The 12 Best Perennials To Grow In Shade, According To Gardening Experts
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The 12 Best Perennials To Grow In Shade, According To Gardening Experts

Have a shaded area in your garden and want to add more color, dimension, and texture? Grow perennials that thrive in the shade. Many perennials need an abundance of sunlight but there are plenty of plants that prefer partial or full shade. Shade perennials add vibrancy to your yard and many attract pollinators, such as bees, butterflies, and birds, too.  

Tips for Successfully Growing Best Shade Perennials

Deciding on the best shade perennials for your landscape and garden can turn into a long list so consider bloom times. Pick varieties that flower at different times of the year, instead of focusing on a season or two. “Select plants that bloom at different times throughout the season or offer evergreen foliage that transforms in fall or winter to ensure year-round interest,” says Linda Vater, plant expert for Southern Living Plant Collection.

Think about what each perennial plant care needs are, including soil, water, and light before you plant. “A little layer of 1-2” of finished compost as mulch in the shade garden is a good way to enrich the soil and feed the microbes,” says Lisa Mason Ziegler, author of The Cut Flower Handbook.

Check the soil for moisture, too, to give you a sign if your plants are thirsty. “Regular watering, especially during dry periods, is crucial for establishing and maintaining healthy shade perennials,” says Laura Root, a horticulturist for Jackson & Perkins.

Space out your plants so they have ample room to grow upwards and have space for their roots to spread out below. “Tree roots are always competing with these shade dwellers that have learned to thrive in that environment—but they sure appreciate a little added boost from time to time,” says Ziegler.

Astilbe

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“Astilbes are known for their feathery plumes of flowers that come in a wide range of colors, including pink, white, and red,” says Root. Astilbes offer unique flowers that entice pollinators to the garden and create texture and dimension to the garden. “Astilbes add a lovely vertical element to shady gardens and are also deer-resistant,” says Root. 

  • Botanical Name: Astilbe spp.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: Acidic (5.5-6.5)

Bleeding Heart

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Bleeding Heart is an easy-to-grow perennial with heart-shaped blooms in hues of pink that dangle off a stem.  “They prefer cooler temperatures and can tolerate partial to full shade,” says Root. In the hotter months, they chill out and are dormant. “Bleeding Hearts go dormant in the summer, making them a good option for filling in shady spots that may be empty later in the season,” she says. “During dormancy, reduce watering and avoid fertilizing to allow the plant to rest and prepare for the next growing season.”

  • Botanical Name: Lamprocapnos spectabilis
  • Sun Exposure: Part to full shade
  • Soil Type: Medium, well-draining, average fertility
  • Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral (6.0-7.5)

Carex EverColor® ‘Everillo’

Southern Living Plant Collection


Growing a perennial tall grass or sedge may not be on your radar. There are over 2,000 species of Carex and many thrive in the shade. “Carex are often overlooked gems in the gardening world, but they are versatile and can be used in borders, as groundcovers, or in mass plantings,” says Vater.  “They can also add a pop of color and texture to containers and window boxes.”

She recommends planting Carex EverColor® ‘Everillo’ for its gold-toned color. “New foliage emerges from lime and matures to golden yellow and at maturity {reaches] 12– 18″ tall and wide,” she says.

  • Botanical Name: Carex oshimensis ‘Everillo’
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic, alkaline, neutral

Coral Bells

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Coral Bells or Heuchara thrive in the shade that produces blooms in an array of hues from purple and orange to green. “Heuchera makes a fantastic choice for adding color and interest to shady garden areas,” says Root.

These plants are easy to care for and can manage with some neglect. “They are relatively drought-tolerant and can thrive without frequent watering,” she adds. When in bloom, they provide an important food source for beneficial insects and birds. “Heucheras produce delicate, airy flower spikes from late spring through late summer,” says Root. “These flowers attract pollinators like bees and hummingbirds, adding ecological benefits to their appeal.” 

  • Botanical Name: Heuchera spp.
  • Sun Exposure: Parietal to full shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: Slightly acidic to neutral (6.0 to 7.0)

Ferns

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Looking for native perennials with plume-like foliage? Grow ferns. “Ferns are well-adapted to the humid conditions of the South, making them a low-maintenance choice for gardeners in this region,” says Root. “They are excellent choices for shady, moist areas in the garden and can be used to create a lush, naturalistic look.” Consider varieties that thrive in the Southern United States, including the Southern Maidenhair Fern or the Cinnamon Fern, says Root. 

