11 Good Shade Plants to Grow Along a North-Facing Wall

From Ground Covers to Shrubs

Paving stone path and climbing Hydrangea Petiolaris flowers growing on the side of a residential home at springtime
Perry Mastrovito / Design Pics / Getty Images

For gardeners in the Northern Hemisphere, few spots are more challenging than the areas along north-facing walls. While the spaces along east-facing and west-facing walls receive at least a few hours of morning or afternoon sun, the areas along north-facing walls receive almost no direct sunlight. This means you must choose plants that either prefer shade or at least tolerating it. Further, these spaces are often fairly dry, which limits your choices even further.

Fortunately, there are suitable plants in every category—colorful bedding annuals, flowering perennials, climbers, ground-covers, and shrubs—that will grow quite nicely in the challenging conditions created along north-facing walls. Many of these plants will also tolerate some sun, meaning that you can also plant them along east-facing and west-facing walls.

Here are 11 good choices for ornamental plants to use in the challenging shady locations along north-facing walls.

  • 01 of 11

    Impatiens( Impatiens walleriana)

    Different colors of impatiens flowers mixed together.

    Brennan Bill/Getty Images

    The ubiquitous impatiens is one of the most popular bedding plants for any shady locations, thanks to its profusion of color and long bloom season. For some years, impatiens had virtually vanished from garden centers because of a wide spread fungal disease, downy mildew, that virtually wiped out seed stocks. Recently, however, several disease-resistant strains have been developed, and impatiens are once more a viable choice as a bedding plant for shady gardens.

    Impatiens do well in nearly complete shade, but they will also tolerate relatively sunny conditions if they are kept well watered.

    A related plant, the New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) can also be grown in the part shade found along north-facing walls. It is a taller plant, at 12 to 18 inches, and has larger flowers than the common impatiens. It is even more tolerant of sunny conditions.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; normally grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: White, red, pink, violet, coral, orange, purple.
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade; will tolerate sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, medium moisture, well-draining soil
  • 02 of 11

    Wax Begonia (Begonia Semperflorens Cultorum Group)

    The group of plants within the Begonia genus known as wax begonias are fibrous-rooted plants that form mounds of fleshy, waxy leaves ranging from dark green to bronze in color, with loose clusters of small flowers that bloom throughout the season. Small varieties grow to about 6 to 8 inches; taller varieties are 10 to 12 inches. Wax begonias are normally used as a bedding plant, planted in masses or as an edging.

    Wax begonia is a versatile plant that can work in full sun as well as part shade. Space the plants well apart to improve air circulation and prevent fungal problems.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; usually grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, red, bicolors
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 03 of 11

    Tuberous Begonia (Begonia Tuberosa Group)

    Related to the wax begonias but much different in appearance are the tuberous begonias. Unlike the wax begonias, these don't tolerate much sun, but the huge leaves and large neon-bright flowers will brighten shady spots like no other flowering perennial. Often grown in pots, tuberous begonias also make a good bedding plant in the right locations—dappled shade or reflected light.

    Tuberous begonias grow 12 to 18 inches high with a similar spread. They bloom from July through September with brightly colored flowers that seem to glow in the shade. Tubers should be planted after the danger of frost has passed. Regular fertilization will keep these plants blooming profusely.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11; usually grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: White, yellow, orange, pink, red
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 11

    Common Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis) flowers in pink.
    Bleeding heart.

    shene/Getty Images

    Common bleeding heart is an excellent perennial choice for spaces along north-facing walls. This is a medium-sized, 2- to 3-foot plant that produces clusters of pink and white flowers along arching stems in spring. In sunnier locations, supply the plant with more water to compensate. Bleeding hearts are early-season plants that put on their show before the summer's heat arrives, and in warmer climates, the plant's foliage usually fades away as the summer approaches. In cooler climates, bleeding heart tolerates more sunshine.

    Bleeding hearts are best planted among other plants that can fill in when the foliage fades in summer heat.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink with white, pure white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 11 below.
  • 05 of 11

    Periwinkle or Creeping Myrtle (Vinca minor)

    If you need something shorter than a perennial like common bleeding heart, look into ground covers for areas along north-facing walls. A popular type for shade is periwinkle, also known as creeping myrtle. Periwinkle forms a viny mat 3 to 6 inches tall, flowering in May and June. It makes an excellent ground cover around bleeding heart and other perennials, or beneath shrubs and small specimen trees.

