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Shade-Loving Perennials

April 9, 2022


For Colorful Spaces

When choosing shade-loving perennials for your garden, it’s important to note how much shade each specific plant prefers. If a full shade flowering plant receives more light than it can handle, foliage burn, leaf curl, or wilting could be the result.

Levels Of Shade

Part shade, shade, deep shade…what exactly does it all mean? And how do you know what you have in your own garden? Let’s take a closer look at light levels so you can be sure to select the right plants for your containers and landscape.

Part Shade | 4-6 hours of direct sunlight
Also known as light shade, dappled sunlight, or intermittent shade. The pattern of sunlight travels across the ground and plants as the day unfolds. Sparsely branched trees and arbors may cast this type of shade. Many plants tagged as “Sun or Shade” or “Part Shade” or “Part Sun” will do well here, and so there’s a wide range of options.

Shade | 4 hours or less of direct sunlight
Also known as full shade or medium shade. This may be an open area with northern exposure or an area under a dense canopy of trees where light is reflected onto plants from surrounding surfaces. Plants designated for “Shade”, as shade tolerant, or as woodland natives will do best here.

Deep Shade | No direct sunlight
Areas where tall walls, fences, decks, and evergreens block most direct light. Some reflected indirect light may be present. Flowering options will be limited. Foliage plants will grow, but they may not display their best color and may become leggy as they reach for the light. Consider moss, stones, or gravel as a landscape solution.


Astilbes brighten shady gardens with their brilliant midsummer color. The plume-like flowers are held high above attractive, deep green foliage. Flower colors vary from white, pink, and deep red, to soft lavender and violet, and all are attractive to butterflies and beneficial insects. 

Astilbe plants grow in shade, but flowers are more productive in an area where gentle morning or dappled sun can reach them for about an hour or two.

Astilbe Chinese Visions
Fire Alarm Coral Bells Heuchera

Coral Bells

Coral Bells offer gardeners another option for adding dramatic color to their gardens. A versatile and mostly evergreen perennial. Foliage color choices include purple, burgundy, chartreuse, gold, bronze, grays, and silver. Some foliage leaves can be large heart-shaped or rounded leaves and many with variegated patterns. This is what is so appealing about these plants.

 Ideally, coral bells prefer partial shade and average moisture levels. However, if you plant it in full sun, you’ll need to give it a little extra water and if you plant it in full shade, you’ll have to wait a little longer for it to grow to full size.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Hearts is a popular shade perennial with arching stems of lovely, heart-shaped flowers that bloom each spring. Deeply-cut, blue-green foliage remains fresh and healthy throughout the summer, helping to fill out the garden bed and provide a graceful backdrop for summer blooms. A timeless classic, this plant inspires nostalgia whenever it’s noticed! Deer resistant. 

Bleeding hearts do best in partial shade. Since it is such an early bloomer, planting near a deciduous tree is a good spot. The plant will be up and growing before the tree leaves out, and when the bleeding heart needs protection from the summer sun, the tree will provide it.

Bleeding Heart


They offer a “potluck” color palette and bloom during the late winter to early spring period when many other plants are still dormant.

Once established, hellebore care is minimal. This herbaceous or evergreen perennial is disliked by deer and other animal pests prone to munching on plants. All parts of the hellebore plant are poisonous, so take care to keep children and pets away.

Hellebore care is simple and worthwhile. Plant a variety of hellebores in your garden in the shade for a lovely spring flower.

It is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions, hybrid hellebores perform best when sited in partial shade in rich, moist, but well-draining soil. Hellebores are quite easy to grow, and since they are perennials, will continue to bloom for a number of years.


Hosta plants are tough, versatile shade-tolerant wonders. They can transform shady garden sites into a lush, easy-to-maintain landscape. Use hosta plants to create a dramatic and bold landscape, or use them to create a calm, serene garden space, but just as we are fond of hosta plants so are slugs, snails, deer, and rabbits. You may need to take measures to keep them from these magnificent shade plants.

While hostas are usually termed “shade-tolerant” plants, meaning they will grow in shade or partial shade, some cultivars actually tolerate partially sunny spaces. In fact, a few varieties benefit from periods of sun exposure to keep their foliage vibrant and colorful.

Francee Hosta
Hardy Geranium sanguineum New Hampshire Purple


Bursting with flowers, hardy geraniums also feature lush foliage which adds valuable texture to the garden. Incredibly tough, pest and disease resistant, they give a lot and require very little. Most hardy geraniums are ridiculously easy to grow. All they require is moderately fertile, well-drained soil. Try geranium Sweet Heidy, Bevan’s Variety, Czakor, Lily Lovell, Phaeum var. phaeum ‘Samobor’, and Maderense for your shade garden.

Hardy Geraniums form low mounds and bloom from spring through fall in white, red, purple, pink, or blue. They will thrive in part shade, and some cultivars do perfectly in full shade. Another bonus is that hardy geraniums tolerate dry soil—a common problem when planting under trees. They are hardy in zones four through eight.

Aruncus Misty Lace

In early summer, large, creamy white, feathery plumes are produced on dark red stems atop compact mounds of astilbe-like foliage. Planted in masse, the effect is simply stunning!

Best grown in moist, fertile, organically rich soils in full sun to part shade. Foliage decline can occur rapidly if soils are permitted to dry out.

Misty Lace Goat's Beard
Pulmonaria Spot On

Pulmonaria Spot On Lungwort

Turn the lights on in shady corners with this radiant long-bloomer. Spot On Lungwort shimmers in and out of bloom. The green leaves are covered in bright silver dots, and the buds emerge salmon and open to blue-violet for late spring flowers. Hummingbirds and bees love it too, so you’ll be feeding essential pollinators while illuminating your garden. Deer and rabbits avoid these plants. Spot on makes a neat mound up to 16 inches tall and a bit wider, a nice size for a filler in a shaded pot or window box, as well as an edging plant or spring focal point in a mixed border.

Pulmonaria does best in part shade to fully shaded areas in soil that is moist but well-drained. It is one of the few shade perennials that do well in full shade! It is on the lists as ‘deer proof’ (we all know the deer don’t read those lists). It will fill in nicely as a ground cover but definitely needs well-drained soil since these plants are prone to rot. I’ve used these in mixed containers, on the front border of a shade garden, or under a larger perennial as they are only about 10-12inches high.