  • Botanical Name: Osmundastrum cinnamomeum (for Cinnamon Fern)
  • Sun Exposure: Partial, Shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained, Rich
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.0-7.0)

Giant Ajuja

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Want to minimize weeds in shaded areas of your landscape? Giant Ajuga is a ground cover that attracts pollinators and has multiple blooms. “It sends up 10” spikes of purple flowers that are more noticeable and appreciated than the dwarf varieties,” says Ziegler. “She adds that bumblebees love this flower. 

  • Botanical Name: A. reptans 
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-drained
  • Soil pH:  Slightly acidic, neutral, Alkaline (5.8 to 6.2)

Japanese Anemone

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A beautiful shade hybrid perennial is the Japanese Anemone Queen Charlotte. This has evergreen-hued leaves and produces blooms later in the summer season. “When least expected, she sends up beautiful tall stems topped with pink blooms,” says Ziegler. She says after the flowers bloom, a seed head comes up that is worth leaving in the garden for the fall and winter seasons. 

  • Botanical Name: Anemone hupehensis 
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained, loamy, sandy or chalky soil
  • Soil pH: Acid, alkaline or neutral

Hellebores

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Want a hardy perennial that can grow in areas where many plants don’t? Plant Hellebores. “They thrive at the foot of large trees where it is challenging for anything to grow,” says Ziegler. As a bonus, deers won’t eat them. “The leathery foliage must not be enticing,” she adds. These plants also continually produce new leaves. “They provide an evergreen presence with the new leaves emerging as the old foliage lays down, making them self-mulchers in our garden, ” explains Ziegler.

  • Botanical Name: Helleborus spp.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: Neutral, slightly alkaline (7.0-8.0)

Toad Lily

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The toad lily produces orchid-looking flowers with bright green leaves. “Tricyrtis blooms for several weeks in late summer, offering color and interest to carry your garden through to the fall,” says Root.  She suggests pruning toad lilies that are well established every spring and every three or fours to divide the plant to maintain its vigor. 

  • Botanical Name: Tricyrtis hirta
  • Sun Exposure: Full to Part Shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, Well-draining, Rich
  • Soil pH: Slightly Acidic to Neutral (5.6-7.5)

Nandina

Southern Living Plant Collection

If you’re looking to grow a hedge or small shrub to fill in some areas of your shade garden, growing Nandina is a good choice. “Nandina cultivars are a staple in my landscape because they are so resilient, vibrant, and low maintenance,” says Vater. She recommends the hybrid Blush Pink™ Nandina because it adds a pop of evergreen color to shady spaces. “In fall, the leaves transform into stunning shades of red and bronze that continue through winter.”

  • Botanical Name: Nandina domestica
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained
  • Soil pH: Acidic to Neutral (5.0 to 7.4)

Oakleaf Hydrangea

Southern Living Plant Collection


Oakleaf hydrangea have multiple blooms that create a pom-pom look. “Oakleaf hydrangea is fun to grow because it has pillowy clusters of white blooms that fade to soft pink with age,” says Vater, “and has unique oak-shaped leaves that put on a show in fall with vibrant red, orange, and burgundy hues.” She recommends the variety ‘Semmes Beauty’ Oakleaf Hydrangea because it flowers earlier than traditional varieties. 

  • Botanical Name: Hydrangea quercifolia
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
  • Soil Type: Well-drained
  • Soil pH: 5.0 – 6.5

Virginia Bluebells

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Virginia Bluebells is a native wildflower that grows in Eastern and Southern states.”The plant emerges in spring followed by blue-pinkish trumpet blooms with the foliage and stems disappearing as summer heats up here in my garden,” says Ziegler.  She likes to grow Virginia bluebells at the edge of her shade garden next to her hellebores. 

  • Botanical Name: Mertensia virginica
  • Sun Exposure: Partial to Full Shade
  • Soil Type: Moist, well-drained soil
  • Soil pH: Neutral (6.8-7.2)