The 10 Best Shade Garden Perennials

Gardeners often lament that there are limited plant choices for the shade garden. Untrue. Many plants that are known as sun lovers, such as daylilies, actually enjoy the relief of partial shade, especially in hot areas. While hostas now come in a wonderful array of colors and textures, you can add color to your shade garden with the following plants that aren't strictly shade plants but that make wonderful shade or partial-shade garden plants. When choosing plants for shade, you have to expand the search box beyond "shade only" plants.

  • 01 of 10

    Monkshood (Aconitum fischeri)

    Monkshood flower

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    Monkshood likes full sun but is fine in partial shade. The blooms, which resemble monks' hoods, hang along with spiky stalks and can last for up to two months. As a bonus, they're pest and disease resistant. But please note: All parts of this plant are poisonous. Grow them in the United States Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 2–9.

  • 02 of 10

    Columbine (Aquilegia)

    Aquilegia flowers (common names: granny's bonnet or columbine)

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    Butterflies and hummingbirds can't resist the delicate, nectar-filled blossoms of Columbine. The bicolored, bell-shaped flowers come in a wide variety of color combinations, although you'll often find them for sale mixed. They are prone to leaf miners, but you can always cut the foliage back after it blooms. Grow them in USDA hardiness zones 3–9.

  • 03 of 10

    False Spirea (Astilbe)

    Astilbe

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    Astilbes are one of those nearly perfect flowers. The fern-like foliage stays attractive all season. The flower plumes, in shades of whites, pinks, purples, ​and reds, bloom once but last the whole season as they fade. Varieties abound, from 6 inches to 5 feet tall. Except for dividing your astilbe plants every three years or so, they require no effort. A similar plant to consider is goat's beard (Aruncus). Plant astilbe in USDA zones 4–9.

  • 04 of 10

    Blackberry Lily (Belamcanda chinensis)

    Belamcanda chinensis

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    Belamcanda has the sword-shaped leaves of its cousin, the iris (it's not a true lily), but its flowers are distinctive. Small, flattened, star-shaped flowers often in orange but available in a range of colors, with or without spots, bloom for only one day each, over a period of several weeks in the summer, then fade to rounded seed pods. Grow them in USDA zones 5–9.

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  • 05 of 10

    Bugbane, Black Cohosh, Black Snakeroot (Cimicifuga racemosa)

    Black cohosh (Cimicifuga ramosa) 'Brunette', Piet Oudolfs Millennium Garden

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    Black cohosh can easily reach 6–8 feet in one season and adds texture as well as height to the shade garden. The dense, deeply cut foliage gives rise to even taller stalks of bottle-brush white flowers in late summer or fall. Enjoy them throughout USDA zones 3–9.

  • 06 of 10

    Bleeding Heart (Dicentra)

    Dicentra spectablis (Bleeding heart, Dutchmans trousers), perennial, spring garden, England

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    Delicate bleeding hearts are workhorses in the garden, and they welcome the relief of shade. The common variety, Dicentra spectabilis, can be ephemeral in hot areas. The fringed varieties will bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) is another spring charmer and has white blossoms resembling pantaloons. Bleeding hearts thrive in USDA zones 2–9.

  • 07 of 10

    Barrenwort (Epimedium)

    Barrenwort (Epimedium Fire Dragon)

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    Epimedium is often dismissed as a slow-growing ground cover, but these plants deserve more respect. The spring-blooming flowers come out in clusters, and the foliage, which starts out almost lime green, changes to a rich red in the fall. They'll tolerate full sun to full shade and even the dry shade under trees. Plant them in USDA zones 5–9.

  • 08 of 10

    Primrose (Primula)

    Planting Primrose (Primula) plants in container

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    Primulas are one of the first flowers to bloom in spring. Even their name tells you they are a spring flower, as it comes from Medieval Latin, meaning "little first one." Primulas can handle some sun in the spring, but after things warm-up, they'll require at least partial shade. They also have a preference for moist but well-drained soil. Their colors are usually vibrant, and sometimes they can be even bicolored. Grow them in USDA zones 3–9.

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  • 09 of 10

    Meadow Rue (Thalictrum aquilegifolium)

    Thalictrum Flowers

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    Meadow rue has columbine-like foliage, with fuzzy white, pink, or purple clusters of summer blossoms. Thalictrum takes care of itself and doesn't like fuss or being moved, and it thrives in partial shade. The plants reach heights of 3–5 feet. Plant them throughout zones 3–9.

  • 10 of 10

    Spring-Blooming Woodland Flowers

    pulmonaria saccharata

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    To give full shade areas a woodland look, you can't beat these delicate flowers. They emerge in early spring and then burst into bloom. Some will disappear as the weather warms, but don't worry, they'll be back next year and will eventually spread and multiply. Plant these in zones 3–9:

    • Siberian bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla): a close cousin of forget-me-nots
    • Bluebells (Mertensia): ephemerals that dazzle with flurries of blue flowers, then disappear
    • Solomon's seal (Polygonatum biflorum): an elegant flower, especially the variegated version that has white edging
    • Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata): an early bloomer with white-spotted foliage
    • Wake robin (Trillium grandiflorum): an early charmer with three petals