21 Best Shade Perennials for Your Not-So-Sunny Garden

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Your shade garden probably is filled with pretty annuals such as lobelia and impatiens, but don’t forget to add perennials, too! While annuals bloom for one season—from the time you plant them until frost—perennials bloom for a shorter period of weeks to months. But they offer unique foliage and flowers, attract pollinators (such as hummingbirds and butterflies) and return for many years, making them a great long-term garden investment.

Perennials that need shade typically will tolerate a few hours of early morning sun, but they don’t like to bake in the afternoon sun. When choosing plants, read the plant tag or description to make sure they’ll survive winters in your USDA Hardiness zones (find yours here). Then dig a hole about two to three times the size of the container, and place the plant in the hole at the same depth it was in the pot. Replace the soil, tamp down and water well.

Caring for shade-loving perennials is pretty simple: Keep ‘em watered during the first few weeks and during dry spells for the first year as its roots get established.

Don’t get too worried if your perennials seem slow to take off. Most perennials don’t do much the first year, then they pick up speed the second year. By the third year in the ground, most really are beginning to show off. Anticipation is half the fun, right?

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Not sure what to plant? Here are our favorite perennials for shade:

best shade perennials hosta
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1. Hosta

  • Why We Love It: Hardy plant, low maintenance

Talk about variety: Hostas come in a wide range of sizes, from ones that span a few inches to up to 8 feet across. They’re quite lovely when clustered in a shade garden, and hummingbirds like their tubular flower spikes. Give them a little morning sun for the best foliage color. But one word of caution: Don’t plant these if you have friendly deer, because they’re one of their favorite snacks.

best shade perennials coral bells
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2. Coral Bells

  • Why We Love It: Colorful foliage that contrasts nicely with other shade-loving plants

Coral bells are grown primarily for their vibrant, ruffly foliage. They’re available in a host of colors from chartreuse to deep burgundy, and they’ll tolerate full shade, though their best colors appear if they receive part sun.

best shade perennials astilbe
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3. Astilbe

  • Why We Love It: Dramatic, long-lasting plumes appear in the heat of summer

With feathery plumes of white, pink or red, this shade lover adds amazing texture and color to your shade garden from mid-summer to fall. The fern-like foliage of astilbe is attractive, too. Leave the spent plumes intact to keep your garden looking lively in the winter.

best shade perennials bleeding heart
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4. Bleeding Heart

  • Why We Love It: Eye-catching heart-shaped flowers, deer-resistant

As the name implies, the heart-shaped flowers of this old-fashioned favorite are irresistible. Bleeding heart is absolutely charming in the spring garden, and deer and rabbits tend to leave it alone.

best shade perennials climbing hydrangea
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5. Climbing Hydrangea

  • Why We Love It: Spectacular climber once established

This hardy vine has glossy green foliage and gorgeous, lacecap blooms in summer. It’s very slow to get established, but it’s a showstopper once it takes off in a few years’ time. It tolerates some sun, too.

best shade perennials hellebore
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6. Hellebore

  • Why We Love It: Sturdy, cold-hardy plant

Also called Lenten rose because they bloom in late winter and early spring (around the time of Lent), these stunning blooms come in an array of colors. They’re slow to get established, but once they take off, you’ll welcome their blooms every year.

best shade perennails ground orchid
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7. Ground Orchid

  • Why We Love It: Exotic-looking flowers that resemble tropical orchids

Ground orchids are delicate-looking plants, but they’re very cold hardy and are a cheery sight in borders or rock gardens when they bloom in late spring to early summer. Also called Bletilla, these shade lovers sometimes take a few seasons to flower.

best shade perennials lamium
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8. Lamium

  • Why We Love It: Hardy groundcover with pretty foliage and flowers

Also known by the not-so-flattering name of dead nettle, this plant has pretty silver markings on its leaves and pink, purple or white flowers in late spring. It does best in dappled shade, but it will tolerate part sun, too.

best shade perennials viola
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9. Viola

  • Why We Love It: Happy-faced flowers in early spring and fall

Violas are charming little flowers that bloom in early spring; they don’t mind a little frost. They’ll keep blooming until hot weather sets in, then make a reappearance again in fall when cooler temperatures return.

