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Easy Perennials For Your Shade Garden

Updated on May 20, 2016

Excellent Plants for Shade Gardens

Cimifugia (Ligularia blooming at it's base. These get practically no shade and tolerate dry conditions.
Cimifugia (Ligularia blooming at it's base. These get practically no shade and tolerate dry conditions.
Ligularia Desminoides
Ligularia Desminoides
Cinnamon Stick Fern
Cinnamon Stick Fern
Japanese Painted Fern
Japanese Painted Fern
Woodland Poppy
Woodland Poppy

Shade Lovers!

Ligularia x farfugium 'Last Dance' - Ligularia
Ligularia x farfugium 'Last Dance' - Ligularia

This plant will brighten up any dark shady area in late summer through the first frost.


Most of the gardening I've done has been in shady areas. We've lived in our present home for a long time and it is surrounded by woods and mature trees, which I love. I also love flowers and pretty plants and hate eco-toxic green-grass lawns. So, I've learned a lot about shade gardening!

Wet shade has to be the most difficult location to grow plants successfully. One plant that thrives in these habitat is the Turtle Head plant (Chelone ). It grows naturally in wet, boggy areas. It is a perennial that grows about two-feet tall, maximum. Mine is located on the north side of my house under an area where water drips and sometimes collects with every rain. It blooms in late summer, on the top of the upright stems. The flowers look like little purple ‘turtle heads'. It a nice rich green sturdy plant all year long. Because of this, it makes a great background for a perennial bed that has deep shade in the back and more sun in the front. They do spread, but quite slowly. I started out with a ten-inch pot about five years ago and the clump is only about three-feet in diameter.

Ferns are great for shade. I planted three or four Cinnamon Stick Ferns in a shady area, also about ten years ago, and now I have several large areas filled in from the babies that it produced. It can be invasive, so keep that in mind, but they are so beautiful and squeeze out weeds, and carefree.

They fall over and die back in times of extreme drought, but they come back stronger (and more numerous than ever) the next year.

Japanese painted ferns are a silvery color fern with red stems and veins. I have several next to the front steps of my porch as they're so pretty and it's nice to have them in a location where you see them close up. They are easy to propagate from offshoots and aren't invasive.

Sweet Woodruff, Vinca Minor, Pachysandra, Bishop's weed and violets are perfect for filling in large areas where you want low growth. I could retire on the money my neighbor has spent trying to grow a ‘grass lawn' under his maple trees. Then of course there is the fungicide he has to use and fertilizer, and of course the gas-powered mower. I have the same kind of trees and yard and it's filled with Vinca, Sweet Woodruff, Ferns and Violets that require none of that stuff. People are always commenting on what a lovely front yard we have. It's the result of my being a lazy gardener.

Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum), sometimes called ‘wild baby's breath' is perfect for large shady areas. It offers

small white blooms in spring and looks like a beautiful misty white carpet. They are very aromatic and form a solid low green area the rest of the year. I plant spring bulbs under it and it is a beautiful backdrop for tulips, hyacinths and daffodils. .

Creeping Myrtle (vinca minor) is wonderful stuff to grow under trees. Also, in the fall, we let the tree leaves fall on it and they quickly decay, which in turn feeds the trees. Very few weeds push their way once Vinca is established and it remains an even height and remains a dark, shiny green year round. In spring it is covered with lovely purple flowers. I have a variety with white flowers, but it's a very slow spreader.

Pachysandra will only grow in shade, so sort if keeps itself in check, as it is an invasive ground cover, but very hardy and perfect for shade.

People spend a lot of time, effort and money trying to get rid of wild violets. I invite them, as they too form a thick, low-growing mat that never has to be weeded or mowed. These, unlike the Sweet Woodruff and Vinca, Violets are not evergreen, so you will have a large patch of knobby dirt during the winter months. Snow covers the ground here in Michigan most of the winter, so it's not really a problem.

Hostas are famous for being great shade plants. They do bloom, but their decorative foliage is usually why people plant them. I have some a friend gave me years ago that is mostly white leaved and really lightens up shady spots. There are too many hosta varieties to list here, but go to a shade garden nursery site and you're sure to find many that you like. The leaves are heart- shaped, round, spear-shaped or just about any shaped leaf you can imagine. They are great fun to collect and trade with other gardeners.

