11 Great Shade Plants for Container Gardens

illustration of best container plants for shade

The Spruce

Flower gardening is always easiest when you have plenty of sun to work with, but this is not always possible. Especially in small landscapes or urban environments where homes are closely positioned, a deck or patio often experiences shade or semi-shade conditions that call for container gardening with plants suited for such environments. 

Containers are normally planted with annual flowers planted anew each season, but there are also some perennials that work well in container gardens. 

Here are 11 plants that work well for container plantings in shady locations.

Even Shade Plants Need Some Light

Most plants described as shade lovers actually are suitable for "part shade" locations. They will tolerate shade for most of the daylight hours, but they need some amount of sunlight each day in order to thrive. "Part shade" is defined by horticulturists as a location that offers 2 to 4 hours of direct sunlight each day. Plants rated for "full shade" or "deep shade" are the only ones recognized to thrive with the complete absence of sunlight. There are relatively few of these plants, but several are mentioned here. As for "part-shade" plants, if no direct sunlight is possible, try to provide them with a good amount of filtered sunlight, such as that found under the canopy of tall trees.

  • 01 of 11

    Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides)

    hybrid coleus plants on the window

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    Coleus is one of the best-known of all shade plants, for good reason—almost everyone recognizes this plant when they see it. This is a plant grown for its unique and interesting leaf colors rather than its blooms. Coleus is one of the few plants that genuinely thrives in full shade. If you think of coleus as old-fashioned, it is worth another look, since new colors and leaf forms are being developed all the time. Some new varieties now thrive even in full sun.

    The colors of coleus are often so intense and complicated that you have to be a little careful when mixing them with other plants. Have some fun and try improbable color combinations—sometimes they work beautifully. Or plant them alone as specimen plants.

    Formerly categorized as Coleus blumei, this plant now carries the official name of Plectranthus scutellarioides.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; usually grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: Multi-colored foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
  • 02 of 11

    Fuchsia (Fuchsia spp.)

    Close-Up Of Fuchsia Blooming Outdoors

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    Fuchsias are readily identifiable by their drooping, brightly colored flowers that bloom virtually all season. The trailing habit makes this an excellent flowering plant for hanging baskets. There are more than 100 species in the Fuchsia genus, all of which put on a great display even in full shade conditions. The reputation for fussiness is not really deserved, since Fuschia plants can be quite easy to grow under the right conditions, though they do require lots of water and fertilizer.

    Fuchsias are classic in hanging baskets, but can also look awesome in mixed containers. They look great paired with either complementary or contrasting colors. Fuschia will flower all summer, and, if you live in a cold climate, you can bring it indoors to overwinter.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; usually grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: Reds, pinks, violets
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
  • 03 of 11

    Torenia (Torenia fournieri)

    Close-Up Of Pink Torenia Flowers Blooming Outdoors

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    Torenia, also known as wishbone flower, is an elegant and cheerful annual plant that will flower all summer even in full shade. It is heat tolerant and very easy to care for. This gem will thrive with regular watering and fertilizing until frost and you do not even have to deadhead it. 

    Wishbone flower is great in combinations, or, in the right container, it can be beautiful on its own. You can use it in hanging baskets, window boxes, or in any container with good drainage. It is relatively short, 2 to 6 inches, and will trail over the side of your container. In warm climates, Torenia will need protection from the heat.

    • USDA Growing Zones: NA; this is an annual plant in all climates
    • Color Varieties: Light to dark purple
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 11

    Coral Bells (Heuchera Species and Hybrids)

    Coral Bells, Bradford, Ontario, Canada

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    Coral bells are standard garden perennials, but they also work well for containers in the shade. Most commercial varieties are hybrids, bred from parent species that include Heuchera americana, H. sanguinea, H. americana, H. micrantha, H. villosa, or H. cylindrica. A few favorite varieties are 'Dolce Licorice', 'Dolce Key Lime Pie', and 'Dolce Creme Brulee'.   

    Coral bells are gorgeous and almost indestructible. Although they thrive in the shade, most coral bells will also tolerate some sun and are quite drought tolerant. The blooms on coral bells are rather small and often indistinct, but the foliage comes in many unusual colors, ranging from an almost black-purple to peach to bright key lime. Coral bells will attract hummingbirds and butterflies and some are hardy to a spectacular minus 25 degrees Fahrenheit, looking amazing right up until the snow flies. While deadheading is not necessary, remove flower stems after they have bloomed to keep your plant looking great.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Dark purple to bright yellow-green foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade (depending on variety)
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
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  • 05 of 11

    Begonias (Begonia Groups and Hybrids)

    Close-Up Of Pink Begonia Flowers Growing At Park

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    With more than 1,800 species in the genus, categorized in several broad groups, there are literally hundreds of begonias for gardeners to choose from. For container gardens, the most popular are the tuberous or rhizomatous begonias with their neon-bright flowers; or rex begonias, which have leaf colors, shapes, and textures that can border on the psychedelic.

