All plants need light, water and a source of nutrition to grow. Light requirements differ. Some plants, heliophytes, need abundant light to flourish. On the other hand, sciophytes are shade-loving plants that use their larger photosynthetic units to split water into oxygen and hydrogen molecules with only 20-percent sunlight.
The PLANTS Database, provided by USDA, lists 491 shade-tolerant plants in the United States. We have shortlisted 15 plants perfect for a shady spot in your garden. An alternative source of information is the Plants Database, provided by The National Gardening Association
All the listed plants, where applicable, show their hardiness zones – either as a maximum or a minimum, or both. For your convenience, below is the USDA Plant Hardiness Map. We have tried to include broad categories of cool-season, intermediate and warm-season shade-loving plants in each category:
- Shade-Loving Groundcover
- Shade-Loving Flowering Plants
- Shade-Loving Winter Features
Groundcover Plants Perfect for a Shady Spot in Your Garden
1. Hay-scented Fern (Dennstaedtia Punctobobula)
The hay-scented fern gets its name from the odor of its crushed foliage, which smells like hay. This fern will grow in partial to full shade in hardiness zones 3 (-40 degrees Fahrenheit) to Zone 8b. It prefers slightly acidic soil with a pH of between 6.1 and 7.3. The fern grows to a height between 1.5 to 2-feet normally but could reach heights of up to 4-feet.
The hay-scented fern tolerates poor soil and spreads easily for ground cover. Propagation is by stolons and runners with an underground structure of rhizomes. This deciduous plant provides good fall color. Though its water preference is classified as mesic (containing moderate moisture), the hay-scented fern will tolerate dry shade.
2. American Wall Fern (Polypodium virginianum)
The American Wall Fern, also known as the Rock Polypody, grows to 12 inches. It spreads some, but if you divide your plant, it will propagate better. It loves the shade and doesn’t need much watering. The American Wall Fern is a small fern with black, leathery, heavily pinnately lobed fronds that are evergreen.
We suggest that you keep your American wall fern in a spot less exposed to wind. It’ll grow well between Zone 3 and Zone 7B, preferring medium acidic soil from pH 6.1 to 7.3. This fern is hardy and tolerant of humidity, drought, poor soil, and shade. The only adversity it does not like is wind.
3. Periwinkle (Vinca minor)
Periwinkle is a popular groundcover, classified as a vine. Gardeners from the eastern states should note that periwinkle is listed as a non-native invasive plant. The flowering cycle is perennial, depending on the local climate. Periwinkle grows well between Zone 4a and Zone 8b.
The periwinkle repeatedly blooms with blue, lavender, and white flowers. Blooming times are commonly from spring to fall, with a flower about an inch big. Each plant grows approximately 12-inches high and spreads up to 18-inches.
4. Hosta ’Fire Island’
Beauty, apparently, is in the eye of the beholder. Well, I love the Hosta family. Hosta is a shade-loving foliage plant that thrives under deciduous trees, borders, and ground cover. The foliage grows to a height of 6 to 3 feet, with the longer flower spikes appearing in the early to mid-summer.
The colors of the foliage range from chartreuse to deep blue-green, and many types have noticeable variegation. Flowers come in various colors, including white and lavender, and some have a lovely aroma. Control methods may be necessary because hosta is a favorite diet of slugs, snails, and deer.
Plant in the spring, with plants spaced 1 to 3 feet apart. Prepare the garden bed by loosening the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches using a garden fork or tiller, then mixing in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the size of the plant’s container.
Remove the plant from its container, placing it in the hole to level the root balls. Fill in around the root ball with care and firm the dirt carefully. Thoroughly wet the area. Fire Island does well between Zones 3 and 8b and flowers a medium lavender tubular-shaped flower in late summer, early fall.
5. Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans Chocolate Chip)
There are more than 120 Ajuga (bugleweed) variants. This review looks at the Valfredda cultivar, branded as the Chock Chip. Some TLC is required to establish Chocolate Chip – approximately two seasons.
This ajuga variant is good to have around other plants where you want to control aphids. Ajuga reptans attract ladybugs and hoverflies, both of which feed on aphids. If you have a miniature garden, this is a good addition. It does better if it gets about 3-hours of sun a day.
The minimum cold tolerance is Zone 3 (-40 degrees Fahrenheit). The plant is low, growing only 6-inches tall, and spreads up to 9-inches. PLEASE NOTE: the leaves are poisonous.
The tiny seed knew that in order to grow it needed to be dropped in dirt, covered in darkness, and struggle to reach the light.Sandra Kring
Flowering Plants Perfect for a Shady Spot in Your Garden
6. Double-Flowering Japanese Kerria (Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’)
Also known as the yellow rose of Texas, the kerria japonica grows well between Zones 4a and 9b with minimum temperatures at -30 degrees Fahrenheit. The blonde serves well as the windbreak or hedge and provides cut flowers with blooms between one and two inches.
