12 Great Perennials for Shade

Enjoy Blossoms on the Shady Side of the House

best perennials for shade illustration

The Spruce / Ran Zheng

Shady spots are sometimes considered problem areas because of the myth that beautiful plants cannot grow in in the shade. In reality, though, there are some wonderful plants for shade, some grown mostly for their lovely foliage, but others that have surprisingly dramatic blooms. The following perennial plants will help transform your shaded spot from a problem area to a location you are proud of. All of these perennials can handle cold temperatures. 

In addition to these perennials, also consider annuals and some great biennials, such as foxglove (digitalis) for the shade garden. 

Tip

Gardeners who are new to creating shade gardens need to remember that few plants will produce impressive blooms in deep shade. Most of the plants listed here will do best if they receive partial sunlight mostly in the early morning or late afternoon. Even shade-loving perennials need some amount of sunlight in order to bloom.

  • 01 of 12

    Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)

    Lenten roses with deep purple flowers with yellow centers in sunlight

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Sometimes you get lucky and have pretty flowers and nice foliage on the same plant. Such is the case for Lenten rose (Helleborus orientalis), which an early spring blooming evergreen perennial. The blooms on Lenten rose begin with a lovely bud that resembles a rosebud, which later open into a flower that provides an early source of pollen for bees. After the spring blooms fade, Lenten rose continues to add visual appeal through its leathery, deer-resistant dark-green leaves that retain their beauty throughout the year.  Lenten rose performs well when planted at the base of a deciduous tree. It receives shade while the tree is leafed out, but when the tree drops its leaves in the fall, the plant receives the sunshine it needs during the winter months.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, cream, purple, red, yellow, lavender, and pink
    • Sun Exposure: Part to full shade; tolerates sun in winter months
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 02 of 12

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

    Pink bleeding hearts hanging from long stems

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    The common bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a well-known classic, but other types of Dicentra are worth planting in your landscaping:

    If you are seeking attractive foliage to go along with the interesting blooms, fringed bleeding hearts are a great choice. But D. spectabilis 'Gold Heart' may turn the most heads with its bright golden leaf color.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white, and white, with cultivar variations
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade; tolerates some sun
    • Soil Needs: Fertile and well-drained
  • 03 of 12

    Jack-in-the-Pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum)

    Jack-in-the-pulpit

    ASO FUJITA/amanaimagesRF / Getty Images

    Jack-in-the-pulpit (Arisaema triphyllum) is sure to inspire you if you like plants that are a bit out of the ordinary. It is a woodland plant in many areas of North America, so it is a no-brainer for woodland gardens. This perennial for shade certainly is not grown for its flowers. But Jack-in-the-pulpit rewards those willing to forgive its lack of showy flowers with a brightly-colored bunch of red berries.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Greenish-purple
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, humusy
  • 04 of 12

    Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis)

    Bunchberry plant with small white and four-petaled flower surrounded with leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Bunchberry (Cornus canadensis) is a deciduous shrubby groundcover native to North America. It is in the same genus as the dogwood trees, but do not let that fool you. This is a tiny plant, essentially a flowering groundcover. As the name implies, it also features bright red berries in fall. 

    Bunchberry is ideal for dappled shade and works well in naturalized areas and along shaded walkways. 

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 2 to 6
    • Color Varieties: Yellow-green
    • Sun Exposure: Shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist acidic soil
    Continue to 5 of 12 below.
  • 05 of 12

    Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)

    Spotted deadnettle plant with small pink blooms on stems with variegated leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Although the name deadnettle might bring to mind other types of weedy nettles that cause skin irritation, spotted dead nettle (Lamium maculatum) is actually a very nice landscape plant that offers color both through its foliage and its flowers. The popular cultivar, L. maculatum 'Purple Dragon', has vibrant purple blooms. 

    Like other plants with silver foliage, this ground cover can help brighten shady areas and make them seem less gloomy. Be aware that deadnettle can spread aggressively, so plant it only in an area where you seek a true groundcover. There are several other types of dead nettle similar to 'Purple Dragon' dead nettle, but avoid Lamium galeobdolon (also known as yellow archangel or golden dead nettle). It is a lovely plant but tends to be invasive.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Mauve, pink, purple, or white, depending on cultivar
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained, with average moisture and fertility needs
  • 06 of 12

    Hosta (Hosta)

    Hosta plant with large and rounded variegated green leaves clustered together

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Hosta is an obvious choice as one of the best perennials for shade, if you can appreciate the beauty that foliage plants bring to your landscape. The list of hosta cultivars that can serve both as specimen plants and groundcovers for shady areas is practically endless. One type of hosta recommended to dress up a shady spot is hosta 'Halcyon'.