    Many newly developed trailing, angel, and dragon wing begonias that will bloom like crazy all summer. Most begonias need great drainage and do not want to be too wet. Some will be happy in full shade while some prefer filtered shade. Almost all flowering begonias need to be fed regularly and generously with diluted fertilizer.       

    • USDA Growing Zones: 9 to 11; normally grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: White, orange, pink, red, and bicolors
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil
  • 06 of 11

    Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus)

    Full Frame Shot Of Persian Shield Plant Leaves

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    Persian shield (Strobilanthes dyeranus) is a gorgeous foliage plant—a broadleaf evergreen perennial that generally is used as an annual. With blooms that combine purple and silver, it stands out in any container, where it serves a classic thriller plant, towering up to 3 feet high. Exceptionally easy to grow, Persian shield will add an exotic touch to your containers, as it is unusual and may be hard to find at garden centers. Buy it early, because it often will sell out. While Persian shield prefers a little bit of sun, you can easily grow it in part shade. Some pinching back of the stems will help keep it bushy and full.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; normally grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: Purple and green/silver foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 07 of 11

    Oxalis (Oxalis spp.)

    Full Frame Shot Of Oxalis Growing On Field

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    Oxalis is another large genus of plants which includes several species that are good performers for shady containers. Some species commonly used in containers include Oxalis versicolor, O. compressus, O. triangularis, and O. tetraphylla. Flower colors include white, peach, yellow, pink, and bicolors; some varieties (such as O. tetraphyalla) are grown mostly for their foliage.

    These plants have delicate shamrock-shaped leaves and tubular flowers that open and close as light exposure changes. This is an easy-to-grow plant that plays well with others or looks good all by itself in a beautiful pot. The flowers are pretty, but this plant is all about color and texture. It looks lovely combined with Fuchsia or Torenia. If in partial shade, it also looks great planted with Bacopa.

    If you are located in a cold climate area, you can bring your oxalis inside for the winter and turn it into a house plant.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9, depending on species
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, yellow, peach, and bicolors
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Average, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 11

    Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

    Impatiens walleriana

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    The old standby, Impatiens walleriana, has been a shade favorite for many decades for good reason—it is one of the few bright-flowering plants that positively thrives the deepest, darkest shade. Impatiens are available in a wide spectrum of white pink, salmon, red, and purple hues, with both single and double-petal flowers. These mounding plants are great in mixed pots and hanging baskets. 

    The related New Guinea impatiens (Impatiens hawkeri) likes a bit more sun, but it will also do well in partial shade. 

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 11; normally grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, lilac, purple, orange, white, and bi-colors
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
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  • 09 of 11

    Trailing Lobelia (Lobelia erinus var. Pendula)

    Lobelia blue blossom in brown plastic pot close up

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    Lobelia is a very large genus of plants, with many species that prefer direct sun. But the trailing version (Lobelia erinus var. pendula) is an ideal plant for shady containers. L. erinus is commonly known as "edging lobelia," and the pendula variation puts out long, cascading shoots that are ideal in hanging baskets and pots. 

    Various cultivars are available in many different flower colors including blue, violet, purple, red, and pink.

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

    Dichondra (Dichondra Argentea)

    Dichondra (ground cover plants)

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    Dichondra is a creeping, trailing evergreen perennial plant in warm climates, but it is commonly used as trailing spiller plant in containers. It is generally grown for its foliage, not its flowers. One popular cultivar,'Silver Falls', has shimmering silvery foliage and stems. Dichondra grows only about 4 inches high but sends out shoots up to 4 feet long, making it ideal for hanging baskets, tall containers, and window boxes. Although a sun-lover, this plant tolerates partial shade and works well if it gets just an hour or two of sun each day. Although drought-tolerant in the garden, it should be kept well watered when grown in containers.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10 to 12; normally grown as an annual
    • Color Varieties: Green or silver foliage
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture soil
  • 11 of 11

    Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)

    Creeping Jenny Lysimachia Aura Trailing Plant

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    Not all container plants need to be flowering plants. Creeping Jenny is a mat-forming perennial with round lime-green leaves that works well in tall containers or hanging baskets. It grows only 4 to 8 inches tall but sends out in shoots up to 2 feet long. It is a perfect spiller plant for the outside edges of containers or hanging baskets, where the light-green foliage can brighten shady areas. 

    This perennial plant is actually better suited for containers since it can be invasive if planted in the garden.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Yellow flowers; but normally grown for its green or yellow leaves
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, well-drained soil