The bush, which can grow up to 10-feet tall, blooms from spring to early summer, creating a carpet of yellow color on borders or hedges or as stand-alone shrubs. Propagate by division. Kerria flourishes in all light conditions, including full-sun to full-shade.
7. Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis ‘Multiplex’)
This beauty will grow in partial to full shade in hardiness zones 4a to 7b. The Multiplex is a low plant, growing between 6- and 12-inches tall and propagates as root cuttings or through stolons and runners.
It has a spectacular flower that blooms in late winter and early spring but doesn’t last long. If your shady spot has some dampness and is slightly acidic, the bloodroot will do splendidly.
If you’re using root division to plant, do so in early spring. Mind the voles; they like bloodroot too.
8. Honeywort (Cerinthe major subsp. purpurascens)
May we suggest you plant this striking 2-foot tall annual at the back of your bed to create a slightly higher color backdrop than your front plants. The final presentation will be fascinating purple-colored flowers and leaves with alternative colored, lower bushes in front.
The Honeywort is a warm-season plant and only grows where the minimum temperature is 10 degrees Fahrenheit (between Zones 8a and 10b). You can sow in winter for flowers to bloom between late spring to early winter.
9. Leopard’s Bane (Doronicum Orientale ‘Little Leo’)
‘Little Leo’ is a big delight! The little is because Leo is shorter than other doronicum varieties. It blooms in early spring, and its freshness is a celebration of life. Cut the spent blooms to prevent reseeding.
It does well in cool-season climates, between Zone 4a and 7b. The plant grows to 15-inches and spreads as much. Make sure Little Leo gets enough to drink.
10. Penciled Cranesbill (Geranium Versicolor)
And from the Geranium family, we have uncle Veined Cranesbill. If the flower wasn’t so beautiful, the humorous thread of uncle veined-nose could continue, but the plant is too lovely.
Growing a whole of 2-feet tall and 2-feet wide, this cool-season groundcover plant seems to bloom throughout the year, except winter. The maximum climate zone is Zone 8b before temperatures get too hot.
Wondering how to make your home landscaping or garden look good all year round and thinking about adding a wildlife pond or garden pond to your outdoor landscape? You’re not
Winter Feature Plants Perfect for a Shady Spot in Your Garden
11. Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Lime Rickey’)
Lime Rickey can grow up to 17-inches tall and 18-inches wide. Lime Rickey is adapted for Zones 4a to 9b and cannot handle extreme humidity, heat, or cold. The plant is a lovely vibrant green and adds a great backdrop to more colorful plants.
Limey Rickey Carol Bells needs good drainage and should not be overwatered. It is relatively drought resistant. Propagation is through replanting leaves or division. If you would like to attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden, Lime Rickey does it well.
Carol Bells has a wide variety of cultivars. Some, like the Heuchera ‘Glitter” below are patented.
12. Hellebore (Helleborus Winter Jewels™ Berry Swirl)
Another stunning member of the Hellebores family, this shade-loving plant can bring winter color to your garden. The Winter Jewel blooms late in winter and early summer, long before the colorful summer season.
As with all the hellebores, this plant is toxic and can irritate your skin and eyes. Beware of accidental ingestion by children or pets.
The flowers are pink and purple, one to two inches big, and classified as showy. If you use the flowers as cut-flowers, remember the whole plant is toxic. Propagation is by seed that could take up to 18-months to germinate.
13. Coral Bells (Heuchera ‘Glitter’)
The bling version of Carol Bells will add some unusual color to your fall garden. Complimenting the semi-green foliage is an abundance of pink blooms in summer. It grows well in the transition zones – Zone 4a to 9b.
These plants attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds to your garden, a haven for life. Propagation is by leaves or division. Your Carol Bells need good drainage and not too much watering.
Carol Bells function well as a ground cover and provides some winter interest to your garden.
14. Reeves Spiraea (Spiraea cantoniensis)
The Reeves Spiraea is ideal for making bridal wreaths for spring weddings. The shrub grows to a height of 5-feet. White, fragrant cluster-blooms cover the plant in spring, creating a great display to the start of the growing season.
You will see a great increase in bee activity at this time – always a healthy sign. Tall enough to create a shade tree, this perennial shrub is an asset in any shady spot.
Stem cuttings are used to propagate the Reeves Spiraea.
15. Violet (Viola grypoceras)
The adage is that the show is not over until the fat lady sing. Well, this little flowering plant is our aria for shade plants. The violet is a global favorite for shady spots.
Growing a whole 4-inches tall, each plant presents with multiple blossoms in spring – white, blue, purple, and lavender. The blooms are less than an inch in size. The Violet is a perennial plant with deciduous leaves.
The African violet is not part of the Viola family, and in contrast to Violas, needs a lot of suns. While the Violet can grow in most soils, it requires good drainage and organic matter to flourish.
There are a huge variety of shade-loving and shade-tolerant plants. This was a brief introduction to some of the less commonly referenced plants. We hope it was helpful and that you will try some of our suggestions. Happy simplified gardening folks.
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