You might have beautiful shade trees. Perhaps you live in the woods. Or you’re a city-dweller, your urban garden shaded by tall buildings. Whatever the setting, your shady area gets less than 3 hours of sunlight a day. And you crave a bit of color in your landscape.
You need to know: what flowers grow in shade?
Well, you’ve come to the right place. Even though most shade-loving plants prefer partial shade, these 7 perennial flowers bloom beautifully in full shade gardens.
Add two or three of these flowering plants to your landscape, and you’ll enjoy plenty of color all season long, for years to come.
So, to learn the names of — and how to start, use, maintain, and even harvest — 7 perennial plants that grow “out of the sun”, read on.
Ready? Let’s begin.
Bleeding Heart FLOWERS grow in shade
First up is Bleeding Heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis). Look for this shade-loving perennial flower to bloom each spring. Delicate stems (growing 2 to 3 feet tall) dangle tiny heart-shaped flowers above soft, green foliage.
Lamprocapnos likes partial to full shade and fertile, well-drained soil, making it perfect for shady borders and woodland areas. Just make sure to shelter it from high winds.
When your Bleeding Heart blooms, bring Springtime indoors. Cut a few stems to mix with ferns and hosta leaves; an established plant won’t mind.
Because this perennial flower blooms early, Bleeding Heart has a short season; it goes dormant by midsummer. Cutting the yellow and brown foliage to ground level allows its companion plants to fill the space and shine.
Once established (about 3-4 years), plants cluster into large clumps. You can slice the clumps in half (vertically) with a sharp shovel to divide them. Replant the pieces or share them with friends.
Tips & Fun Facts about bleeding heart
Good for USDA growing zones: 3-9
Varieties to try: Boothsman, Formosa, Valentine
Caution: Bleeding Heart is toxic when eaten in large quantities. The plant contains isoquinoline alkaloids which can cause seizures and liver damage. Monitor pets (especially small dogs) and children around this plant.
The good news, rabbits and deer naturally avoid these flowers that grow in shade.
Good companions: Hostas and Ferns make good companions to Bleeding Heart, both filling in nicely when Lamprocapnos goes dormant.
Fun facts: According to legend, pink and red Bleeding Heart plants symbolize romantic love, white-flowered varieties signify purity.
forget-me-not growS in shade
A North American native, true Forget-me-nots (Myosotis scorpioides) are beautiful perennial wild flowers that grow in shade. They prefer damp areas and cooler temperatures. (Although forget-me-knots will adapt to full sun if the weather isn’t too warm.)
If you give these flowers that grow in shade good soil and plenty of water, you can “forget” and enjoy — Forget-me-nots are a cinch to grow.
These colorful perennials flourish in areas too wet for other flowers; their roots thrive in shady ponds and boggy areas. They’re perfect for border fronts, rock gardens and woodland areas.
Look for the plant’s signature 5-petaled flowers from June through August. The most common blooms are sky-blue with a yellow center but some varieties have pink or white flowers.
You can start true Forget-me-nots:
- through seed,
- by dividing rhizomes in the early Spring, or
- from stem cuttings in the Summer.
Forget-me-not doesn’t ask for much. The plants freely self-seed; you’ll see them pop-up next season in shady spots wherever the tiny seeds have landed.
Because of this, these plants hidden out of the sun can easily take over an area. Be sure to pull them up before they set seed — if you don’t want them to spread.
Tips & Fun Facts about forget-me-nots
Good for USDA growing zones: 5-9
Good companions: Forget-me-nots like being interplanted with spring bulbs like Daffodils and Tulips; or plant alongside other shade-loving plants like Hostas and Ferns.
Fun facts: Princess Diana loved Forget-me-nots. There are 3500 white Forget-me-nots planted in her honor at the Kensington Palace Memorial Garden in London. Her son, Prince Harry, named his charity which benefits children and young people affected by HIV in Africa (a cause his mother cherished) “Sentebale” which translates to “forget me not.”
coral bell flowers grow in shade
Tall, bell-shaped blooms give this versatile perennial flower its name, Coral Bell (Heuchera). Small bunches of white, pink, coral, or red flowers ascend on a long stalk (1 to 3 feet tall) from an equally vibrant foliage. Coral Bell is perfect for adding color, texture and interest to the garden. And hummingbirds love the delicate flowers.
