15 Shade-Loving Plants That Will Brighten Up Your Outdoor Garden
Lots of sunlight and regular watering is all you need to make your garden grow, right? Well, not necessarily. It turns out not all greenery worships the sun: While some plants are liable to wither in the shade, others shun direct sunlight—and that’s very good news for that barren shady patch in your outdoor garden. The first step when it comes to adding foliage to a low-light area is to evaluate the type of shade you’re working with. You read that correctly: There are different types of shade.
Dappled shade is the term used to describe areas of consistently spotted sunlight—like a spot that would be sunny if it weren’t lightly shaded by the leaves and branches of a tree. Partial shade, on the other hand, refers to any area that is in the shade for much of the day but gets direct sun for a few hours (usually either in the morning or afternoon). Finally, there’s full shade, which is what you have when something (usually a man-made structure) is blocking out the sun all day long. So, now you know about shade...what’s next? Figuring out the best shade-loving plants for your garden—here are 15 to consider.
“This go-to shade plant is known for its attractive foliage and hardy nature. Hosta plants can not only tolerate serious shade, but they can also grow in difficult conditions like under mature trees or in less-than-ideal soil,” says Erin Marino of The Sill. How do you keep your hosta healthy? Our expert recommends planting this perennial (preferably in the early spring) out of direct sunlight in loamy soil and watering it often.
2. Heuchera (a.k.a. Coral Bells)
Heuchera, also known as Coral Bells, is a shade tolerant plant that can be found in a variety of colors, making it an excellent choice for adding visual interest to any garden. Per Marino, this plant prefers well-draining soil that is kept moist and, although shade tolerant, heuchera can benefit from a few hours of direct to partial sun, too. If planted in the early spring and grown in ideal conditions, you can expect your heuchera to bloom in full color sometime in late spring and early summer.
Impatiens come in a wide variety of colors—from pale pink to vibrant orange—require little maintenance and will bloom all summer long, notes Marino. Bonus: They’re great for container gardens, too. In other words, these guys can brighten up the darkest corner of your yard and give a barren patio some personality, to boot. That said, if you’re putting your impatiens in the ground, you should start planting ‘em in early spring (in good, loamy soil) for best results.
A favorite of plant lovers (because they can also be grown indoors), the tropical annual caladium is known for its arrow-shaped leaves that come in a variety of multi-colored variegation. “The leaves of some varieties even look painted on, the colors are so vibrant and the patterns so intricate,” says Marino. Her suggestion? Stick to planting these guys in the late spring, when the temperatures are a little warmer.
Coleus is another sun-shunning favorite that can add a bold pop—in shades such as yellow, purple, green or gold—to any front porch or backyard. These beauties don’t need direct rays to thrive, but be sure to scoop up a classic cultivar. There’s some new coleus on the scene and it’s decidedly sun-loving, warns Suzanne Klick, horticulturist at University of Maryland, College of Agriculture & Natural Resources). FYI, it’s called sun coleus.
This annual, which boasts consistent blooms throughout its season, will definitely breathe new life into any shady patch. Don’t be fooled by the delicate, trumpet-shaped flowers—this plant is surprisingly hardy. Klick says that your torenia will be happy in almost any shadowy spot as long as you keep the soil moist, but not sopping wet.
Don’t judge a shade-loving plant by its name, friends. This charmer has absolutely nothing to do with the nasty sickness it brings to mind (just us?), and it absolutely will thrive with minimal sunlight. Shade or part-shade, to be precise. The more flattering name for this plant, Concord Blue, provides a better description of what you can expect—vibrant blue flowers you can enjoy until everything starts to frost over. Pro tip: Plant this one in a hanging basket or container, and feel free to bring it inside when it gets chilly.
Begonias are playful and cheerful blossoms that are easy to grow and relatively simple to care for. Klick says these flowers prefer light shade and moist, but not soggy conditions—so plant them in your outdoor shade garden or in a well-draining container for a vibrant splash of color that will stay put until the very first sign of frost.
9. Sweet Potato Vine
This one isn’t shade loving per se, but it fares just fine in areas with sun and part shade alike, making it a very versatile option. The foliage here runs the gamut from rich and velvety purple to bright and verdant green, depending on the cultivar you choose. (I.e., ‘Sweet Georgia Heart Purple’ or ‘Illusion Emerald Lace’, respectively.)
10. Solomon’s Seal
This green guy makes a striking springtime debut with its bright variegated leaves and bell-shaped flowers. That said, Solomon’s seal is not a one-season wonder—because by the time autumn rolls around, you can expect to see dark berries and yellow foliage, too. Best of all, this option isn’t just shade-tolerant: According to Barbara Smith, horticulturist at Clemson University’s HGIC, Solomon's seal does best with dry soil and (yep, you guessed it) full shade.
11. Fairy Wings
Also lovers of dry shade, fairy wings are springtime bloomers that boast delicate blossoms in a wide range of colors. Smith says this one is ideal for planting under trees where, depending on the cultivar, it will grow anywhere from 10 inches to two feet high and two feet wide—so it’s unlikely that this one will go unnoticed.
12. Bleeding Heart
Asian bleeding hearts are another shade-loving perennial that promise to bring lots of color to your garden come spring. These pink blossoms are heart-shaped and oh-so pretty. Plus, since the Asian bleeding heart can reach heights of up to three feet, it can make quite a statement when it starts to bloom. To ensure success, Smith recommends planting these in moist and humus-rich soil.
Ferns are an excellent way to fill out your garden while adding textural variety. This plant isn’t fond of direct sunlight, though some varieties need more sun than others. Depending on the cultivar you choose, this option will work in full, partial or dappled shade. Best of all? This plant is hardy—and some varieties, like the Christmas fern, will stay green all year long.
14. Lenten Roses
So lenten roses aren’t actually roses…in fact, they’re not even distant relatives. They are, however, a top choice for light shade areas, where they will develop striking, colorful blossoms in the spring. These flowers are most commonly lavender in color, but can be found in various shades of purple, along with red and yellow, too. Good news: You don’t even need to have a green thumb for these guys—lenten roses are famously easy to grow and beginner-friendly.
There’s nothing appealing about this perennial’s name, but don’t let that stop you from introducing lungwort to your garden. It can tolerate most any type of shade, so long as the soil isn’t dry. Best of all, lungwort’s lung-shaped leaves will stay green for most of the year—or all of it, depending on how mild your winters are—and its gorgeous, bright blue flowers will likely be the first to make an appearance in your garden, since this guy is an early bloomer.