Gardening is like life in that it isn’t always easy; we encounter situations and settings that pose challenges. A very common garden challenge is finding colorful plants for shaded garden areas. Before I had a shaded yard, I was always a fan of the shade plant section at the garden centers where I used to work. Part of the reason I enjoyed the shade plant section may have been because it was cooler under the shade cloth over the hoop houses, but my preference for staying cool in summer is not the only reason I liked being in that section. Shade-loving perennials and bulbs 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 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 shade. If you are looking for shade loving perennials or bulbs that do well in full to partial shade check out the list below…
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, are deer resistant and are also moisture tolerant. If you have a damp shaded garden corner Chocoholic Snakeroot may be the perennial you were looking for to fill the spot. Chocoholic Snakeroot certainly will fill most spaces as it grows 2-3′ wide and can reach up to 6′ tall in ideal growing conditions. The deep purple leaves not only provide color, but they also provide a nice texture to your shaded garden spots. The leaves are finely dissected and provide a fine texture, that will combine well with more bold leaves such as large hosta leaves. A combination I enjoy together is the Chocoholic Snakeroot with bold bright green and/or yellow hosta like Color Festival Hosta, and Lakeside Paisley Print Hosta.
Bleeding Hearts are a nostalgic favorite, they are also an excellent shade perennial! Emerging from the ground in early spring they are one of the earliest perennials to appear. Starting in mid-spring these shade-loving favorites bloom in profusion with pendulous heart-shaped blooms. Being fairly easy to grow is another bonus of the bleeding heart. The main thing to note if you are considering adding bleeding hearts to your shade garden is 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, so 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.
Ligularia is another shade-loving perennial that needs moist soil in order to grow and thrive. If you have a location that collects water often, such as a low spot in the yard, ligularia will perform well in that setting. The Rocket Ligularia is the most popular ligularia as it has tall spikes of golden yellow flowers that really brighten up a shaded garden area. Not only are the bright yellow flowers stunning in shade the large – bold leaves add texture when the flowers are not in bloom. Combining bold textures of The Rocket Ligularia with fine textures from ferns or snakeroot is a great way to add diversity to your shade garden.
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 and are relatively easy to grow and care for. In addition to how easy it is to grow hosta, 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. El Nino Hosta is appealing in a shade garden because of its large blue heart-shaped leaves that have a fine white edge. This fine white edge really helps to give a clean appearance to this shade-loving perennial. Growing 1-2′ tall with a 2.5-3′ spread only a 3 to 5 El Nino Hosta are needed to fill a small garden bed of 25′ square feet or less. When El Nino Hosta is planted with hostas like White Feather Hosta and Fire & Ice Hosta the combination is sleek and provides a lot of different heights and textures.
Astilbe is one of the better-known plants for the shade that have showy flowers. 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; with so many cultivars you may be confused about which cultivar to start with. Astilbe, similar to snakeroot and ligularia, grow well in the shade, but also require consistent moisture. If astilbe is left unwatered in the heat of summer this often causes the foliage to burn and the plant to become stressed. Visions Astilbe is a popular variety that tolerates dry conditions better than others. Since Visions Astilbe tolerates sun, heat, and drought better than other varieties, it is my top choice for people who have never planted astilbe before. For the biggest impact with Visions Astilbe I suggest planting in groups of 5-7 so that the mid-summer purple/pink blooms plume like can make the biggest impact.
Plants with white foliage or blooms are appealing to me for their use in the garden at night. The light colors really stand out against the darkness. This 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. Caladium bulbs require a great amount of heat to sprout so you will want to plant the bulbs once your soil warms up. Moonlight Caladium is great for container gardening and combines well with the dark foliage of the Dark Leaf Red Begonia.
Goatsbeard has similar fine foliage and flower to astilbe, but it requires slightly more sun and tolerates dry conditions much better than astilbe. Traditional Goat’s Beard can grow 4-5′ tall or more making it difficult to fit into some smaller garden spaces. 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.