Coral Bell prefers partial (dappled) shade and rich, moist soil. But it will adapt to any light condition — from full sun to full shade — as long as you water it the way it likes. A little more when enjoying full sun, a little less when hanging in the shade.
And versatility is Coral Bell’s middle name. If you’re frustrated by a spot that’s a bit hot and dry, this shade flower will adapt; it’s even a good choice for xeriscape and water-wise gardening.
You can either sow seeds (for best results, start them indoors first) or buy established plants. The roots are shallow, so don’t place them too deep in the ground.
Or, try sowing seeds directly in the garden in the Fall. Some will survive the cold winter and sprout in Spring. Expect to see blooms in early to mid-Summer.
To keep Coral Bell looking good, prune back the foliage in early Spring so new growth has a chance to spread. If you water Heuchera regularly the first year, you’ll minimize any TLC needed the following seasons.
Removing dead flower heads (“deadheading”) will encourage more blooms. You’ll enjoy a longer season of beautiful color. Then after the flowers have finished, cut back the stalks so Heuchera can focus on producing its beautiful foliage.
When you cut back the stalks, be sure to harvest the flower seeds (best before the pods open).
Every 3 or 4 years, divide Heuchera clumps like Bleeding Hearts; either replant for more plants or give them away.
Tips & Fun Facts about coral bell
Good for USDA growing zones: 3-9
Varieties to try: Blackberry Ice, Gold Zebra, Peppermint Spice
Helpful tip: To figure out which type of Coral Bell is best for you, feel its leaves. In relatively cool and dry climates (low humidity), varieties with thinner, shinier leaves grow best. Coral Bells with larger, fuzzy leaves grow better in warm and humid parts of the country.
Good companions: Astilbe, Bleeding Heart, Hosta, and Iris are good companion plants for Coral Bell. Impatiens, Ferns and Caladiums are also compatible.
Fun facts: European colonists noted the fuzzy-leafed hairy Coral Bell (Heuchera villosa) when they arrived to the New World in the 1600s; it’s one of the many Heuchera species native to North America and Mexico.
jacob’s ladder GROWS IN SHADE
Jacob’s Ladder (Polemonium caeruleumis) is a woodland perennial shade flower that gets its name from the rung-like “ladder” arrangement of its light green leaves. The delicate foliage and the fluorescent bell-shaped flowers make Jacob’s Ladder a favorite for shady gardens.
Growing 1 to 2 feet tall and spreading just as wide, Jacob prefers full-shade but will accept a semi-shade spot. Too much sun and he’s at risk for sunburn and leaf damage.
Typically, Jacob’s Ladder sports clusters of blue (or lavender) flowers atop long green stems. But nowadays, you can find white, pink, and yellow flower varieties too. Whatever color you choose, expect blooms to arrive in mid to late Spring; they’ll last throughout the Summer.
Polemonium is easy to start from seed and requires very little maintenance. Just put this perennial shade plant into a rich, moist (but never soggy) soil out of the sun and it will thrive.
Cut the flower stalks back to its base after blooming; new flowers might appear, if you’re lucky. If the foliage starts to look a bit tattered, you can cut it back for new growth and a clean, fresh look.
Jacob’s Ladder self-seeds and spreads easily unless the flowers are removed before seeds have a chance to fall. If you want to control the spread, harvest the seeds. You can then decide if and where you want to plant them, either in the Spring or Fall.
Tips & Fun Facts about jacob’s ladder
Good for USDA growing zones: 3-8
Varieties to try: Album, Bambino Blue, Snow & Sapphires, Stairway to Heaven
Good companions: Jacob’s Ladder gets along with most plants. Astilbe, Ferns, and Hosta make great choices.
Fun facts: The green “rung-like” leaves inspired the name “Jacob’s Ladder,” referencing the biblical story of a dream Jacob, son of Isaac, had of a ladder going to heaven.
