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Monday, June 22, 2009

My Top Favorite "Shade" Plants

For years even after removing many trees and shrubs there was a good deal of shade in the back yard and for quite awhile I've been coping with trying to plan a few garden areas in DENSE shade...and lost many plants in the process.

So after removing more trees and pruning some of my neighbors' trees that were taking over our yard, I came to discover some shade plants could finally live here !
Also learned one crucial element needed to have happy plants and that's COMPOST.
Lots and lots of Compost, in fall and spring !!

What is Shade ?

There's ALL types of shade !
It's never very clear when you purchase plants.
Example: "Sun /Part Shade" really means FULL SUN. Don't try and plant in any shade.
I've learn through trial and error...years of failures. :(

And don't be surprised if some plants for shade do much better in sun.
Through my own experience I came up with these definitions.

If full sun is at least 8 hours between 8:00 am to 6:00 pm then...

Light Shade = 5 to 7 hours of direct sunlight. (On our property I consider 6 plus hours Full Sun).
Partial Shade = 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight.
Full Shade = no direct exposure to the sun (2 to 6 hours of reflected or indirect sun light).
Dense Shade = no direct sun all day ( very little if any reflected or indirect sun light, dappled).

On with my Favorites

These plants were picked because of beauty and some just because of hardiness.... and some just for their ability to thrive in true full and dense shade.
Noted are their shade conditions that are working well.

1-Hosta-light to full shade

2-Bleeding Heart-partial to full shade

3-Impatiens walleriana-light to partial shade

4-Pachysandra (Japanese Spurge)-light to full shade

5-Variegated Vinca major-light to dense shade(don't plant with flowers)

6-Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)-full shade

7-Lily Turf (Liriope Muscari)-light to full shade

8-Jack Frost (Brunnera macrophylla)-partial shade to full shade

9-Coral Bells (Heuchera)-partial to full shade

10-Yews-light to full shade(this little one is under a 12 foot yew)

11-Barrenwort (Epimedium)-full to dense shade

12-Bugbane (Cimicifuga ramosa)-full to dense shade

13-Columbine-partial to full shade

14-Foamflower (Tiarella snowflake)-partial to full shade

15-Deadnettle (Lamium)-light to full shade

16-Wax Begonias-sun to full shade

17-Coleus-light to partial Shade

18-Ferns-partial to full shade

19-PJM Rhododendron-partial to full shade

20-Euonymous-light to full shade

21-Sedum spectabile-light to full shade

Are there additional plants or maybe better ones that I've haven't picked ?
Most definitely !

Please feel free to share your favorites.
I'd LOVE to discover some new ones !


  1. Thank you for some great ideas! I have quite a bit of shade and love seeing what works for other real gardeners. I agree that many of the sun/part shade labeled plants really like full sun. I didn't realize liriope would do well in shade, I have a spot in mind :)
    Pulmonaria does great for me in part to full shade.

  2. Rachael,
    The labels can be misleading.
    I have Liriope in 2 different locations...the ones in the picture shown get 2 hours indirect sunlight mid day and 2 hours late day. Hope that helps. Thought Pulmonaria sounded familar...had one years ago...maybe I should try again since my growing conditions improved.

  3. Love your definitions of shade , Brunnera is one of my favs.

  4. All wonderful plants-and all I grow here in my shady conditions. So glad you shared your definition of shade-I like it very much. Most simple and easy to understand. Beautiful color too!

  5. Those are great choices and all your plants look like they are thriving. I love your tiny yew. I will look for that one because I have a perfect place for it. Your photos are beautiful.

  6. Rosemary,
    Jack Frost is a nice alternative to hostas.
    It sounds like you have much shade also.
    I hope maybe my "definitions of shade " can be helpful to the new shade gardener.
    The little yew is under a 12 foot one BUT I didn't say the 12 foot yew one is under a 35 foot Cedar tree.

  7. Hi Patsi! I have all these and love them. I also have Pulmonaria (there are different varieties; a few with quite distinctive leaves) which you would definitely like. Also, Lady's Mantle, a varietyof ferns, Ajuga (goatsbeard), astilbe, hellebore... hmmm... heuchera. That's about all I can come up with right at this moment. Thanks for creating such an interesting and informative post! :-)

  8. I had been wondering what new plantings to add to my shady beds. Some great ideas!

  9. Patsi girl we share a LOY of the same plants ! .. My garden is becoming more shaded both in the back and front due to our beautiful maple trees .. I have no qualms about finding more and more shad tolerant plants .. they are beautiful and very forgiving at times ! : )

  10. OK ..................... not enough coffee that was supposed to be "a LOT" not LOY ??? LOL

  11. Shady,
    Still have other shade plants and had the one's mention except Lady's Mantel and Hellebore. Lost many due to that dense shade I mentioned and didn't try again. Hope the post is informative...many years of shade gardening.
    Glad to be of some help.
    Never thought about them being forgiving...but it's true.

    I have LOY days...Lots Of Yawning :)

  12. Heaven! I want them all! And thanks for educating me about shade, Patsi!

  13. Very extensive list Patsi...I grow Hellebores in full shade and many wildflowers and spring ephemerals grow in shade...especially under deciduous trees that allow for fuller sun during their growing times.

