What Are the Best Plants to Grow on a North-Facing Wall?

Surveying a Variety of Shade Plant Choices

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) flowers in pink.
Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) tolerates shade. shene/Moment/Getty Images

Reader, Smiles54490 emailed me to ask what the best plants are to grow on a North-facing wall. It is a common landscaping question. But, in addition, she tossed in a query about how much sun such plants can take (most people have the opposite concern):

"How much sun can plants on the North side of the house tolerate?" asked this reader. "During the summer, that part of the yard is shaded until mid-afternoon.

I would like short-to-low-growing plants in that area. What would you recommend?"

My answers are reflected in the following information:

Some "Shade Plants" Can Take More Sunlight Than You Think

Because the North-facing wall of a home generally receives little sun, shade plants are recommended for planting beds on that side of the house. However, not all so-called "shade plants" necessarily have to avoid the sun as if they were the plant world's equivalent to Count Dracula.

Many shade plants can take quite a bit of sun, provided that they are watered adequately. I have witnessed beautiful displays of the annual, impatiens growing in relatively sunny areas. Usually associated with shady spots, impatiens will thrive in partial sun; watering requirements will obviously rise in such a location. The same holds true for some of the other annuals usually found at garden centers in the shade section; for example, wax begonias.

It is important to recognize the distinction between a plant's being "shade-tolerant" and its requiring shade. Plants in the former category simply offer you more options: they can be grown in full shade, but they do not have to be installed in such areas.

Best Plants to Grow on a North-Facing Wall

Not interested in annuals?

Bleeding heart (see picture) is an example of a shade-tolerant perennial grown for its flowers. I grow several bleeding heart plants in my own landscaping. They receive varying amounts of sunlight. I try to supply those subjected to the most sunshine with more water (to compensate), but, because bleeding hearts are early-season plants, I usually do not worry excessively over their receiving too much sunlight. The really hot weather here (in New England, USA) does not kick in until bleeding heart season is over.

Bleeding heart is a medium-sized perennial; if you need something shorter, you could grow Vinca minor. Or if you do not mind a foliage plant (as opposed to a type grown for its flowers) for your North-facing wall, try that long-time favorite perennial, the hosta plant.  An example of a fairly short type is 'Patriot' hosta. Increased sunlight changes their leaf colors, but hostas would still be a good low-growing ground cover for your North side.

Here are some more resources that you can consult if you are seeking mainly perennial plants to grow on a North-facing wall that does get a little sunlight:

  1. Shade Plants for Zones 4-8
  2. 12 Great Native Plants for Shade (Northeastern USA)
  1. Ground Covers for Shade
  2. 10 Best Perennials for Shade

But there is another growing condition to consider here, besides amount of sunshine: the moisture content of the soil. The ground under the eaves of a house can be notoriously dry, because the eaves intercept rainfall. Consider plants that are good in dry shade for these areas.

Shrubs and Vines for Shade

If you wish to grow larger plants against a North-facing wall, you have a narrower variety of choices, but still plenty (unless you are really fussy). Do note, however, that Northerners seeking a perennial climbing vine that blooms nicely, is well-behaved, and does well in a shady area will not have many plants from which to choose. Climbing hydrangea (which is variously classified as a vine or a shrub) is probably your best bet. But check out the following resource for further ideas:

Vines for Shade

You have a greater number of options with shrubs. Yew bushes are a classic choice for shade. But they do not offer a floral display. If you want flowering shrubs, be aware that, while some tolerate shade, they may not blossom as profusely in a spot with low light levels. Explore your options here:

Shrubs for Shade