Plantings that love shade!

Posted June 6, 2019 in Plant and Tree

Walking up and down the long, straight, plant-lined aisles can be exhausting, especially when you’re fighting crowds while trying to read the care cards in the pots.  All you wanted to do is find some plants that will tolerate the shaded parts of your landscape to complete the outdoor plan for your home, but you’re only met with frustration.  While hunting for the perfect shade-loving plants can be a nice afternoon at the garden center, you can only peruse the plantings that are available at that location.  A little research will serve you well when looking for something so specific, so let us do the groundwork for you!

First, let’s go over a few terms you may encounter in your quest for the ultimate shady characters for your space.

Shade tolerant: plants that are shade tolerant truly do prefer sunlight but will tolerate some hints of shade.  This term is kind of deceiving since shade tolerant plants will not perform as well if they aren’t planted in full sun.  Plants that do not receive enough sunlight will get leggy and their blooms may look a little pitiful, if you get any.  Treat shade tolerant plants as full sun plants and you should be fine.

  • Partial sun: a location that received 5-6 hours of sunlight is described as partial sun.
  • Partial shade: describes a location that receives 3-4 hours of sunlight.
  • Shady Location: this term describes a location that receives anything less than 6 full hours of direct sunlight.


Now that we have that out of the way, let’s start with annuals since they are already in bloom when ready to purchase.  Many homeowners don’t like to purchase annuals because they will only provide joy for that one warm season, but instant color and interesting blooms sometimes just can’t be beat!  Here are two of our favorite annuals that do well in shaded areas:

  • Impatiens:  This garden beauty has been a staple in American landscapes for decades.  The flowering annual is simple and sweet in shades of pink, rose, red, lilac, purple, orange or white, has a continuous bloom cycle, treats allergy sufferers with the utmost respect and, you guessed it, thrives in shade!
  • Fuchsia: Fuchsia is a gorgeous exotic-looking flower with striking two-tone colors that you most often see in hanging baskets. Many people think that this flower is hard to keep happy, but knowing that they hate the heat and direct sun will set you in the right direction.  Giving this plant plenty of shade and keeping its soil moist will provide a season of sensation!


Groundcovers are amazing, they fill in and spread out over your landscaping beds, choking out weeds and eliminating the need for mulch in those areas over time…but which will perform in daytime shade?

  • Vinca Minor: This groundcover is tough, low maintenance and essentially pest-free…win, win, win!  Vinca minor vines stay short and sprawl.  Only growing 3-6” off the ground and producing pretty little lavender, purple or white flowers makes them the perfect landscaping blanket.  This plant will grow where most others will not, in the shade or under trees, but keep an eye on its location, it may end up overstepping its bounds.
  • Pachysandra:  Also known as “spurge” or “wood spurge”, this evergreen groundcover is low maintenance, loves and thrives in shade and will grow into a dense groundcover that will effectively choke out weeds.  What makes this groundcover even better? Deer hate it!  No need to worry about hungry winter nibblers.

Foliage Plants

This next group is known for their outstanding and dramatic foliage within the landscape making them sensational additions to dull or underwhelming areas around the property.  Especially useful in areas of shade, you can count on the following perennial plantings to bring the dark  areas to life:

  • Hosta:  Low maintenance, reliable, hardy and attractive…all the makings of a great plant!  There are many varieties of hostas, all of which require their own level of shade.  Being such a popular shade planting, gardeners eventually developed the rule of thumb, the darker the hosta leaf, the less sun it will require.  Those searching for deep shade winners should explore the Elegans or Great Expectations varieties!
  • Coral Bells:  Today, coral bells are just as ubiquitous as hostas, both having handsome foliage to brighten up the saddest areas of the landscape.  Coral bells are unique in their look, however.  Having clumps of ruffled leaves in a variety of colors ranging from bronze, copper, olive, red and purple, this plant will display clusters of small blooms on wiry stems in the late spring.
  • Japanese forest grass:  If Cousin It from the Addams Family were a plant, this would certainly be it!  This shade-loving plant is brightly colored, most variegated, graceful yet slow growing.  Maturity will set this beauty 18-24” tall with long flat blades arching to the ground in a 360° layered waterfall.  One of our true favorites.

Flowering Perennials

It seems that homeowners are always desperately searching for flowering plants to brighten up the shady areas of the yard and we completely get it because colorful flowers certainly do make shadowy spots a little more joyful!  Let’s take a look at a few drop-dead gorgeous shade location plantings guaranteed to lighten up the mood…

  • Hydrangea:  Referring back to the shade terms at the top of this blog, it is a common misconception that hydrangeas need full sun, all the time.  While hydrangeas don’t thrive in full shade (womp woooommmpp!), they can do well in areas of part sun or part shade, so don’t completely discount a dappled sun area of your property and this landscaping beauty!
  • Bleeding heart: Coming back to full shade plants, because ultimately that’s why we are here, bleeding hearts are a great addition to the shaded locations of your property.  Graceful and arching branches adorned with very attractive and interesting blooms makes this a sheer winner for the landscape.
  • Astilbe: Best known for their unique colorful plumes, you can find astilbe in a myriad of colors and heights.  For ultimate drama, plant a height and color mix in your shady areas!  This play on plants will display different bloom times throughout the season to keep the landscape exciting!

Flowering Trees and Shrubs

Last, but certainly not least, we come to flowering trees and shrubs, which are essentially the bones of a landscape.  There are quite a few that will perform well in the shade, but here are a few of our favs:

  • Flowering dogwood: This tree is an understory tree, so it is no stranger to shade, in fact, it thrives in it!  This tree is an excellent choice for spots with 20-25’ height clearance and in need of some cheering up, as the dogwood’s white flowers will be like beacons of light in the shadows.
  • Rhododendron: “Rhodies” are one of the showiest shrubs on this planet and we are blessed that they thrive in shaded locations, eager to lighten the mood of the landscape!  This evergreen shrub will grow tall and wide and supply colorful blooms in spring for weeks.  Since all flowers don’t bloom at once, the bloom time is typically extended.
  • Azalea:  They say that all azaleas are rhododendrons, but not all rhododendrons are azaleas.  Rather than taking the time to get into it, we will just say that azaleas and rhododendrons are related!  Azaleas also put on an amazing color show for several weeks in the spring and in the gloomiest places in the yard.  Azaleas actually prefer to live under or near trees, so you have creative freedom when planting!

There certainly are plenty of plants, flowers, vines, trees and shrubs that will work their magic in all types of shade locations, but this list is a good starting point for those who are looking for a little guidance!  Actually, here at MasterPLAN Outdoor Living, we love educating homeowners as well as partnering with our clients to create beautiful and functional outdoor living spaces custom tailored for their family, home and lifestyle!  We would love to experience the backyard transformation journey with you, discovering the true potential of your property to bring smiles and joy to your family.  When you are ready to transform your backyard into the outdoor living space you have always wanted, reach out to MasterPLAN…we would love to welcome you into the family!

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