9 Best Shade-Loving Perennials for Michigan Gardens

Fountain grass perennial plants with tan and pink plumes in garden

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Perennials are plants that, once planted, generally, return every year. Their roots remain alive under the soil through the winter and sprout a new plant in spring. These plants are the backbone of most easy-care gardens. To beautify a shady flower bed in Michigan, choose common perennials like hostas, ferns, and meadow rue that need partial to full shade a few hours a day. Michigan is in zone 5 on the USDA hardiness zone map, which means plants must be able to tolerate very cold winter temperatures to thrive there. The local extension office also has additional advice about hardy perennials that grow best in your specific part of Michigan.


Pick plants suited to your site and expect they will need time to become established. Some plants may not flower the first year. You will be pleasantly surprised by a burst of color and texture in your garden the following year.

Take a look at nine shade-loving perennials that grow well in Michigan's climate.

  • 01 of 09

    Hostas (Hosta)

    Hosta lily growing in garden
    Moelyn Photos/Getty Images

    Hostas (Hosta) produce white or purple flowers in midsummer in Michigan, but the true beauty of this plant is its leaf varieties. Darker-foliage hostas do best in moderate shade, while gold-leaf varieties can handle a good deal of sun. Once planted in rich, fertile, slightly acidic soil, they will take root and will spread up to four feet across within a few years. Deer and slugs have an affinity for these leafy plants. Since hostas do most of their growing in the spring, use deer deterrent early on to mitigate deer damage. To keep slug infestations to a minimum, choose thicker-leaved hosta varieties, which are less attractive to these pests.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties (Leaves): Blue, green, gold, white, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, slightly acidic, well-draining
  • 02 of 09

    Bleeding Hearts (Lamprocapnos Spectabilis)

    Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) flowers lined up on their stem.

    Topic Images/Getty Images

    Bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) are shade-loving woodland plants that are native to Michigan and bloom in spring when it's still cool. Most types of bleeding heart will flourish only in the cooler temperatures of spring and fall; the fringed-leaf variety will continue to bloom repeatedly throughout the summer. The bleeding heart gets its name because it looks like a human heart with a droplet falling from it. Their foliage ranges from lobed to lacy and fern-like.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White or pink
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 03 of 09

    Japanese Anemone (Anemone Japonica)

    Japanese Anemone

    Marie Iannotti

    Anemones are a member of the buttercup family. Perennial anemones are non-tuberous plants that grow from fibrous roots. The Japanese anemone (Anemone japonica) is a graceful hybrid anemone with cup-shaped flowers in pink, white, or rose that grow on long two-foot- to four-foot-tall stems. The flowers bloom late in the summer amid dark green, fern-like leaves and may even grace your garden up through October. Like clockwork, if you see this plant flowering in your Michigan garden, it foreshadows the end of summer.

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, rose
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Fertile, moist
  • 04 of 09

    Ferns (Polypodiopsida)

    Interrupted fern with fertile leaflets.

     Laszlo Podor/Getty Images

    Ferns (Polypodiopsida) include some 12,000 species that reproduce by spores—those small dots on the underside of fronds. They do not produce flowers. Ferns have been on this planet for more than 300 million years, so expect minimal maintenance for these survivors. In Michigan, maidenhair fern and lady fern are state natives in moist, shady spots. Ostrich fern thrives in the upper peninsula and southern half of the lower peninsula. Sensitive fern and cinnamon fern will grow well in all parts of the state. When ferns grow too large, divide them in the spring.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 9
    • Color Varieties (Leaves): Green, silver-gray, red, pink, gold, orange
    • Sun Exposure: Full to partial shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, wet, well-draining
    Continue to 5 of 9 below.
  • 05 of 09

    Astilbe (Astible)

    Astilbe Superba

    Garden Photo World/Georgianna Lane/Getty Images

    Astilbes (Astible) love the colder weather. These plants produce tall feathery plumes of long-lasting flowers, some plumes spikier or fluffier than others. These plants are among the easiest perennial flowers to grow, and they are nearly free of pests. They provide color for a shade garden or soften a sunny spot, where they are likely to become taller. They do best in partial shade. Most astilbes sold are hybrids resulting from crosses between species.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, lavender, red
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 06 of 09

    Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia Virginica)

    Mass of Virginia bluebells flowering in the woods.

    Dennis Govoni/Moment Open/Getty Images

    Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica) are large-leaved perennials that have clusters of blue, tubular flowers. In Michigan, bluebells grow in southern floodplain forests and fertile ravines. The vast majority occur in Kent and Ottawa counties. The flower buds and young blooms on this spring ephemeral plant are pinkish, but when they mature, they turn a vibrant blue. You may even see pink and blue flowers on the same plant at various times in the spring. Also known as Virginia cowslip, these plants can fill a field. They produce flowers from midsummer through fall.

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink or blue
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-draining
  • 07 of 09

    Foamflower (Tiarella Cordifolia)

    Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

    Brian Carter/Getty Images

    Perfect for shaded gardens and patios in Michigan, foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), also called false miterwort, is a spring-flowering herb that produces flowers with long stamens. Foamflower is deer resistant with blooms that emerge in early to late spring on long stems up to 18 inches tall. 

    • USDA Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White with pink accents
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
  • 08 of 09

    Fountain Grass (Pennisetum)

    Fountain grass perennial plant with tan and pink plumes in garden closeup

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Fountain grasses (Pennisetum) are an elegant perennial addition to hardy zone 5 gardens. It is a mound-forming ornamental grass with pretty plumes that do well in partial shade. This low-maintenance grass is a garden favorite. It gets its name from the cascading leaves that resemble a fountain. The grass grows in mounds or clumps, which keeps fountain grasses from becoming invasive. Its flowers resemble ​foxtails from late summer into fall. Foliage remains lush into the winter.

    • USDA Zones: 5 to 10
    • Color Varieties: Tan, pink, purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-draining
    Continue to 9 of 9 below.
  • 09 of 09

    Meadow Rue (Thalictrum)

    columbine meadow rue
    David Beaulieu

    Native to Michigan, meadow rue (Thalictrum) is a flowering perennial well suited for a shade garden. The plant's delicate leaves resemble common garden rue, the origin of its name, even though it is not related to the herb. For shady locations, use the white-flowering tall meadow rue (Thalictrum polygamum), which is suited to partial shade. 

    • USDA Zones: 4 to 9
    • Color Varieties: White, lavender, yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full shade to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist

More Info on Shade Gardens and Further Research

Article Sources
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  1. Hostas. University of Minnesota Extension