What are the Best Plants for a Shade Garden?

Anna Harrison
Anna Harrison
Gardening tools and potted plants.
Gardening tools and potted plants.

There are many types of plants that will not only live, but will thrive, in partial or full shade. Hosta, impatiens, astilbe, coleus, and bleeding heart are just a few that provide color and interest to shady areas. All are extremely easy to grow, require little care, and can be good choices for those who are gardening beginners.

Perennial hostas are perhaps the most common plants for shade gardens and are one of the best low-light plants. There are hundreds of cultivars and all are grown for their large and often multicolored leaves. The hosta flowers are lavender or white, and look like small lilies, growing up tall stalks above the foliage. Hostas are not picky about soil type, though they do prefer good drainage and will tolerate drought.

Hostas, impatiens and coral bells are excellent plants for a shady garden.
Hostas, impatiens and coral bells are excellent plants for a shady garden.

Impatiens are annuals or tender perennials that will usually need to replanted each year in the shade garden, although they will occasionally reseed themselves. The most common type are bedding impatiens, most of which grow only 5 or 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) tall, and produce 1 inch (2.5 cm) shade flowers in many different colors. New Guinea impatiens are similar, but tend to have larger, showier flowers and larger and darker leaves.

Balsamina impatiens look different than the other two types, with flowers that resemble individual snapdragon blossoms. These plants can also get much taller, up to 30 inches (76 cm, and have narrow, blade like leaves. All impatiens require well drained, fertile soil, and will grow well in containers. They do best in shade gardens with a few hours of sunlight, but will thrive in full shade, though flower production may be lessened.

Astilbe are shade loving, hardy perennials with tall stalks full of tiny feathery flowers in shades of pink, purple, red, and white. These shade garden plants grow anywhere from 18 inches (46 cm) to 4 feet (1.2 m) tall and look great growing alongside hostas. They have a very long blooming season and make long lasting cut flowers. Astilbe are slow to fade and keep their color as dried flowers as well. They grow best in a shade garden that has rich, well fertilized soil.

Coleus are easy-to-grow shade garden plants with brightly colored, variegated leaves streaked with pink, yellow, and white. Like hostas, these are grown primarily for their foliage. In fact, gardeners often cut the flower stalks off before blooming because the tiny flowers only detract from the beauty of the coleus leaves. These shade plants do very well in containers and can be one of the best plants for shady decks or patios. Coleus are perennial in mild climates, but will need to be replanted each year in colder areas.

Bleeding heart is an old fashioned, heirloom plant that is very hardy and long lived. There are two types — one that blooms in spring, with beautiful bright pink or white heart shaped flowers, and one that blooms throughout the summer. This species has darker pink flowers resembling tiny pants, which is why it has been given the nickname Dutchman’s breeches. Both grow well in the shade garden; the foliage of the spring blooming variety will begin to go dormant, and will slowly die back to the ground after blooming. Both form the shape of a small shrub, 2 to 3 feet (61 to 91 cm) tall, and they will grow in nearly any well drained soil.

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Discussion Comments


One side of our house is heavily shaded and I was concerned that growing anything other than ferns there would be almost impossible. I have nothing against ferns, but I really like more showy, more noticeable plants with large or colorful blooms.

A friend who knows much more about gardening and flowers than I do suggested I plant hydrangea. I was aware of hydrangeas, but I didn't know where they would and wouldn't grow. Anyway, I took her advice and planted several of the scrubs. This turned out to be a good decision.

The plants are now doing very well, and they are absolutely beautiful. The blooms are large clusters of flowers that look like over-sized cotton balls. In addition to white, the flowers can be pink or blue, and the cotton-ball clusters on some of my plants measure a foot across.


I know that most people think of creeping buttercups as weeds and don't want the plants anywhere near their gardens, but I disagree. The green of the plant mixed with the yellow of its flowers creates a nice picture. The buttercups grow well in shaded areas and other difficult environments where other plants can't survive. The buttercups are hardy and take little maintenance to thrive.

Since the creeping buttercup flowers in the spring, another plant that flowers in the summer will work well with this plant to make your garden more attractive for longer. One such plant is the creeping lily turf, which is basically a ground cover with dark green leaves. The green leaves will turn to a brownish color when the cold months arrive.

The lily turf produces small flowers in the summer and then berries form in the fall before the change in the leaves. What I like about this plant is that it provides a different look with each season.

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    • Gardening tools and potted plants.
      By: Michael Flippo
      Gardening tools and potted plants.
    • Hostas, impatiens and coral bells are excellent plants for a shady garden.
      By: Svenja98
      Hostas, impatiens and coral bells are excellent plants for a shady garden.