Shade Loving Flowers and Other Shady Landscape Planning

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.

Choosing 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, and plants that need under six hours are partial sun plants.

Measuring Sun Exposure

You can get a sunlight meter, take time-lapse photography, or simply observe your potential site hourly, recording your findings throughout the course of a sunny day. The last option is your least expensive but most accurate option, 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 broader leaves with more surface area, although thinner and delicate—making them more efficient at capturing sunlight to produce chlorophyll.

Shade-loving plant's leaves are usually deep green or even evergreen. The soil on the forest floor or jungle floor is often humus-rich due to the abundance of organic matter, making the soil more acidic. Leaf litter often makes for a more wet and humid environment. You'll find that a bunch of these plants are boggy, water hogs.

Deciding Shade Plant Types

As you make plans for your shade garden, think about the types of plants you're interested in. From flowers to shrubs, ground covers to evergreens, consider what you're going for. Also, will your plants be in the ground, or is this a container garden? Container plants generally need more water than in-ground plants.

When planning the landscape, think about the color you want to bring to your space. Do you want a year-round color kaleidoscope or all green all the time? Color options are where you can get creative with staggering flowering times, incorporating colorful foliage-bearing plants, and adding evergreens to the mix.

Don't forget that seedlings can grow to some enormous plant heights when they're full-grown and some can overpower or perfectly frame the landscape, depending on your choices. As you're planning, categorize for yourself: Is it a thriller, a filler, or a spiller? A thriller is a showpiece—the plant that you want to garner most of the attention. Consider your fillers as your ground cover; usually, they're low-lying or shorter plants. Spillers are your vines and branching plants that add extra flourishes and dimensionality to your plant collection.

If you have a large area that you're landscaping, you're probably not planning on hand-watering the plants. So, if you have a sprinkler system that gives the same amount of water regularly, can each of these plants handle the same watering schedule? Watering is often an afterthought, but it's crucial for the success of your plants. Make sure you choose plants that have similar watering requirements.

Popular Shade Loving Flowers and Other Plants

  • 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 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 grows to a height of 20 to 25 feet and spreads 12 to 15 feet.

    Cherokee Chief dogwoods put out rosy-red blooms in spring, while their fall foliage is red 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 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 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 red twig color by giving them full sunlight, and its foliage also tends to become lighter in full sun.

    Remove about 25% 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 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, so you should amend dense soils to lighten them before planting.

    Warning

    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 reappeared, thanks to the development of varieties that are resistant to this disease. Impatiens may never regain the widespread prevalence they once enjoyed. Still, they are once again worthy of your attention, as almost no other plants 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; generally 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), while 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 the common bleeding heart with D. eximia (Dicentra 'Adrian Bloom' is one such cultivar) 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, it is typically 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 soil with good drainage and let it go.

    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

    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 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 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: 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)

    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 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 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: 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.)

    hosta plants

    The Spruce / Autumn Wood

    By some accounts, hostas are somewhat boring plants, but the reality is that they are among the most straightforward 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 an incredible 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 foliage almost the size of elephant ears. These perennials 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 about 6 inches tall and blooms in April. 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: 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 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)

    Foxgloves

    The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

    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 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 2 to 5 feet from attractive low rosette clumps of deep green leaves.

    Warning

    Foxgloves are nearly trouble-free in the right soil, but be aware that the leaves are poisonous.

    • 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 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: 3 to 8
    • 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. How to Identify and Control Dogwood Anthracnose. USA Forest Service.

  2. Eastern Hemlock. U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resources Conservation Center.

  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, MSU.

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

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