  14. Oh my favorites include some of yours as well as Solomon's Seal, Hydrangeas, Hellebore, Jacob's Ladder and Sweet Woodruff. They all do well in part - full shade. :)

  15. Tatyana,
    My definitions of "shade" are the opposite of others.
    Measuring the amount of sun or lack it is easier to understand. In my humble opinion.
    So many people talk about Hellebores. Wonder how long they bloom.
    Never had Sweet Woodruff. My Hydrangeas and Jacob's Ladder are not happy in full shade(not how I define it).Part shade works !
    Trial and error should be the name of my blog.

  16. That's a great list. We're always having trouble keeping plants alive in our tiny shade garden. Especially ferns. We'll try more composting now. And begonias, I see them everywhere this year - in full sun, in shade, I'm thinking, "What the heck, where should they be planted???" Nice to see you list them in all categories.
    Our bugbane did not make it for us. And my ligularia which I thought was a shade plant actually does better in mostly sun. I have it planted in a container now and I water it plenty. Seems very happy there.

  17. Victoria,
    Shade plants I had in shade that were just surviving for YEARS....began thriving with lots of compost. Wax begonias were never a favorite BUT they're so hardy in almost any condition. My ligularia is long gone...I thought the same thing.

  18. Patsi, great collection you have! I hope to see blooms on my Tricyrtis this year..they are so pretty! I love the PJM and your Jack Frost. Thanks for sharing these 'shade' plants :)

  19. Hi there Patsi, this is such a helpful post--you had a great idea to publish it;-) It does help me and make me think a bit more about my 'shade' plants. I keep 'experimenting', as I have many 'levels' of shade in my backyard. In the way, way back--some new garden areas were put in--and they are absolutely DENSE shade. In fact, my hosta aren't thriving there, and the lamium is practically dying as's very 'wet' back there as well. I need to put in some plants that really love dense shade. I actually have most of those that you featured. Perhaps I can move some of them around;-)

  20. Lynn,
    There's so many shade plants...hard to find ones your happy with...trial and error.
    Looking out the window or sitting outside for one full day is the only way you know what kind of shade you have. Dense shade plants really need about 2 inches of'll be surprised.

  21. Anonymous28 June, 2009

    Thank you so much for this post. It is so helpful to have better definitions of shade. Your personal experience with what works and what doesn't is most valuable. The pictures are so helpful, as well. My entire yard front and back falls under the spectrum of partial to dense shade. It has been such a challenge to me to grow plants in these conditions. I love sunflowers and herbs so I need to broaden my intrests. One question, what exactly is reflective light and does one know if they have any? Thank you! Kristen

  22. Kristen,
    Glad to be of help. I love full sun plants also but when you have mostly shade you just have to give in to less than colorful plants.

    My understanding is like this...
    Indirect sunlight is one that comes at an angle(not straight down).

    Reflective sunlight is one that is reflecting or bouncing off of any surface (mostly a flat surface like your house or walkway).
    I have some reflecting sunlight from my cement driveway and lawn. It's not of much value but better than none when talking about Dense shade plants.

    To see where you're getting just have to keep looking.
    Hope this was helpful.


  23. Hello! I love your list of shade plants! I am so willing to get a Coral Bell plant myself!! ahah!

    I live in Dallas, Texas, in an apartment on the groudn floor and I made a 7'x3' planter box in front of my patio (after permission from management--I needed to have plants because it looks awful and dull otherwise!)

    I sowed 75 seeds of Tuberous Begonias last January 2010 and I germinated almost all of them and I put them in the planter at the beginning of April. They are still small plants, but they are thriving and happy! I can't wait to see them blooming!

    I also have a lot of Jacob's Ladder plantlets that I am waiting to see blooming this summer!

    I also have Torenias (or Wishbone flowers), which is an annual plant that thrives in very deep shade and they are about to bloom these days!

    I am also trying to grow some super tiny seedlings of Lobelia Cardinalis!

    I also have a pink-flowered Bergenia that looks gorgeous! I love the way the plant looks throughout the whole year!

    And I have a Viola Odorosa that is a perennial evergreen that makes super fragrant flowers in Spring and it REALLY grows and spread even in almost complete dark!

    Other plants that I have are Sedum, Impatients (I am still waiting for these to bloom), Trollius, Japanese Anemone, Lily-of-the-valley, Astilbe, Yellow Meadow Rue, Anemone Sylvestris, Bleeding Hearts, Toad Lilies, Columbine, and Lupine.

  24. Rino, thanks for sharing your list of plants...very impressive !
    The 7x3 planter is huge but then again you have mucho plants to put in it...somehow. lol

  25. Anonymous11 May, 2010

    My plot is mostly shady, and west side of the house gets strong wind. I had knockout roses and salvia. They did well the first year - there seemed to be enough sunlight for them, but the wind tore them up. About two years after planting, half are left. Are there any suggestions as to what plants or flowers are more suitable for this site? I'm in zone 5, close to Chicago.

  26. I just discovered helleborus (or hellebore, or lenten rose), and the newer varieties are beautiful. It's not easy to find them in my local garden centers, but you can find them online. I found several places selling them, such as,, Great Garden Plants, Heronswood, Springhill,etc. They are a bit pricey as they need to reach a more mature stage (several years) to bloom.


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