14 Best Landscape Plants for Shade

shady landscape

The Spruce / Autumn Wood

Shady locations pose challenges for the home gardener, since most plants thrive best in relatively sunny conditions. But even if you have a shady landscape, there are good choices you can make in every plant category—from lawn turf to towering yard trees.

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

  • 01 of 14

    Flowering Dogwood (Cornus florida)

    Flowering dogwood tree with red flowers.

    Nathan Blaney/Getty Images 

    Flowering dogwoods are small understory trees in the wild and they make excellent choices for large shrubs or small shade trees in a landscape. 'Cherokee Chief' (Cornus florida 'Cherokee Chief') is one popular cultivar of flowering dogwood tree. Its lower branches have a horizontal branching pattern, lending interest to any landscape design. This flowering dogwood grows to a height of 20 to 25 feet and spreads 12 to 15 feet.

    Cherokee Chief dogwood puts out rosy-red blooms in spring, while its fall foliage is a red color with hints of bronze. Other types of Cornus florida have flowers that are white or pink.

    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: 5 to 9
    • Color Varieties: Pink, red, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium moisture, well-drained soil
  • 02 of 14

    Canadian Hemlock (Tsuga canadensis)

    Hemlock tree branch with cones.

    lauraag/Getty Images

    Canadian (or "Eastern") hemlocks (Tsuga canadensis) are large trees (40 to 70 feet) that work well in 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. A properly 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 spells.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • 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 alba or C. sericea)

    Red-twig dogwood with other plants in background.
    Paul Hart / Getty Images

    These two dogwood species with red branches are ideal specimens for a shady landscape. These are multi-stemmed shrubs with 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. A similar plant is Tatarian dogwood (Cornus alba). While both tolerate shade, you will get more of the red twig color by giving them full sunlight. Foliage also tends to become lighter in full sun.

    Remove about 25 percent of the stems down to ground level each spring to stimulate new growth.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White flowers, red twigs
    • 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 fairly well in part-shade conditions. The short, flat needles of yews are dark green on top and light green on their undersides. 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, so dense soils should be amended to lighten them before planting.

    Most parts of this plant are poisonous. Keep small children away.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • 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)

    Different colors of impatiens flowers mixed together.

    Brennan Bill/Getty Images

    For some time, this ever-popular flowering bedding plant, a mainstay for shady gardens, vanished from garden centers due to a widespread fungal problem known as downy mildew. Impatiens have now made a reappearance, thanks to the development of varieties that are resistant to this disease. Impatiens may never regain the widespread prevalence they once enjoyed, but they are once again worthy of your attention, as there are almost no other plants that bloom 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: 10 to 11; normally grown as annuals
    • Color Varieties: Pin, 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 (Dicentra spectabilis) flowers lined up on their stem.

    Topic Images / Getty Images

    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 are the tallest of the three (24 to 36 inches). Dutchman's breeches (6 to 12 inches tall with white flowers) and fringed bleeding heart (12 to 18 inches, with pinkish flowers) stay shorter.

    Common bleeding heart blooms in spring and early summer with small heart-shaped flowers clustered along arching stems. Cultivars produced by crossing common bleeding heart with D. eximia (Dicentra 'Adrian Bloom' is one such culivar) may bloom well into mid-summer.

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

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Pink, white
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil
  • 07 of 14

    Spotted Deadnettle (Lamium maculatum)

    Spotted dead-nettle or pink pewter lamium maculatum green plant with pink flowers
    skymoon13 / Getty Images

    Spotted deadnettle is a shade-loving perennial that makes a good ground-cover or rock garden plant. Deadnettle grows to a height of about 9 inches, at most, with a much greater spread. Although it blooms in summer, this plant is normally planted for the medium-green leaves splashed with silvery blotches. Not only does deadnettle love shade, but once established it is also quite drought-tolerant. Just give it a soil with good drainage and let it go.

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

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

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 9
    • 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)

    Lesser Periwinkle (Vinca minor) in bloom.
    Christa Dr Lüdecke / Getty Images

    Vinca minor vine, the perennial plant with the common names of "periwinkle" and "creeping myrtle," is widely used as a ground cover in areas where lawn grasses just will not work. This shade-loving ground cover has traditionally been planted under large trees, where most lawn grasses would quickly have given up due to insufficient light.

    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 it creeps along the ground and spreads 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.

    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: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Lavender blue
    • 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)

    A more versatile vine for shade is climbing hydrangea (Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris). Like periwinkle, it too can be used as a ground cover. But climbing hydrangea is a woody vine that has a greater number of uses. For example, some owners of brick homes grow it up against their house walls. Individual vines can grow as much as 60 feet long. It blooms in 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: 4 to 8
    • Color Varieties: White
    • Sun Exposure: Part shade to full shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil
  • 10 of 14

    Hosta (Hosta spp.)

    By some accounts, hostas are somewhat boring plants, but the reality is that they are among the easiest and 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 a startling range of foliage colors, ranging from a nearly pure yellow to a green so deep that it is virtually blue. Sizes are equally diverse, from cultivars with tiny dime-sized leaves to those with leaves approaching the size of elephant ears.

    Division is not necessary for these perennials, but they are very easy to propagate by splitting the root clumps.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8
    • 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)

    Yellow Trout Lily (Erythronium americanum), River Trail, Estabrook Park
    Susan Ruggles / Getty Images

    Trout lily (Erythronium americanum) is a good pick for those in the Northeastern United States wishing to start a native-plant shade garden. Trout lily grows to about 6 inches tall and blooms in April. It likes moist soil and does take longer to spread and produce flowers than do many 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, so it is best planted among other plants that can fill in after trout lily fades.

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

    Northern Sea Oats (Chasmanthium latifolium)

    Northern Sea Oats Chasmanthium latifolium
    Nate Abbott / Getty Images

    Ornamental grasses are popular additions to many gardens, but most are sun lovers. One notable type that is 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: 3 to 8
    • Color Varieties: Green
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium to wet, well-drained soil
    Continue to 13 of 14 below.
  • 13 of 14

    Foxglove (Digitalis purpurea)

    If impatiens are the best annual flower for providing lots of bedding color in a garden, foxglove creates similar drama in a more upright, architectural manner. This is a short-lived plant, biennial in some locations, but once a patch is established foxglove will self-seed so readily that it never needs to be replanted. Bell-shaped flowers combining speckles of pink, white, and purple appear along tall stalks from May through June, sometimes reblooming later in the season. The dense flower stalks shoot up 2 to 5 feet from attractive low rosette clumps of deep green leaves.

    Foxgloves are nearly trouble-free in the right soil, but be aware that the leaves are poisonous (they are the source of the heart medication, digitalis). Curious dogs and cats may be at risk.

    • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8
    • 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 (Fesuca 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 easily. 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: 3 to 8
    • Color Variations: Not grown for flowers
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Rich, moist, well-drained soil