Gardening is like life in that it isn’t always easy; we encounter situations and settings that pose challenges. A common garden challenge is finding colorful plants for shaded garden areas.
I was always a fan of the shade section at the garden centers I worked at. Part of the reason I enjoyed the shade plant section may have been because it was cooler under the shade cloth. My preference for staying cool in summer is not the only reason I liked being in that section. Shade plants provide a surprising amount of texture, and color that can really help to brighten up shady garden areas.
My yard is mostly shade due to the large mature trees that surround the front and back of the house. Over the past 8 years of living at my house, I have learned a few things about perennials and bulbs that love the shade. If you are looking for shade plants that are unique this list will provide inspiration and ideas.
7 Unique Shade-Loving Plants
I was really excited to see Holland Bulb Farms offering this perennial in their new for 2019 selection. As mentioned in a previous post about my Top 10 New Bulbs and Perennials for 2019 Spring Planting Snakeroot is one of my all-time favorite perennials. I enjoy the common green and white flowering varieties of snakeroot but adore the dark-leafed varieties like Chocoholic Snakeroot.
Snakeroot tolerates partial shade to full shade and moist soil. If you have a damp shaded garden corner Chocoholic Snakeroot may be the perennial you were looking for to fill the spot. In ideal growing locations, Chocoholic Snakeroot will fill the space and grow 2-3′ tall and up to 6′ tall.
The deep purple leaves not only provide color but also provide a delicate texture to the shade garden. The leaves are finely dissected and provide a fine texture. This texture combines well with bold leaves such as large hosta leaves. For a bold combination plant Chocoholic Snakeroot with bold bright green and/or yellow hosta like Color Festival Hosta, and Lakeside Paisley Print Hosta.
Bleeding Hearts are a nostalgic shade plant. Emerging from the ground in early spring they are one of the earliest perennials to appear. Starting in mid-spring they bloom in profusion with pendulous heart-shaped blooms. Bleeding hearts are fairly easy to grow.
Be aware when considering adding bleeding hearts to your shade garden that they go dormant in the heat of summer. It is best to plant perennials or annuals in front of the bleeding hearts to fill the void they leave when they enter their mid-summer sleep. Bleeding hearts grow about 3′ tall with a similar spread. It is best to place them in the back of the perennial border or in a location where they have plenty of room to grow.
The Rocket Ligularia
Ligularia is a shade-loving perennial that needs moist soil in order to grow and thrive. Ligularia performs well in garden locations where the soil is saturated often. The Rocket Ligularia has tall spikes of golden yellow flowers that really brighten up a shaded garden area. The large and bold leaves add texture when the bright yellow flowers are not present. Combining bold textures of The Rocket Ligularia with fine textures from ferns or snakeroot adds diversity to your shade garden.
El Nino Hosta
When it comes to shade gardening, one of the most common perennials people associate with low light settings is the hosta. There is a good reason for that as hosta tolerate heavy shade to part shade. In addition to their shade tolerance, they are relatively easy to grow and care for. According to Almanac.com, there are over 3,000 cultivars of hosta to choose from. With this many cultivars available it often becomes a hobby to collect new hosta varieties to add to your shade garden.
El Nino Hosta is a variety that has been around for about 20 years and was developed in Holland. The large blue heart-shaped leaves have a white edge giving a clean appearance in the shade garden. Growing 1-2′ tall with a 2.5-3′ spread only 3 to 5 El Nino Hosta are needed to fill a small garden bed of 25′ square feet or less. Plant El Nino Hosta with White Feather Hosta and Fire & Ice Hosta for a sleek look with varying heights and textures.
Astilbe has showy flowers and is one of the better-known plants for shade. Hundreds of cultivars of astilbe are available and they all have similar fine foliage and showy flowers. Some varieties of astilbe bloom earlier than others, grow taller, and may tolerate dry conditions better. If you want to add color with flowers to your shade garden planting, astilbe is a great way to attain those results.
Astilbe, similar to snakeroot and ligularia, grow well in the shade, but also require consistent moisture. Don’t leave astilbe unwatered in the heat of summer. Dry conditions can cause the foliage to burn and the plant can become stressed. Visions Astilbe is a popular variety that tolerates dry conditions better than others. My top choice for people who are planting astilbe for the first time is Visions Astilbe. It tolerates sun, heat, and drought better than other varieties. For the biggest impact with Visions Astilbe plant in groups of 5-7 this allows the plume-like flowers to form a mass of purple flowers.
Plants with white foliage or blooms are appealing for their use in the garden at night. The light colors really stand out against the darkness. The design principle of using light foliage in nighttime gardens also applies to shaded garden areas. Areas with low light can especially benefit from light-colored foliage and blooms for this same reason.
Moonlight Caladium is a glowing white and green caladium that looks stunning in dark shaded areas such as under trees and bushes. Plant caladium in spring or summer once the soil temperature is above 70 degrees, they must have warm soil to sprout. Moonlight Caladium is great for container gardening and combines well with the dark foliage of the Dark Leaf Red Begonia.
Guinea Fowl Goatsbeard
Goatsbeard has similar fine foliage and flower to astilbe. It requires slightly more sun and tolerates dry conditions much better than astilbe.
Traditional Goat’s Beard can grow 4-5′ tall or more. Guinea Fowl Goatsbeard is a dwarf variety that keeps a compact habit maturing at 12-22″. The compact nature and ease of growing make the Guinea Fowl Goatsbeard a must-have addition to your partially shaded garden areas where you need fine texture and bright white blooms.