Perennial Plant Ideas for Shade Gardens

Shade gardens of all kinds are somewhat hard to plant in. Plants that suit shade gardens are fairly picky about exactly what kind of shade they like- from dappled to diffuse to deep shade, some still needing some amount of sun to look their best, but not too much of course! Morning shade, afternoon shade, midday shade, shade that’s “bright” (what does that even mean exactly?!) to wet shade and dry shade and on and on. In contrast, plants that love the sun seem to do well in just that-the sun. Bonus on the sunny plants that do fine in rocky spots or don’t mind drying out, as sunny hot spots tend to always be dry at some point. But shade loving plants are much pickier. For those of us who need to landscape a shady area around the foundation or in the garden, plants that simply absolutely thrive with minimal care in any shady area are ideal. Here are our favorite shade-loving perennial plants that do well in just about any shade situation so that you don’t have to deal with choosy, finicky plants. Enjoy!

  • Heuchera and Hucherella: Heuchera is a shade lover that also offers bright punches of color to the shade garden with its absolutely stunning foliage. There are many strains bred today that have bright orange, pink, yellow, and multicolor foliage that are just as bright as they look in advertisements. Check out Heucherella ‘Sweet Tea’, with its amazing pink and orange foliage and red veining. All Heucheras and Heucherellas have nice and neat mounding growth habits rarely exceeding 3 feet in spread, and less in height. They do send up cute but insignificant flowers in the spring, but they are mainly grown for their amazing foliage. Grown in partial shade to full shade, they can withstand some drying out but do best in evenly moist soils.

  • Hosta: Hostas are classic shade garden perennials that are tough as nails, hardy throughout the country, and have a loyal following among plant collectors and breeders. They have been bred to grow in many, many sizes, and shapes- and now even colors (although generally ranging in greens and yellows, but even sometimes whites!). Every shade garden needs a grouping of hostas. They play well architecturally with huecheras and ferns, which are other tough and fabulous shade perennials, and they’re long lived. Best of all, they clump to maturity fast, giving you plenty of crown divisions to spread in the garden and share with friends! A favorite cultivar of ours happens to be Blue Mouse Ears- it’s a small hosta with adorable very round green leaves edged in white. Plant Blue Mouse Ears in little groupings between other plants in the front of the shade garden. It’s as cute as it is adorable!

  • Ferns: Ferns are a very old type of plant that’s been around for millions of years, and they’ve evolved to be very long lived and tough plants. In the garden, they offer beauty with toughness that’s hard to find in other perennials that are suitable for shade. Their fine foliage and forms, as well as occasionally colorations, make them fantastic plants to contrast with other, larger leaved shade perennials like hostas. Many of the ferns available are also US native plants, making them perfectly suited for cultivation in all areas. In fact, Ostrich Fern is a US native fern that is not only super tough (hardy in zones 2-8 or more), but also naturalizes well. Also, Ostrich Fern is the source of the gourmet food known as fiddleheads- which are delicious and very expensive high-end restaurant fare. Fiddleheads are nothing but the very early spring’s growth of emergent Ostrich Ferns. They are delicious and very good for you! For more color in ferns, try a variety like our Japanese Painted Fern, with veins of purple and fronds in colors of purples, silvers, greens, and pinks.

  •  Creeping Raspberry: Known as Rubus pentalobus is a shade loving ground cover hardy in most of the US (zones 7-9) and is a favorite food source for birds and other wildlife with I’s small yet insignificant yet tasty fruit. It’s well enough behaved to keep under control as far as creeping ground covers go. It’s attractive lobed foliage is a fun contrast to other types of foliage, and is a great ground cover for naturalized areas in the shade.

  • Pachysandra: Pachysandra is a less known but much loved to those who have it shade loving ground cover that is super well behaved and very tough. It grows finely in dry shade and moist shade, and looks great year round with its evergreen foliage. It spreads slowly and stays within boundaries without fuss. Pachysandra is a perfect solution to filling in problem areas too, where not much else will grow! Hardy all the way down to zone 4, Pachysandra is happy just about anywhere.

  • Pulmonaria: While most of our suggestions of tough shade plants are grown mostly for their foliage, Pulmonaria is enjoyed for both its foliage AND it’s lovely bloom! A short growing ground cover that loves shade, pulmonaria has foliage that is green and smattered in lovely silver. Pulmonaria ‘Dark Vader’ then blooms in bright pink fading t purple- absolutely lovely! Also, pulmonaria is not only hardy to frigid zone 4, but tolerates and the heat all the way to zone 9.

We hope you find your next shade garden candidates from our list of just a few of our favorites. They are sure to grow and thrive with minimal care, delighting you with years of enjoyment!