Shade Loving Flowers and Shady Landscape Planning

shady landscape

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Shady locations pose challenges for the home gardener since most plants thrive better in sunny conditions. However, if you have a shady landscape careful planning—from lawn turf to towering yard trees—can produce lovely results.

Here are 14 recommended plants that will thrive in the shady areas of your yard.

Choose the Right Plants

It's essential to assess how much sunlight your landscape site will get. Most shade plants can tolerate some sun, while others have very little light tolerance causing stress to the plant. A plant that will thrive in full shade needs less than four hours of sun per day. Plants that need between four and six hours are considered partial sun plants.

Measuring Sun Exposure

To measure sun exposure, you can get a sunlight meter, take time-lapse photography, or simply observe your potential site hourly recording your findings throughout a sunny day. The last option is the least expensive and most accurate, but it's also the most time-consuming.


Shade-loving plants share some common characteristics. Most shade lovers are understory plants, meaning they grow on the forest or jungle floor, often shaded by a canopy of trees. Many of these plants have deep green or evergreen, thin, delicate, broad leaves that are efficient in capturing sunlight to produce chlorophyll.

The soil on the forest floor or jungle floor is often acidic and humus-rich due to the abundance of organic matter. Leaf litter often creates a wet and humid environment that shade-loving plants appreciate.

Planning for Shade Landscaping

As you make plans for your shade garden, think about the types of plants you'd like to include.

  • Flowers
  • Colors
  • Texture
  • Shrubs
  • Trees
  • Containers

When planning the landscape, do you want a year-round color or all green all the time? You can get creative with staggering flowering times, incorporating colorful foliage-bearing plants, or adding evergreens to the mix.

Whether planting in the ground or a container, categorize specimens as a thriller, a filler, or a spiller. A thriller is a showpiece—the plant that you want to be the center of attention. Fillers are usually low-lying or shorter plants. Spillers are vines and branching plants that add dimension to your plant collection.

If you have a large area to landscape, consider water requirements and schedules. Watering is often an afterthought, but it is crucial for the success of your plants. Make sure you place plants that have similar watering requirements in the same area.

Popular Shade-Loving Plants

  • 01 of 14

    Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

    Flowering dogwood tree branches with pink blossoms against blue sky

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Flowering dogwoods are small understory trees in the wild, and they make excellent choices for large shrubs or small shade trees in a landscape offering white or pink flowers.

    'Cherokee Chief' (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief') is a popular cultivar of the flowering dogwood tree. Its lower branches have a horizontal branching pattern, lending interest to any landscape design. This flowering dogwood put out rosy-red blooms in spring, while their fall foliage is red with hints of bronze. It grows to a height of 20 to 25 feet and spreads 12 to 15 feet.

    Caution: Dogwoods are susceptible to a fungal disease known as dogwood anthracnose. Consult local experts to determine if this disease is a problem in your area.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5a to 9a
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 02 of 14

    Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

    Canadian Hemlock tree with dense evergreen branches

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Canadian or Eastern hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are large trees (40 to 75 feet) that work well in the shade, provided you can provide them with the right conditions (well-drained soil, no drought, or heavy winds). Hemlocks are best known as forest trees, but if pruned faithfully they can be maintained at the height you desire. An adequately pruned row of hemlocks can even form a dense and attractive privacy hedge.

    Prolonged drought can kill this tree, so make sure to keep it well-watered during dry seasons.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3a to 7a
    • Color Varieties: Not grown for flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 03 of 14

    Red-Twig Dogwood (Cornus sericea)

    Red-Twig dogwood with red bare branches

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Dogwood species with red branches are ideal specimens for a shady landscape. These multi-stemmed shrubs produce pretty white blooms in spring, attractive green foliage through summer, and brilliant red stems that provide winter interest.

    Shade-tolerant red osier dogwood (Cornus sericea 'Allemans') blossoms in white in mid-spring. While it will tolerate shade, you will get more red twig color by giving the plant some full sunlight. Remove about 25% of the stems down to ground level each spring to stimulate new growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2a to 7a
    • Color Varieties: White flowers, red twigs/leaves
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Moist, well-drained soil
  • 04 of 14

    Yew (Taxus spp.)

