Most plants prefer full sun or partial sun to partial shade, so if you’re looking for shrubs, flowering plants, vines, or trees that grow in the shade, it can be tough to find the right ones. We’ve done our homework, so you don’t have to!
What Is Full Shade? What Is Partial Shade?
Each plant has its own light requirements — and most prefer full sun, full sun to partial shade, or partial shade. What exactly does that mean, though? Let’s take a quick look:
- “Full sun” typically means that a plant thrives when it receives at least six hours of sunlight per day (though even these plants can cope with some overcast days, of course), and the largest number of plants falls into exactly this category. These plants should be placed in locations where taller and wider objects don’t cast shade on their habitats. This says nothing about the plant’s preferred temperature range, as some plants that like full sun need colder conditions.
- “Partial shade” (or “partial sun”) means that a plant does best with a some hours in direct sun, and some time in the shade. Most of these plants appreciate four daily hours of direct sun exposure, and like some afternoon shade.
- Some plants — though not very many — flourish with “dappled sun”, meaning they appreciate conditions in which the sun they receive is “filtered” through loose leaves.
- “Full shade” doesn’t mean that the plant should be surrounded by taller and bigger objects, which block out almost all sun, all day — and it most definitely doesn’t mean these plants would thrive in a dark basement! Most plants that are said to do best in full shade still appreciate at least two hours of direct sunlight, mostly in the early morning, or need exposure to dappled sunlight.
Many plants that are generally listed as preferring partial shade or dappled sun can also survive in shadier conditions, but this can affect their growth rate, blooms, and the color of their foliage. Others, especially some tropical and subtropical plants, simply don’t like partial or full shade, and shouldn’t be planted in areas that continuously receive shade.
Whether you have some super shady spots in your garden (at the foot of a very tall and dense tree, for instance), or your entire garden is “overlooked” by something like a building, you’ll get the best results if you actively embrace plants that prefer shade, as opposed to merely tolerating it.
We’ve selected some stunning picks, taking care to give you a tour of a diverse set of plants that grow in the shade, but will proverbially brighten up your garden.
Taxus canadensis, more commonly called American Yew (or Canadian Yew), is a charming shrub best loved for its evergreen needles — because the American Yew is a conifer.
If you’re looking for a team of plants that will give your shady garden a polished look, it’s important to choose some taller species that can balance out the many flowering plant’s you’ll want to include, and the American Yew will grace you with its fine needles all year round.
They grow to be three to five feet (a meter to a meter and a half) tall, and are usually planted along streams, in swampy areas, or near lakes and ponds.
The beautiful berry-like fruits of the American Yew are by far their most visually striking feature — with an unusual, cup-shaped or cylindrical, look, Taxus canadensis’ red fruits mesmerize anyone who comes across them for the first time. Indeed, these fruits, which appear in summer, look rather tasty — but watch out, because they’re poisonous.
In addition to loving partial to full shade, the American Yew also:
- Prefers rich, moist, soil, and thrives in loam or clay soil types with good drainage.
- Attracts deer.
- Lends itself to a role as a ground cover plant, with mass planting being a popular choice.
Tsuga canadensis, also called Eastern hemlock or Canadian hemlock, is another needled evergreen — but this one is a full tree that belongs to the pine family. These pine trees prefer full to partial shade in warmer regions, and can only cope with full sun in colder northern climates. They’re fast growers that can become as tall as 40 to 133 feet (12 to 40 meters), and have an very wide spread that does mean you’ll need plenty of space to host a Eastern hemlock.
If you’d love Eastern hemlock in your garden, you need to know to know that:
- Tsuga canadensis prefers loamy, sandy, or clay soil types that are slightly acidic.
- Canadian hemlock needs well-draining soil.
- These trees love cooler climates, including harsh winters.
- Eastern hemlock trees are great for sloped gardens, and are often planted as tall living privacy hedges.
- They attract songbirds and small mammals as well as moths.
- While Eastern hemlock trees don’t flower, they do produce attractive cones, and also have a fresh piney scent.
Caladium bicolor, more commonly called angel wings or elephant ears, are stunning flowering perennials native to South and Central America. Their gorgeous variegated leaves are their defining feature — and gardeners will never grow tired of the explosion of pink with a rich green at the edges. Each leaf can be as long as six inches (15 centimeters) tall, and while it’s hard to understand how such a vibrant plant can do so well in deep shade, angel wings do need warmer climates and lots of moisture to survive.
Angel wings may appreciate a spot in your shady garden if you can also:
- Offer a rich acidic soil type that’s very high in organic matter, and a lot of moisture.
- Keep this plant well-watered — angel wings are not drought tolerant at all!
- Feed this plant fertilizer once every fortnight.
- Give this plant the warmer weather it craves — a daytime temperature of 75 °F (15 °C) is good.
- Keep an eye out for the pests it may develop, such as mealybugs, aphids, and mites, and treat them as needed.
