snails.
Do you grow plants from seeds, or do you acquire them when they are growing in pots?
6. Columbine or Aquilegia
The flowers of columbines or aquilegia range through white, yellow, pink and mauve, with many different combinations. Aquilegia are perennials with long, leafy stems that bear flowers with spurs. The plants are hardy and will grow in half-shade or sun. They grow to about 1 foot high (30 cm) and flower in late spring to early summer. You can grow them from seeds sown in pots in spring and transplant them into fertile and moist, but well-drained soil. They look good in a rockery as well as in flower beds.
Aquilegias are very pretty and one of my favourite plants. They self-seed and, once established, the number of plants increases year by year.
7. Jack-in-the-Pulpit or Arisaema Candidissimum
Jack-in-the-Pulpit are perennial bulbs that are not fully hardy and sometimes need protection in winter. They grow in full sun or partial shade and like a sheltered position. The bulbs should not be allowed to dry out over winter when dormant. They like a moist, well-drained soil and can be propagated by seeds sown in autumn or spring.
Their white, hooded spathes can be striped pale pink with a greenish tube. They grow to about 10 cm in length and appear in summer. The flowers are carried on long, upright stems that grow to about 1 foot high, followed by a spike of red berries in autumn.
Jack-in-the-Pulpit look good in informal gardens, flower borders or as underplanting of roses and shrubs. They don't need to be pruned. But they are susceptible to slugs and vine weevil.
Note: These plants are toxic and can cause skin or eye irritation or severe discomfort if eaten.
8A. Anemone de Caen
Anemone de Caen will grow in partial shade—provided there is plenty of light—though they do best in a sunny spot. They need a sheltered place, well-drained soil and compost or manure. They bear very brightly coloured red, white, pink and purple flowers in June and may bloom for several months.
They are ideal for planting in borders, rockeries and tubs. They grow to about 10 inches high. They are also good as cut flowers and will last for 7–10 days.
Plant the tubers with the pointed end upwards, soaking them overnight first. If you plant them in autumn, protect them by covering with straw or dead leaves.
Note: Although people say that Anemone de Caen is easy to grow, I have never had much success with them. This is not through want of trying, as I love them. But clearly, I have not given them the appropriate conditions to flourish. I can only warn you to follow the growing instructions carefully when you buy them.
8B. Anemone Japonica
These are my favourite anemones—the colors are more subtle than that of their little cousins.
Once established, these perennials spread by suckers and self-seeding. They need to be kept strictly under control if you don't want them to take over the whole garden. But they are what I call good-value flowers, as you'll find them blooming from mid-summer to November or even December if the weather is mild. The leaves are attractive in their own right, so the plants look ornamental even before the flowers develop.
They grow to about 3–4 feet tall. So remember not to plant them in the front of your flower borders.
Epimedium are forest plants and need moist, free-draining, humus-rich soil and shade.
Their new leaves are tinted in bronze, copper and reds, turning purple and red in autumn in some varieties. Apply a mulch to protect new growth from frosts.
10. African Daisy or Osteospermum
A spectacular flower, African Daisy opens during the day and closes as it gets dark. Care instructions from most plant sellers state that it is a half-hardy perennial that needs full sunlight. But mine have done well in half-shade—with sunlight for just part of the day—and have lived on for several years in spite of frost, but in a fairly sheltered position in my front garden.
They are long-flowering, from June to October.
Bonus: Buckler Fern or Dryopteris Erythrosora
If you're looking for one more shade-loving plant, consider Dryopteris erythrosora. They are hardy ferns that grow in partial or full shade, and prefer moist, heavy soil or clay. They grow to about 1 foot high and spread a similar amount. The fronds are coppery red when emerging and mature to dark green, dying back in winter.
They need a lot of water and will benefit with the addition of compost or well-rotted leaf mould.
Are you likely to plant any of these plants in your garden?
More Plants That Love the Shade
Questions & Answers
© 2011 Diana Grant