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. The east side of a house can be a little trickier, receiving some sunlight but not enough for sun-loving plants. Luckily, not all so-called shade plants necessarily have to avoid the sun, which gives you the option of planting the same varieties in multiple areas (including some east-facing walls).
You can find shade-tolerant species in many different types of plants, from annuals and ground covers to shrubs and perennial climbers. Here are some great choices to plant along house walls that face north and/or east.
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Certain Shade Plants Can Tolerate Some Sun
Many shade plants can take quite a bit of sun if watered adequately. Beautiful displays of the annual impatient Lucy (Impatiens spp.) can be grown in relatively sunny areas. Usually associated with shady spots, Impatiens will still thrive in partial sun, as long as their watering requirements are met in the given location. The same holds true for some of the other annuals usually found at garden centers in the shade section, such as wax begonias (Begonia x semperflorens-cultorum).
It is important to recognize the distinction between plants that are described as "shade-tolerant" and plants that truly require shade. Shade-tolerant plants offer you more options since they can be grown in the shade, but they do not need constant shade (low light conditions) to survive.
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Perennial Shade Options
If you are not interested in annuals because you have to replant them every year, consider perennials. This group of plants offers great variety. There is a perennial to suit everyone's needs.
For example, common bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a medium-sized, shade-tolerant perennial grown for its flowers. This plant also can receive varying amounts of sunlight, making it suitable for north walls and east walls alike. Try to supply those subjected to the most sunshine with more water (to compensate), but, because bleeding hearts are early-season plants that put on their show before the summer's heat arrives, Northerners do not need to be overly concerned with them receiving a bit extra sunlight.
There is another growing condition to consider here, besides the amount of sunshine that a plant receives, and that is the moisture content of the soil. The ground under the eaves of a house can be notoriously dry because the eaves intercept rainfall. For areas that are well-protected by roof overhangs, consider perennials that are good in dry shade, such as lilyturf (Liriope spicata). Lilyturf will not perform as well in the full shade of a north-facing wall as it does when given more sunlight, but it will survive there.
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Ground Covers for Shade
If you need something shorter than a perennial like common bleeding heart, look into ground covers for your north-facing wall. A popular type for shade is creeping myrtle (Vinca minor). A ground cover tolerant of a number of conditions is bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), although it will not bloom as well in shade as in full sun.
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, the plantain lily (Hosta spp.). Many types of plantain lilies are good low-growing ground covers for your north side. An example of a fairly short type is the Hosta cultivar, 'Patriot.' A bigger cultivar is 'Frances Williams.' Increased sunlight can change the leaf colors of some types of Hosta.
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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). If you are seeking a perennial climbing vine that blooms nicely, is well-behaved, and does well in a shady area, then climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris) is probably your best bet.
You have a greater number of options with 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. These shrubs do not offer a floral display, but they can give you pretty berries (arils, technically). If you want flowering shrubs, be aware that, while some tolerate shade, they may not blossom as well in a spot with low light levels.