Asiatic lilies are shade tolerant. This means they will do fairly well in shade or ‘tolerate' it, but won't reach their full potential. I grow them in shade, but they do get a couple of hours of full sun per day, and work quite well.

Corydalis is wonderful for dry shade. I'd just about given up trying to grow anything is several sandy, shady areas in my yard. A friend gave me a clump of Corydalis and it filled the space right in. The foliage is fernlike and airy and the delicate flowers bloom nearly all summer. It grows in mounds that only get about 7" tall. There is a variety that has blue blooms, but I haven't been very successful getting the blue to spread.

Epimedium is another low ground cover that has medium sized heart-shaped leaves. It too grows in clumps. This is another one better seen up close as the leaves often have red edges or a coppery sheen and sort of 'quiver' in the breeze. They spread, but not rapidly and aren't invasive. They also tolerate dry spells well.

Cimicifugia is a tall plant with fern or feathery leaves. It loves shade and mine grows to be over six-feet tall, so put them in the back. In late summer tall arching clusters of white flowers (sort of like the form of lilacs) are beautiful, smell great and are fun to use dried in arrangements.

Ligularia is another shade plant that has either very large round leaves or feathery, depending up on the variety. I have one with the round leaves and it produces large deep orange flowers in late spring. I just planted another variety that has spiky flowers.

When you start a shade garden, start small. Just try just a few of these plants at a time until you know which ones do best in your soil. Many nurseries in our area sell 'baby' perennials, so you can try them out for a few dollars instead of ten or twenty.

Be patient. As the saying goes with perennials ‘ the first year they sleep, second year they creep and the third year they leap!" Most of the plants mentioned above will follow this pattern.

(There are more suggestions on (same title) Part 2 here on my page).

Here are plants that love shade - perennials:

Athyrium niponicum var. 'Pictum' - Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium niponicum var. 'Pictum' - Japanese Painted Fern

One of these beauties lives next to my porch steps on the north side of our house and is a great eye catcher and comes back strong year after year.


Books To Help You Be A Shade Gardener


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    • Pat Merewether profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Merewether 

      7 years ago from Michigan

      Great! I love it when I can link a gardener with a new plant!

    • natures47friend profile image


      7 years ago from Sunny Art Deco Napier, New Zealand.

      Cinnamon Stick Fern sounds lovely. It is so pretty and I had never heard of it until now....thank you.

    • Pat Merewether profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Merewether 

      9 years ago from Michigan

      It makes me happy to know this article is helpful!

    • profile image


      9 years ago from Spokane, WA

      Some good information. My wife and I have a shady area in our backyard, where we'd like to start a shade garden sometime.

    • profile image

      Heather Stanton 

      10 years ago

      Thanks so much for your plant suggestion for shade plants for Michigan. I am ready to plant a need flower bed on the north side of my house adjacent to a screened porch. I was happy to see some of your suggestions have interested booms. I love all that hostas, but am looking for a variety of plants. Your info and pictures has me heading out to my local nursery. Much thanks from a fellow Michigan gardener. Also, I love the pictures of your garden you posted in your mulch piece. I am sure I speak for others when I say .... "please post more pictures!" Happy Gardening.

    • CherylAnne Nelson profile image

      CherylAnne Nelson 

      10 years ago from New York

      Gorgeous, as expected. Thanks for the photos.

    • Bob Ewing profile image

      Bob Ewing 

      10 years ago from New Brunswick

      This is a very helpful hub for anyone who needs to garden in the shade. Once again the right plant right place approach gets the job done.

    • Pat Merewether profile imageAUTHOR

      Pat Merewether 

      10 years ago from Michigan

      I had a bit of a problem uploading the photos at first. I finally got them here! Enjoy!

    • CherylAnne Nelson profile image

      CherylAnne Nelson 

      10 years ago from New York

      Pat, Much like you, I love to garden and Perenials are my favorite. I would like to offer some advice for your next hub--if I may, add pics of the flowers you are discussing. It would add a great touch and help your fellow gardeners identify them when shopping for the garden. Loved the hub though--I have some shaded spots in my yard and haven't really tried to tackle them yet--I may try now. regards, CherylAnne


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