Plants That Grow in Full Shade

23 Beauties That Aren't Afraid of the Dark

Helleborus orientalis is an early bloomer and a great plant for full shade.
David Beaulieu

Searching for plants that grow in full shade is an endeavor fraught with challenges. The difficulties begin with the very language we use to discuss the subject. So let's begin with a couple of clarifications on terminology. First, for horticultural purposes, a location is in "full shade" if it receives less than three hours of direct sun daily but does receive indirect sunlight. Second, if a plant is recommended for full shade, that means it can not only survive in low-light conditions but rather it can thrive. And thriving is what all of us gardeners have in mind.

Shrubs

Let's begin with shrubs, simply because you might easily overlook them when planning your shade garden (many gardeners think first of annuals and perennials). That would be unfortunate since shrubs provide structure and background for that planting bed you're so eager to fill with the smaller plants that tend to be much more visible at the garden center. All of the following shrubs are grown for their foliage, not for flowers and can add undeniable value to a shade garden (Note: All zone recommendations refer to the USDA plant hardiness zone system):

Perennials

Here's where you can begin to make up for the floral color that your non-flowering shrubs lack:

Annuals

Supplement the flowers provided by your perennials with judiciously placed annuals. However, it may be more accurate to put "annuals" in quotes because many of the plant's Northerners treat as annuals are actually perennials in the lands to which they are native (namely, in the tropics). It's just that they're too tender to fulfill their destinies in climates that have cold winters. This is a case where usage trumps botany: we call them "annuals" because that's how we (i.e., those of us who landscape in colder climates) happen to use them.

Ground Covers

Ground cover plants for full shade come in especially handy when you need to cover large swaths of shaded land and don't have the time or inclination to mess around with perennial beds or to plant a fresh batch of annuals every year to serve as bedding plants.

Vines

Options for vines are limited, particularly if you're in search of a flowering vine for shady locations that is hardy in cold-winter climates. Boston ivy is grown for its foliage, yet even that won't be as colorful in fall if the plants are grown in full shade. But the nice, green foliage it provides in summer is enough to please some homeowners.