    Regular fertilizing will brighten the color of the green leaves and cause the plant to spread. In some regions, periwinkle is regarded as invasive, so check with local experts before planting it.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Blue, lavender, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 06 of 11

    Lilyturf (Liriope spicata)

    The garden spaces along north-facing walls are often dry as well as shady. These areas can be notoriously dry because the eaves intercept rainfall. The ideal plants for these areas are those known to do well in dry shade. Lilyturf is one such plant, a grasslike perennial that grows 9 to 18 inches high. Small flowers appear among the leaves in August through September, though lilyturf is prized more for its grasslike foliage.

    Lilyturf tolerates shady conditions, though it performs better if given more sunlight. It should be mowed down in early spring to stimulate new growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Lavender to white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 07 of 11

    Hosta (Hosta spp.)

    Variegated hosta
    Marcel ter Bekke / Getty Images

    The quintessential foliage plant for shady areas is hosta, also known as the plantain lily. Many types of hostas are good low-growing plants for your north side. An example of a fairly short type is the Hosta cultivar, 'Patriot'. A bigger cultivar is 'Frances Williams'. Although not known for flowers, the sheer diversity of green hues found in the leaves of various cultivars make hosta more than just a ground cover plant. Increased sunlight can change the leaf colors of some types of hosta, and those with yellow leaves typically are more tolerant of sun.

    Hostas are extremely easy to grow and care for, though they can be susceptible to damage from slugs and snails, especially if the ground is heavily mulched. You can easily propagate new plants by dividing the root clumps.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, lavender (normally grown for the foliage)
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 11

    Bugleweed (Ajuga reptans)

    Another ground cover tolerant of a number of conditions is bugleweed. This perennial will bloom better in sunny conditions, but it makes an excellent shady ground cover, growing 6 to 9 inches and spreading rapidly into a thick mat. Blue flowers appear in May and June where conditions are right, but this plant is more notable for its shiny dark green or bronze leaves.

    The plants can be cut back to the ground after flowering to stimulate new growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Blue; normally grown for foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 9 of 11 below.
  • 09 of 11

    Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris)

    Climbing Hydrangea in Bloom
    bkkm / Getty Images

    If you wish to grow climbing plants against a north-facing wall, you have a narrower variety of choices, but climbing hydrangea is one woody climbing vine that blooms nicely, is well-behaved, and does well in shady areas. This plant can grow as much as 50 feet long and will spread out into a ground cover if it is not trained up sturdy trellis or structure. White flowers appear in May to July.

    Climbing hydrangea can become a heavy, unruly plant, so make sure to provide it with a sturdy structure if you expect it to climb.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 11

    Yew (Taxus spp.)

    When it comes to choosing plants for the areas along north-facing walls, you have a greater number of options when it comes to shrubs, especially if you are content to enjoy nice foliage without flowers. Yew bushes (Taxus spp.) are needle-bearing evergreens and a classic choice for shade. The types used for landscape purposes are often Taxus x media hybrids, and they can range from 2 feet to 20 feet in height, depending on variety. These shrubs do not offer a floral display, but they can give you pretty berries (arils, technically).

    These shrubs have good tolerance for urban conditions, but make sure soil is well-drained, as they will perish if they languish in wet soil.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Non-flowering
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 11 of 11

    Flowering Quince( Chaenomeles speciosa)

    Well-rounded gardens generally include at least one flowering shrub or small tree, and there's no reason you can't also include one in garden spaces found along north-facing walls. Flowering quince is incredibly easy to grow, tolerating almost any soil. Growing 6 to 10 feet high, flowering quince is a dense rounded shrub with spiny stems. It blooms in March to April with white to scarlet flowers that appear before the leaves open. The leaves are reddish-bronze when the open, maturing into deep green. Small fruits ripen to red in the fall and are attractive to birds.

    These shrubs bloom on old wood, so any pruning should be done immediately after flowering is complete, so that new wood has a chance to mature for the following spring.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil; tolerate dry soils