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Shade Gardening


With some varieties flowering, some featuring vibrant fall foliage or striking leaf shapes or bark, large beautiful trees can be the centerpieces of your landscape.  Our trees provide much appreciated resting and living spaces for wildlife, and give us shelter from the sun so that we can enjoy our yards in the summer.  Unfortunately, our trees can create gardening challenges by limiting sunlight and planting areas.  For those with heavily shaded properties, this means missing out on a great many flowering plants like phlox, coneflower, poppies, petunias, and zinnias.  Shade gardeners can feel a little limited when it comes to introducing color and diversity to their landscapes.  The good news is no shade gardener is stuck with hostas (not that we don’t like hostas!).  There are loads of options when it comes to partial and deep shade plants, and if you ask us, a diverse shade garden stands out among gardens of more commonly planted full sun flowers, shrubs, and vines. 

Photo cred:  ParentingPatch (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Hellebore –Hellebores are the secret weapon of shade gardeners.  Round cup-like flowers boast cream, pink, green, purple, and even black hues that stand out even in the shade.  Some varieties of hellebore feature gorgeous speckling and markings in the petals.  Best of all, these spring-blooming beauties are drought-tolerant, thrive under neglect, and can adapt to slightly acidic and slightly alkaline soils.  This is a go-to flower to bring color to any shade garden.  Zones 4-9.

Lily-of-the-valley—Delicate white flowers dangle above a nest of shiny foliage, and pack a fragrant punch in the garden when used as groundcover under trees or bare areas.  While it proves an excellent groundcover, it has a tendency to crowd out other plantings, so don’t plant lily-of-the-valley where it can overpower other plants.  It isn’t picky about its soil so long as you keep it moist.  Zones 3-9.

Fuchsia – Fuchsia, with its waving hot pink, white, and purple blooms, make showy hanging baskets that attract hummingbirds and bees.  Keep the soil moist and packed with organic matter, and you will have long-lasting blooms.  Zones 9-10.

Toad lily—A quirky speckled and almost orchid-like flower, toad lilies will add a burst of color and texture among the foliage in the fall.  Feed your toad lilies will lots of organic matter, and be sure to keep them moist.  Zones 4-9.

Toad Lily

Photo credit: By Beeflower (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Foam flower—Foam flower has both clumping and running forms, making it an incredibly versatile flower in the garden.  Use the clumping variety to fill in shady areas in your beds, or the creeping variety to create ground cover under large trees or edging along beds.  However you plant it, foam flowers will flourish—though soils rich with organic material are ideal, it adapts easily to all kinds of soil.  Zones 3-9.

Columbine, lilies, irises— go ahead and experiment with these! We have found that these are not picky about their light exposure, and would add colorful variety to any garden.

Primrosethese small, spunky flowers thrive in moist, slightly acidic soil, that’s rich in organic matter.  They like to be grown under shade and protection or indoors, making them a great plant to use to border your house or trees. Zones 2-8.


Bleeding heart—This shrub gets its dramatic common name from the unique shape of its blossoms.  Bleeding hearts feature large lobed foliage and rods of dangling pink or white flowers.  These flowers look like hearts “bleeding” from the bottoms.  Bleeding hearts bloom in the spring, typically, and prefer acidic and well-drained soils.  Zones 3-9.

Hydrangea—This shade beauty, originally from Asia, has become a staple of the southern garden in the US.  Hydrangeas come in many varieties, and can thrive in many types of soil.  Big cotton candy puff blooms appear in the summer and last for several weeks.  Some hydrangeas can change colors according to the acidity of the soil.  Blooms range from pure white to baby blue to hot pink and lavender depending on the pH of the soil.  Using amendments such as lime, blood meal, bone meal, cottonseed meal, or commercial products designed to raise and lower pH, you can turn your hydrangeas from pink to blue and back again.

Burning bush- The vibrant Burning Bush will add an exciting pop of red and brighten up any shady spot. Burning Bushes will grow to be quite large, usually 5 ft tall and 5 ft wide over time, and are quite resilient under most conditions, as long as there is good soil drainage. This shrub will be most colorful in the fall, adding to the autumnal scenery of your yard. Zones 4-8.

Old fashioned Weigela- Pink funnel-shaped blossoms will brighten up you spring! Once mature, this will be a rounded, dense shrub with overarching branches and will bloom in late spring/ early summer. This beautiful bush is partial to shade and moist, well-drained soil. Zones 5-8.

Viburnum—This shrub boasts beautiful, delicate blossoms that will provide a lovely fragrance to your garden. You will enjoy this plant all year long- their blossoms attract butterflies, their berries attract birds, and it is admired for its fall foliage.  Viburnums like moist, fertile soil, and are excellent for fence lines or borders. You’ll love that they are deer resistant and easy to take care of.  Zones 2-9.

Mountain laurel- Clusters of light pink or white blossoms will adorn your mountain laurel shrub in late spring. This plant thrives in acidic soil with a pH of 4.5 to 5.5. Soil should be moist, well-drained and high in organic matter, so be sure to compost! Loves the shade but will tolerate some sun, as long as it does not dry out the soil. Zones 5-9.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel

Photo Cred: By Nicholas (originally posted to Flickr as Blooming) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


Clematis-  The striking beauty of this perennial climbing vine combined with its versatility makes it a favorite amongst gardeners. Even better, they produce an enchanting fragrance and will create a hot spot for the neighborhood butterflies. Grow your clematis along a fence or lattice to make your garden or patio feel like a true Eden. The clematis blossoms in a variety of sizes and colors, and are partial to basic or neutral soils balanced in moisture and nutrients. Zones 4-9.

Climbing hydrangea-  Climbing hydrangea will keep climbing and climbing along your trees, walls or fences without any staking or added support; it can grow up to 60 feet tall! This amazing plant boasts breathtaking midsummer white blooms and rich green foliage that will look beautiful along your fence line or sprawling through your garden floor.  Once established, this plant is easy to grow and maintain. It prefers moist, well-drained soil, and can successfully grow in loamy, clay or normal soil. This plant is resistant to humidity, heat, and drought. Zones 4-8.

Vinca- The blue, purple, pink or white blossoms of the Vinca vine may be small, but they make a big impression. Allow the vine to ramble along the ground for an enjoyable ground cover. This plant is the essence of resilience; it will stand up to heat, cold, rain or drought. Although it can survive a range of conditions, it does best in soil with moderate moisture and may need to be treated with fertilizer occasionally. Zones 2-11.

California Dutchman’s pipe – great for creating a living drape for privacy, seclusion, or shade, the California Dutchman’s Pipe creates a cascade of heart shaped leaves once fully grown. This vine does particularly well in the shade and is not picky about soil (although its favorite is loamy, fertile soil). The unique flower produced by this plant is long and curved, shaped much like an old pipe and actually closes when an insect enters the bloom to encourage pollination. This plant is certainly a conversation piece and a great addition to any shaded garden. Zones 5-8.

Honeysuckle- Honeysuckle, an old favorite, will look great in your yard or garden no matter what color or variety you choose. Bring back memories of summer while also attracting hummingbirds when the tubular blossoms bloom. Support its growth with by tying it to a vertical stake at planting. Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Zones 4-9.