- Make your peace with the fact that this plant is somewhat toxic. Don’t eat. In fact, don’t touch without gloves, either.
Coral bells (Heuchera) might just be the closest thing you can get to growing aquatic-looking plants above ground. They’re absolutely stunning, and a must-have for people who strongly believe that a shady garden shouldn’t have to be a dull garden.
Coral bells are perennials that belong to the Saxifragaceae family and are native to North America. The Heuchera genus includes more than 50 different species and even more cultivars.
Coral bells, also called alumroot, will usually grow to be around eight to 18 inches (half a meter) tall, with a spread of 12 to 24 inches (up to 60 centimeters). This attractive plant isn’t that picky about light, and can do well in full sun as well as dappled sun or partial shade. As long as it gets at least two hours of direct sun a day, you’re good to go.
When it comes to soil, coral bells prefer rich and moist conditions — though the soil needs to be well-draining! The charming plant also offers pretty white, coral, pink, orange, and red flowers in summer.
Some of the most popular coral bell variants include:
- Heuchera ‘Chocolate Ruffles’ — As its name suggests, this type of coral bell has ruffled leaves with a stunning chocolate color on top and a deep burgundy color on the bottom.
- Heuchera ‘Marmalade’ — This coral bell is also ruffled and its colors will vary from an umber shade to deep sienna.
- Heuchera ‘Autumn Leaves’ — A gorgeous species of Heuchera that changes its leaf colors throughout the year, turning from a red to a caramel shade to ruby.
Ferns (Dryopteris) add texture and warmth to your shady garden, giving it a whimsical, woodland-paradise, feel. These flowerless, seedless, plants propagate via spores and are among the most ancient plants still going strong today.
Because choosing from among over 10,000 known species (and many more cultivars) can be a real challenge, we’ll take the liberty of suggesting Dryopteris erythrosora for your shade-rich garden. Also called the Japanese shield fern or autumn fern, they grow to be around two feet tall and wide (which is just over half a meter).
These plants thrive in rich, clay, or loam soil, have a preference for acidic conditions, and need plenty of moisture. While Japanese shield ferns are commonly seen in wooded areas, they’re also perfectly fine as container plants. Some cultivars have orange or pink leaves, which will definitely add an extra splash of color to your garden!
Plectranthus is a genus of more than 80 beautiful annuals within the mint family, treasured for their rich foliage, and more commonly called coleus or spur flower. Adapted to diverse conditions, they can thrive in full sun and partial shade, with as little as two hours of direct sun a day, and give rise to blue, pink, white, or purple flowers during the summer.
Choose coleus for your garden if:
- You’re looking for amazing foliage — the deep purple or variegated and serrated leaves of some coleus species are absolutely amazing.
- You have clay, sand, or loam soil.
- You live in a warmer climate — these plants are native to Africa and India.
- You’re looking for beautiful plants to grow in hanging baskets or on walkways.
The deadnettle (Lamium maculatum) is a perennial plant and a fast grower, making it perfect as a ground cover plant! This incredible plant, which is a part of the Lamiaceae family, is native to areas in Europe, West Asia, and North Africa. They can cover patches of ground very fast and thrive in the shade. Deadnettles, also called spotted dead nettles, are pretty easy to care for, about medium maintenance, and their foliage and flowers make the plant look absolutely delightful.
Deadnettle sound like the plant for you? Here’s some more things you’ll want to know before getting it:
- The deadnettle plant does best in well-draining soil with average moisture and will need some fertilizer or compost to stay strong and healthy.
- The deadnettle will grace you with its rustic flowers in the spring and summer — May to July. The flowers themselves can come in pink, white or purple shades, though it depends on the cultivar.
- Spotted deadnettles can often grow up to three to 12 inches (30 centimeters) tall with a spread that is often double or even triple that size.
- Deadnettles provide a rustic cottage look that will make your shady garden feel romantic.
- The leaves of the deadnettle can also be eaten, and even have some medicinal use. In addition, they’ll attract a whole host of pollinators!
All of the Impatiens are amazing, but orange jewelweed (Impatiens capensis), also called touch-me-not deserves to be highlighted for its colorful orange flowers with red speckles, which last from summer to the first frost. Once the flowers have gone, orange jewelweed produces slender fruits that explode, causing this annual wildflower to propagate itself profusely.
These plants prefer moist and shady conditions, for which reason they’re often found near ponds, streams, and in forests — and if your garden has the right conditions, you can expect orange jewelweed to grow to be up to five feet (a meter and a half) tall.
The orange jewelweed is famous for attracting bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Being native to North America, they’ll also act as hummingbird magnets in the right region.
As you’re deciding whether the orange jewelweed is right for your garden, keep in mind that:
- This plant can cope with partial shade or dappled sun, but loves deep shade.
- Orange jewelweed needs a lot of moisture, and is often planted in coastal areas.
- Clay and rich soils are best for this plant.