best shade perennials ferns
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10. Ferns

  • Why We Love It: Elegant fronds that look good alone or as a backdrop to other plants

Shade gardens look especially charming filled with frothy, lacey ferns. There are many different varieties, but Autumn fern and Japanese painted fern are especially lovely for adding splashes of subtle color to the shade garden.

best shade perennials lily of the valley
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11. Lily Of The Valley

  • Why We Love It: Sweetly scented miniature flowers, sturdy groundcover once established

With teeny bell-shaped flowers nodding on long stems, lily of the valley makes a pretty groundcover. However, make sure to plant it where it can be contained, such as between the house and a walk, because it can be an aggressive spreader.

best shade perennails caladium
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12. Caladium

  • Why We Love It: Dramatic, heart-shaped leaves

If you’re going for flashy foliage, this is the plant for you. Caladiums have eye-catching heart-shaped leaves with red, pink or white markings. In cold climates (zones 7 and colder), dig up the tubers in the fall and save them for next year. They’ll tolerate sun, too, and also do well in containers.

best shade perennials columbine
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13. Columbine

  • Why We Love It: Cottage garden favorite, many different colors

Columbines have an ethereal quality in their brightly colored blooms that arise above the foliage in late spring. These old-fashioned flowers deserve a spot in any spring shade garden for their unique color combinations and handsome foliage.

best shade perennials goatsbeard
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14. Goatsbeard

  • Why We Love It: Heavy bloomer, pruning not necessary

With such a fun name, why wouldn’t we love this plant? This hardy perennial boasts fluffy white flowers even in deep shade. Look for dwarf varieties that top out at 2 to 3 feet tall. (Bonus: Deer usually leave it alone.)

best shade perennials epimedium
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15. Epimedium

  • Why We Love It: Drought-tolerant groundcover with unique flowers

Epimedium, also known as barrenwort or bishop’s cap, has dainty flowers in shades of pink, purple or orange. It tolerates difficult or “barren” conditions once established; thus, it’s imaginative name. Oh, and deer and rabbits tend to ignore it.

best shade perennials tiarella
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16. Tiarella

  • Why We Love It: Foamy flowers, evergreen foliage

Tiarella remains green all year long, but its real draw are the tons of foamy, bottlebrush-like flowers, which give it another (apt) name: Foamflower. They tolerate dry shade, such as under mature trees, once established.

best shade perennials japanese forest grass
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17. Japanese Forest Grass

  • Why We Love It: Understated elegance with gracefully arching foliage

The chartreuse foliage of Japanese forest grass adds a splash of brightness to shady spots in your garden. It almost glows! It’s also deer-resistant and slow-growing, so it won’t take over the entire garden.

best shade perennials sedge
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18. Sedge

  • Why We Love It: Low-maintenance groundcover

Sedges come in many different varieties, but they make excellent groundcovers with their finely textured foliage. They’re especially useful on shady slopes.

best shade perennials ligularia
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19. Ligularia

  • Why We Love It: Bold color and dramatic flower spikes

Ligularia isn’t a well-known perennial, but it has striking spires of flowers atop a mound of dense foliage from mid-summer to fall. It’s truly an eye-catching plant for shady spots, and deer tend to leave it alone.

best shade perennials liriope
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20. Liriope

  • Why We Love It: Tough-as-nails groundcover

Sometimes you just need a problem-solver for your shady spots. Liriope is a hardy, low-growing grass-like plant with striped or solid green foliage and purple flower spikes. It makes a great groundcover or edging plant along walkways.

best shade perennials toad lily
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21. Toad Lily

  • Why We Love It: Striking blooms, good companion plant for hostas

Here’s another perennial with a super-cute name, due to its adorable spotted flowers in late summer. It also prefers moist soil, and in the right conditions, it will spread nicely.

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Freelance Gardening Editor

Arricca Elin SanSone is a gardener with more than 15 years of experience. In addition to PureWow, she writes for Prevention, Country Living, Veranda, The Spruce and many other...