Shade Loving Perennials To Brighten Up Shady Spots

by Samin Rizvi

Shade loving plants are adapted to very little sunlight because of their place in the forest understory.

Since the canopies of larger trees and shrubs block as much as 95% of the sunlight that reaches the forest floor, understory plants have evolved to utilize the very little light they do receive to photosynthesize and reproduce.

It’s a similar story in the garden, where trees, buildings, fences, and other structures create shady spots where it seems like nothing will grow.

But there is a lot of choice when it comes to low light plants that are just as unique and beautiful as their sunny counterparts.

Before planting up your shaded spots, it’s important to take some time to observe the shade conditions in your particular locale.

Types of Garden Shade

Almost all gardens and backyards will be shaded at some point during the daylight hours but there are a number of factors that affect the amount and quality of the shaded parts.

The orientation of your home and garden is an important consideration, as southern exposures will be sun filled most of the day while western exposures will be shaded in the morning but be full of light by the afternoon.

Depending on the structures in and around your garden, the quality of shade will vary. There are three main types of shade to consider when choosing plants to grow:

Partial shade is defined as a spot that receives sunlight for only part of the day – between 3 to 6 hours each day.

Dappled shade is typically found in areas where the branches and leaves of deciduous trees block out some, but not all, of the sunlight. Plants in dappled shade usually receive the equivalent of about 3 hours of sun per day.

Full shade is a site that receives practically no sunlight. It is common underneath conifer trees or where a northern wall or structure blocks all light for the entire day. 

Flowering Plants For Shade

These beauties don’t need much – or any – direct sunlight to add some cheer to your darkened nooks and crannies:

1. Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

With around 75 species within the genus, bigleaf hydrangea is one of the most widely grown in the home garden.

A deciduous shrub with huge flower clusters that range in color from purple to blue to pink, depending on the whether the soil pH is acidic or basic, bigleaf hydrangea is a showy specimen that thrives in darkened spots.

Hardiness zone: 5 to 11

2. Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)

A mat-forming, low growing perennial, spotted dead nettle is best reserved for the darkest and dampest areas of the garden.

With about a dozen spotted dead nettle cultivars to choose from, most have heart-shaped silvery leaves tinged in green along the edge and bloom in spikes of light pink to deep purple flowers that are reminiscent of snapdragons.

3. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)

A pretty little number that loves a good shadowy spot, astilbe is a clump forming plant with feathery, graceful foliage.

In late summer, astilbe sends out tall spikes of tiny flowers that form gorgeous arching panicles that range in color from white, peach, pink, and deep red, depending on the cultivar.

Hardiness zone: 4 to 8

Sun exposure: Part shade to full shade

4. Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

Foxglove blooms early in the season with tall floral spikes adorned with densely packed tubular flowers in white, pink, or purple.

Allow some of the plants to go to seed so you can enjoy them year after year.

Hardiness zone: 4 to 8

Sun exposure: Full sun to part shade

5. Hellebore (Helleborus orientalis)

Also known as Lenton rose and winter rose, hellebore is very early bloomer that can perk up the gardens as soon as February and March, even in snow.

Though not a true rose, hellebore produces 3 to 4 inch large rose-like petals surrounding a bevy of yellow stamens. Available in several hues, hellebore flowers stay in bloom for 8 to 10 weeks.

Hardiness zone: 4 to 9

Sun exposure: Part shade to full shade

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