- After it rains, raindrops will collect in the cornucopia-shaped flowers, making them glisten in the sun — hence the name “jewelweed”.
Fuchsias, also called Lady’s eardrops, are famous for their glamorous and plentiful hanging teardrop-shaped flowers. These broadleaf evergreens are truly special, as they flourish in shady areas where other plants would often have trouble.
This makes the fuchsia, an annual that’s part of the Onagraceae family, perfect for gardeners looking for a plant to grow in the shade.
You’ve already seen the beautiful flowers fuchsia species produce, and they’re definitely enough to make you want to add fuchsia to your garden, stat. We’re not done yet, though — here are some other noteworthy facts about the fuchsia:
- The fuchsia will attract nearby hummingbirds and can be a great addition to a pollinator garden!
- Lady’s eardrops appreciate moist soil rich in organic matter and a neutral to acidic pH — loam, sand, and clay are all great soil choices for your fuchsia.
- The flowers of the fuchsia plant are definitely their most treasured feature, and they can havewonderful shades of gold, purple, pink, orange, and white! These flowers are tubular and bloom in the fall, spring, and summer!
- These plants don’t like hot summers — protect the blooms from the sun, even if you’re growing fuchsias as houseplants!
These perennial evergreen herbs, scientifically called Salvia rosmarinus and commonly called rosemary, are often “advertised” as full-sun-loving plants. Though that’s true, they can also cope well with partial shade, requiring as little as two to four hours of direct sun in the morning.
Rosemary is a pleasant-looking and supremely fragrant plant that will cause your garden to flood with butterflies in no time — plus, you can use it for seasoning yourself.
- In rocky, sandy, loamy soil that drains well and is neutral to acidic.
- If you’re looking for a plant that doesn’t just tolerate shade, but also drought — a fairly rare combo.
- If you’re looking for a herb that can grow tall. In the right conditions, rosemary can be as tall as six feet (two meters), with a wide spread as well. This even makes rosemary an option for people looking to create living hedges.
- Only if you can look after it. These plants are vulnerable to fungal infections if they don’t get enough air circulation around their stems, and need regular pruning.
- If you live in a warmer climate. Rosemary does best in 80 °F (27 °C) or so, and will perish if exposed to frost.
Hydrangeas are mounding, multi-stemmed deciduous shrubs that can grow in full sun or partial shade, with two to four hours of direct sunlight in the morning.
Most famous for its vibrant flowers, which grace the shrubs throughout much of the year and form spherical clusters, gardeners can choose from many different hydrangea species and cultivars.
The cultivar Hydrangea arborescens ‘Haas’ Halo’ is one of the best choices for gardeners looking to grow these amazing shrubs in partial to deep shade. This variant produces beautiful white flowers, and grows in neutral to acidic loam, clay, sand, or rich soil. It will appreciate moister conditions, and doesn’t mind being waterlogged occasionally.
This is the perfect plant for rainy conditions! Growing to be around six feet (two meters) tall, these hydrangea cultivars have an equally wide spread that makes them especially suited for mass planting. Like all hydrangeas, it’s somewhat poisonous.
Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata) is a deciduous vine that makes for a wonderful ground cover plant and is native to China and Japan. The best thing about the Boston ivy is that it grows rather fast — especially climbing walls! — with very little maintenance.
Though the Boston ivy is a great climber, it’s important to keep your Boston ivy away from gutters and wood walls as it can damage them.
To keep your Boston ivy strong and healthy, you only have to know a few things:
- While Boston ivy can survive in all kinds of soil conditions, it will thank you if you give it well-draining loamy soil with an acidic to alkaline pH levels.
- The berries of the Boston ivy attract bids in the fall and winter.
- The Boston ivy can survive many different challenges that would kill other plants — like drought, dry soil, erosion, poor soil, heavy shade, and deer.
- This plant blooms in the spring and summer that are yellow in white, though they are quite small.
Hamamelis mollis, also called the Chinese Witch Hazel or simply Witch Hazel, can take the form of a hardy deciduous shrub or small tree. The fragrant yellow or copper flowers, which show their faces in spring as well as winter, are their most attractive feature, and they can be used for medicinal purposes while simultaneously attracting lots of wildlife.
Witch Hazel can grow in full sun, dappled sun, or partial shade — meaning, in this case, at least two, but ideally four or more, hours a day.
For your Witch Hazel to do well, you’ll need to know that:
- These shrubs or trees love rich acidic soil and tolerate moist and wet conditions.
- The tallest specimens can be up to around 16 feet (five meters), but their spread is even wider. Therefore, if you want your Witch Hazel to reach its full potential, it will need plenty of space.
It’s not especially easy to find flowering plants, shrubs, trees, and vines that tolerate or love partial or deep shade — and your options will be even more limited once you take climate and cultural conditions into account.
Once you find the right set of plants, however, you can absolutely end up with a wonderfully bright garden that will put a smile on your face every time.