Perennial Vines for Shade

5 Shade-Tolerant, Hardy Selections, Warnings About 5 Others

There are articles on the web that you can scan casually, but this list of perennial vines for shade for Northern gardeners is not one of them. If all you do is scan this piece, you may come away with some misconceptions. To avoid that, I advise reading it carefully and following the links provided for further research.

Why the warning? Well, there are not a lot of hardy vines for shade, and some of the ones available are not necessarily plants that I would recommend growing. Out of desperation,...MORE some gardeners may turn to these poor choices -- only to regret it later. I am here to help you avoid making such a mistake, in the first place.

The growing conditions in shady areas are challenging for many specimens. To overcome the challenges, shade plants are sometimes quite tenacious. "That is a good thing, right?" perhaps you ask. Unhappily, tenacity can be a double-edged sword: some non-native plants are so tenacious that they end up on invasive plant lists.

Some of the perennial vines for shade mentioned below are, indeed, invasive, so their appearance on this list does not represent an endorsement. Thus my subtitle, in which I indicate that, in addition to supplying you with some "good" picks, I am also warning you about others that you might subsequently regret planting. Note also that "shade" here essentially means "partial shade": few plants perform well in deep shade.

  • 01 of 10
    Boston ivy picture. A vine, Boston ivy is commonly found scaling walls.
    Boston ivy picture. The growth looks especially robust, considering the challenges posed by New Mexico's arid climate. David Beaulieu

    I will begin with five plants that I consider to be "good" vines for shade. I put the adjective in quotes because not everyone will agree with my choices. Indeed, sticklers who avoid growing aggressive plants at all costs may wish to avoid growing entries three, four, and five.

    Boston ivy is not grown for its flowers. It is the foliage of this traditional favorite that earns it a place on my list. You have heard of the "Ivy League" colleges, right? Well, these institutions are so...MORE called because the external walls of some of the older buildings on their campuses are covered in Boston ivy.

    As my picture (at left) reveals, the leaves of Boston ivy can become a brilliant red in autumn, but I find them attractive in summer, too, when they are merely green. Fall color is superior when they receive ample sunshine, so if you are growing them as vines for shade, you will have to be content with their summer look.

  • 02 of 10
    Climbing hydrangea
    Martin Leigh/Getty Images

    As difficult as it can be to find vines to grow in shade, it is even more difficult to find specifically flowering vines that bloom well under shady conditions and are hardy in the northern states of the U.S. (as well as some parts of Canada). Because climbing hydrangea meets these requirements, it is one of the most valuable plants at the landscaper's disposal.

    As for all my entries, click the link to the right of the picture to read my full article about the plant in question, where I...MORE discuss growing requirements and related information.

  • 03 of 10
    Virginia creeper
    Kim Sayer/Getty Images

    Virginia creeper is a plant with which I am intimately familiar as a wild plant in my region (New England, United States, to which it is indigenous). I encounter it in the woods all the time when I am out hiking. A vigorous grower, it is not suitable for growing in small spaces. Plant developers have produced somewhat tamer cultivars for homeowners to grow. I recently started growing Red Wall, myself. Discontented with the fall color of Red Wall, I ultimately ended up removing it.

    Like Boston...MORE ivy, the fall foliage of Virginia creeper can be outstanding. But also as with its relative (Boston ivy and Virginia creeper both belong to the Parthenocissus genus), do not expect optimal color in fall if you grow it as a vine for shade.

  • 04 of 10
    Image of Vinca minor ground cover in bloom.
    Vinca minor offers attractive violet-blue flowers. David Beaulieu

    Periwinkle (Vinca minor) can be invasive, but I find it relatively easy to control in the landscape. Elsewhere, I have listed it as one of the plants to grow under trees -- a particularly challenging environment. I grow mine in a shady area beneath a large Eastern white pine tree. Vinca is a drought-tolerant ground cover, so it is able to deal with the fact that such a large tree exploits its extensive root system to consume most all of the available water in its environs.

    Unlike the other plants...MORE I list here, periwinkle is not a climber. But those who do not mind its aggressiveness will appreciate its ability to fill in an area that would otherwise become overrun with weeds. The pretty, violet-blue flowers that it produces are another noteworthy trait.

    Continue to 5 of 10 below.
  • 05 of 10
    Wisteria flowers on park bridge
    Atsuo Kurimoto / EyeEm/Getty Images

    Chinese wisteria (Wisteria sinensis) is also invasive in some regions of North America. That is why I normally advise Americans to grow Wisteria frutescens instead. The latter is an American native.

    There is just one problem with Wisteria frutescens, considering the subject of the present article: it is not a vine for shade, where it probably will not bloom. And let's face it, one grows wisteria precisely for its flowers.

    Are the flowers of Chinese wisteria beautiful enough for you to grow it...MORE in that forlorn spot in the shade and risk dealing with a potentially aggressive plant? Only you can answer that question.

  • 06 of 10
    Autumn clematis
    Kit Case/flickr/CC By 2.0

    We now move on to the vines that grow well in shade but that I positively do not recommend that you grow. Again, not everyone will agree: some people may love sweet autumn clematis or one of the remaining plants on my list. I am simply warning you that, based on my own experience, I personally would think twice about growing any of these vines in my landscape.

    As you can see from my photo, sweet autumn clematis is undeniably beautiful. Problem is, those numerous flowers are succeeded by numerous...MORE seeds, which will germinate -- all over the place. Do not plant this aggressive spreader if you value ​low-maintenance landscaping: you will be pulling up the unwelcome volunteers for an eternity.

  • 07 of 10
    Trumpet vines
    FLPA/Nigel Cattlin/Getty Images

    Trumpet vine (Campsis radicans) is another plant that is not without its merits. It will eventually produce those gorgeous orange flowers even in partial shade, and the hummingbirds adore it. But unwanted "children" from the parent plant will pop up everywhere, and they are much harder to pull up than sweet autumn clematis plants. I do not at all recommend growing this thug.

  • 08 of 10
    Emerald Gaiety
    Stefano/flickr/CC By 2.0

    'Emerald Gaiety' euonymus is a foliage plant. It can take the form either of a vine or a shrub. Consequently, it can be grown either as a ground cover or as a hedge plant (as in the picture here). It is easy to pick out Emerald Gaiety: it has ​variegated leaves in a green and white pattern. Shade does not bother it much, but its potential for invasiveness may be a bother -- for you.

    Continue to 9 of 10 below.
  • 09 of 10
    English Ivy
    Mint Images/ Paul Edmondson/Getty Images

    English ivy competes with Oriental bittersweet and kudzu for the title of most hated vine in North America, due to its invasiveness. All right, maybe it is not quite in the same class as those other two. But you get the idea: I do not advise planting this one, despite the fact that it is a vine that grows well in shade.

  • 10 of 10
    Japanese honeysuckle
    Melissa Johnson/flickr/CC By 2.0

    I do not recommend growing Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) either -- even though it is an attractive perennial vine for shade -- due to the invasive nature of this exotic. There's a type of honeysuckle native to the Eastern U.S. that might, at first glance, appear to be an alternative: namely, Lonicera sempervirens. Unhappily, the latter is not a vine for shade.

    Incidentally, the common name for Lonicera sempervirens is "trumpet honeysuckle"; don't confuse that name with...MORE trumpet vine (Campsis radicans), which I discuss above.

    Looking for more planting ideas for shady areas? Take a peek at my separate article on shrubs that grow in shade.