    Yew shrub with berries.
    Guenter Fischer / Getty Images

    The Taxus genus includes several dozen species of woody coniferous trees and shrubs, ranging from prostrate shrubs to towering trees. Most types used in landscaping are shrubs, all of which do reasonably well in part-shade conditions. The short, flat needles of yews are dark green on top and light green on their undersides, and the new foliage in spring is bright green and soft. Yews are relatively slow-growing and can either be left unpruned or trained into a hedge.

    The hybrid cultivars of the Taxus x media group are crosses between Japanese yews and English yews. Taunton yews (Taxus x media 'Tauntonii') are the best yews for regions with severe winters because they are resistant to winter burn. These shrubs grow about 3 to 4 feet tall and have a similar spread. 

    Yews do not react well to wet soil and can develop root rot as a result, so you should amend dense soils to lighten them before planting.

    Warning

    Most parts of this plant are toxic. Keep small children and pets away.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4a to 8a
    • Color Varieties: Not grown for flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 5 of 14 below.
  • 05 of 14

    Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

    Impatiens plant with deep green leaves and bright pink flowers

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Once extremely popular, this flowering mainstay for shady gardens vanished from garden centers due to a widespread fungal problem known as downy mildew. Impatiens have now reappeared, thanks to the development of varieties that are resistant to this disease. Almost no other plant blooms as vigorously in shady conditions. Impatiens grow to 6 to 24 inches tall, depending on the variety. This shade-loving plant comes in various shades of pink, rose, red, lilac, purple, orange, and white.

    If you are planting from seeds, make sure that your varieties are known to be resistant to downy mildew.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 10b to 11a; generally grown as annuals
    • Color Varieties: Pink, rose, red, lilac, purple, orange, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 06 of 14

    Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis)

    Bleeding heart plant with pink heart-shaped flowers hanging on thin stems

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Common bleeding heart and its relatives, Dutchman's breeches (Dicentra cucullaria) and fringed bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia) are excellent perennial flowers for shady gardens in cooler climates. Common bleeding hearts grow to 24 to 36 inches, while Dutchman's breeches are 6 to 12 inches tall with white flowers, and fringed bleeding heart is 12 to 18 inches, with pinkish flowers.

    Common bleeding heart blooms in spring and early summer with small heart-shaped flowers clustered along arching stems. Cultivars produced by crossing the common bleeding heart with D. eximia may bloom well into mid-summer.

    Bleeding heart is best planted among other shade-loving plants, such as hostas since the foliage usually dies back in warm weather.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2a to 9b
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 07 of 14

    Spotted Dead Nettle (Lamium maculatum)

    Spotted dead nettle plant with tiny purple flowers between white and green leaves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Spotted dead nettle is a shade-loving perennial that makes a good ground-cover or rock garden plant. Dead nettle grows to a height of about 9 inches with a much greater spread. Although it blooms in summer, it is typically planted for the medium-green leaves splashed with silvery blotches. Not only does dead nettle love shade, but once established, it is also quite drought-tolerant.

    If bare patches appear in the summer heat, you can crop the plant back to stimulate new growth. This plant does not like wet soil, so don't overwater it.

    Warning

    Dead nettle can be invasive in some regions. Check with local experts and make sure to keep it confined on your property.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3a to 8a
    • Color Varieties: Pink, purple (generally grown for foliage)
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 08 of 14

    Periwinkle or Creeping Myrtle (Vinca minor)

    Periwinkle plant with small purple flowers and buds near groundcover

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Vinca minor vine, the perennial plant with the common names of periwinkle or creeping myrtle, is widely used as a ground cover in shady areas where lawn grasses will not work.

    Periwinkle is a short plant, growing only 3 to 6 inches off the ground, but its trailing stems with evergreen leaves spread up to 18 inches. The stems root at the nodes as they creep along the ground and spread rapidly to form an attractive mat. Vinca minor puts out bluish-lavender periwinkle flowers in spring and may bloom a bit more here and there during the summer.

    Warning

    Periwinkle is another plant with a reputation for invasiveness in some regions. If this is a problem for your region, use hosta plants (Hosta spp.) instead.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4a to 9a
    • Color Varieties: Lavender-blue, white
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium moisture, well-drained soil
    Continue to 9 of 14 below.
  • 09 of 14

    Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris)

    Climbing hydrangea

    The Spruce / Loren Probish

    A more versatile vine for shade is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris). Like periwinkle, it can be used as a ground cover. But climbing hydrangea is a woody vine that is a strong climber. Individual vines can grow as much as 60 feet long. It blooms from May through July.