    Although hostas are known as shade plants, there are some exceptions. Cultivars with golden leaves, for example, need some sunlight to achieve their splendid color. 

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 through 8 depending on the variety
    • Color Varieties: Pale yellow to deep blue-green foliage; white or lavender blooms
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade depending on variety
    • Soil Needs: Moist soil
  • 07 of 12

    Leopard Plant (Ligularia)

    Leopard plant with tall yellow flower spikes over large leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Some kinds of Ligularia have spots, thus the common name, leopard plant. L. dentata "Britt-Marie Crawford" does not have those spots, but it has plenty else to purr about. It sports big, pretty leaves with tooth-like edges, and it has the most interesting golden yellow flowers.

    This perennial is versatile. While it is grouped with other shade perennials, it can tolerate some sunlight if it receives plenty of water. It can  be grown in spots that are too wet for many other plants. 'Britt-Marie Crawford' has stunning tcark eal-green foliage with dark purple undersides. and provides an uncommon landscape design option.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 through 8
    • Color Varieties: Golden yellow-orange
    • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Organically rich soil that stays moist
  • 08 of 12

    Columbine (Aquilegia)

    Columbine plant with purple and white blooms hanging on thin stems

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Columbine (Aquiligia) comes in many flower colors. Varieties with brightly-colored blooms might be the best choice for shaded spots, where they bring cheer to otherwise dark areas. Generally speaking, the unique shape of columbine is what makes them so special.

    This perennial for shade also has unusual clover-like foliage (variegated in some cultivars), especially early in the growing season. Leafminer insects can damage the leaves, but some gardeners find the meandering mining tunnels on the leaves to be attractive. Do not confuse Aquilegia with columbine meadow rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium), which is another good perennial for shade.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Red, yellow, white, blue, pink, salmon, or purple
    • Sun Exposure: Partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Well-drained soil amended with compost
    Continue to 9 of 12 below.
  • 09 of 12

    Jacob's Ladder (Polemonium caeruleum)

    Jacob's ladder plant stems with small purple flowers and buds clustered on top

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Jacob's ladder (Polemonium caeruleum) is another good example of a plant with a fine texture that can create contrast with other plants. The common name Jacob's ladder is a reference to the ladder-like arrangement of the foliage leaves.

    The delicate texture of Jacob's ladder works well when juxtaposed against the coarser texture of hosta or ligularia. Coarse-leafed elephant ear can also serve as a dramatic contrast to the fine texture of Jacob's ladder.  

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Mostly blue and purple; white, pink, and yellow cultivars also available
    • Sun Exposure: Partial to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained
  • 10 of 12

    Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

    Virginia bluebell plant stem with light purple trumpet-shaped flowers and buds

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    The leaves of North American native Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica), like those of Dutchman's breeches, disappear by midsummer when this perennial enters a period of dormancy. Most consider this an acceptable price to pay because the flowers of this spring bloomer make it worthwhile. Its flowers start out pink-lavender but later change to deep blue.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink-lavender changing to deep blue
    • Sun Exposure: Part to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, rich, well-drained soil
  • 11 of 12

    Rogers Flower (Rodgersia)

    Rogers flowers with large flowers spikes covered with white-pink petals over large leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Rogers flower does bear blooms, but it is valued more for its big, pretty leaves. Some types (such as R. aesculifolia) have leaves like those on a horse chestnut tree (Aesculus). Like leopard plant, this one grows well in damp areas that are not completely waterlogged. It can grow fairly well in the sun if the soil is moist and rich in humus.  

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 7
    • Color Varieties: Creamy white or light pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist and rich in humus
  • 12 of 12

    Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

    Japanese forest grass with long and thin blades clustered over soil

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Even more so than Rogers flower, Japanese forest grass (also known as Hakone grass) is grown for its value as a foliage plant. You can choose from various cultivars, depending on the look that you want to achieve. For example, the 'Naomi'  cultivar often has more red color in its leaf blades than 'Aureola' , which has a vibrant golden color.

    • USDA Hardiness Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Depends on variety: golden, variegated creamy yellow, bright green
    • Sun Exposure: Shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist but well-drained; slightly acidic

Although no spring bulbs were included in this list, shade gardeners should remember to take advantage of these earliest bloomers. Remember that areas of your yard that are shaded by large trees in summer might receive adequate sunlight in the early spring. These spots offer a great opportunity to take advantage of spring bulbs to add color to your landscape.