    If you grow this plant as a climber, make sure to give it a sturdy structure, as the plant can become quite heavy.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4a to 8a
    • Color Varieties: White, gold/yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 14

    Hosta (Hosta spp.)

    hosta plants

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    Hostas are the most dependable of all shade-loving plants. The Hosta genus includes dozens of different species popular for landscaping, and each species may have dozens of cultivars. Hostas come in an incredible range of foliage colors, ranging from a nearly pure yellow to a deep blue-green. Sizes are equally diverse, from cultivars with tiny dime-sized leaves to foliage almost the size of elephant ears. These perennials are very easy to propagate by splitting the root clumps.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3a to 9a
    • Color Varieties: White, lavender; not usually grown for the flowers.
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 11 of 14

    Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum)

    Trout lily plant with tiny yellow flowers on thin stems near grass

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a good pick for a native-plant shade garden. Trout lily grows about 6 inches tall and blooms in Spring. It likes moist soil and takes longer to spread and produce flowers than many other plants. But its attractive leaves provide interest while you await its blossoms.

    Trout lily is best planted from corms placed in the ground about 4 inches apart in fall. The foliage will disappear as the weather warms, and it is best planted among other plants that can fill in after trout lily fades.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3a to 8a
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Humusy soil that is slightly acidic
  • 12 of 14

    Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

    Northern sea oats with brown feather-like leaves on thin stems

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Ornamental grasses are popular additions to many gardens, but most are sun lovers. One notable type suitable for shade is northern sea oats, a perennial ornamental grass that grows 2 to 5 feet tall in loose clumps of green foliage. Its name comes from its seed pods, which look like oats.

    The foliage should be left in place to protect the root crowns over winter, then cut back in spring as new growth begins.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 5a to 9a
    • Color Varieties: Green
    • Sun Exposure: Part sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet, well-drained soil
    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

    Foxgloves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    Foxglove creates color and drama with its upright, architectural manner. This plant is short-lived and biennial in some locations, but foxglove will self-seed so readily that it never needs to be replanted once a patch is established. It has bell-shaped flowers with pink, white, and purple speckles hanging from tall stalks from May through June; it sometimes reblooms later in the season. The dense flower stalks shoot up 3 to 4 feet from attractive low rosette clumps of deep green leaves.

    Warning

    Foxgloves are nearly trouble-free in the right soil, but be aware that all parts of the plant are toxic.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4a to 8a
    • Color Varieties: Strawberry pink, white, or purple
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil; prefers slightly acidic soil
  • 14 of 14

    Fine Fescue Lawn Grasses (Festuca spp.)

    Tall fescue grown for stock feed on farms
    Sheryl Watson / Getty Images

    Turf lawns typically thrive in full sun, but shady spots can still grow lawn grasses. Fine fescue lawn grass seeds often come in bags mixed with Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis). Any lawn-seed mixture labeled "for shade "will include fine fescues, such as hard, chewing, and creeping red fescue. At least 80 percent should be fine fescue grasses. An alternative is the new and improved class of tall fescue grasses known as "turf-type" tall fescues.

    When planting fine fescue seed in a shady area with trees, first use soil amendments, such as compost and peat moss, to improve the body of the soil so that it does not dry out quickly. At the same time, fescues do not want to be in excessively wet soil. Applying compost helps strike a balance between good drainage and water retention.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4a to 8a
    • Color Variations: Not grown for flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Cornus florida ‘Cherokee Chief’. Virginia Tech Urban Forestry.

  2. Tsuga canadensis. United States Department of Agriculture.

  3. Yew Problems. Missouri Botanical Garden.

  4. Guide to Poisonous Plants. Colorado State University College of College of Veterinary Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.

  5. Don't Let Powdery Mildew Surprise You. Floriculture and Greenhouse Crop Production, Michigan State University.

  6. Spotted Dead Nettle. Center for Invasive Species and Ecosystem Health, University of Georgia.

  7. Vinca minor. North Carolina State University Gardener Extension.

  8. Foxglove, Toxic to the Heart. National Capital Poison Center.

  9. Tall Fescue. Aggie Horticulture, Texas A&M University.