Native Areas Northern Asia, Europe; has naturalized in Eastern North America
lily-of-the-valley GROWS IN SHADE
Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis) is an easy-to-grow, shade-loving perennial, capable of providing a beautiful ground cover almost anywhere in the USA.
Convallaria blooms best in partial shade, but does quite well in full shade. Although when growing out of the sun, you won’t see as many of its characteristic bell-shaped flowers dangling along the plant stems, spreading their sweet perfume.
Lily-of-the-Valley is one of the most aromatic flower that grows in shade, blooming in spring and early summer — generally making an appearance for Mother’s Day in May.
Initially Convallaria roots love moisture, but once the plants are established, they’re drought tolerant.
Growing in shade under trees, under shrubs, or on steep banks and uneven ground — where lawn mowers get the jitters — Lily-of-the-Valley spiffs up the landscape with lush green foliage from Spring to Fall. Convallaria grows where other plants refuse.
Plant bare root Lily-of-the-Valley in early Spring when the plants are still dormant. Potted plants can be planted any time during the growing season.
After flowers bloom, they quickly fade away — no deadheading needed. This shade-loving perennial then turns into an attractive mass of foliage with red seed pods, making it a maintenance-free addition to your shady landscape garden.
Tips & Fun Facts about lily-of-the-valley
Good for USDA growing zones: 2-9
Varieties to try: Green Tapestry, Rosea, Variegata
Caution: Lily-of-the-Valley can be toxic, even in small amounts (a natural defense mechanism against pests). The plant contains over 30 cardiac glycosides that, when eaten, cause abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, and irregular heart beats. The oils from the plant can cause skin irritation (dermatitis); be careful not to rub your eyes after touching it. Monitor pets (especially small dogs) and children when around this plant. The red berries can be especially attractive to them.
The good news, rabbits and deer naturally avoid both the plant and its flowers.
Good companions: Planting Convallaria with spring bulbs like Daffodils or Tulips allows Lily-of-the-Valley room to shine after the others have peaked. Hostas, Coleus, Heuchera, and hardy Geraniums also make good companions.
Fun facts: You’ll see Convallaria’s French name, muguet, in the names of perfumes copying its aromatic scent. And, in old-time England, Lily-of-the-Valley was known as glovewort because it was used to create a salve for sore hands. “Wort” was a term commonly applied to plants and herbs used as food or medicine.
Ligularia flowers GROW IN SHADE
Ligularia, another shade-loving perennial plant, is in the same family as the sun-loving daisy and sunflower plants (Asteraceae). Growing 2 to 5 feet tall, this flowering plant adds great texture and beautiful color to a shade garden. It’s a flower that attracts bees, and is perfect for a butterfly garden or hummingbird garden.
The heart-shaped leaves of Ligularia vary, from smooth edge to saw-toothed (serrated); leaf colors can be anywhere from dark green to burgundy to bronze. You can even find Ligularia foliage with a deep green top hiding a red “underbelly.”
The real show-stoppers, though, are the bright yellow-orange flowers that spring from the clumping foliage in mid to late summer. Deadheading rewards you with more blooms.
This moisture loving plant loves to hang out near pools, ponds, or stream beds. It’s a fantastic choice for a rain garden.
You can start Ligularia from seed or an established plant — although seeds may be a little finicky. Dividing an established plant is the easiest way to start new Ligularia and should be done in early spring or late summer. Dig up as much of the root system as possible, use a clean, sharp knife and cut the crowns into smaller sections; then plant the smaller sections.
Direct midday sun and heat will cause this shade-loving plant’s leaves to wilt (especially ‘The Rocket’ variety). But don’t panic — Ligularia is simply conserving water. However, if the foliage doesn’t bounce back in the cool evening, you need to give it a good deep soaking. Ligularia has long roots and likes to draw water from soil way down.
Tips & Fun Facts about Ligularia
Good for USDA growing zones: 4-9
Varieties to try: Bottle Rocket, Britt-Marie Crawford, King Kong
Helpful Tips: Because of Ligularia’s tough, “saw-toothed” leaves and spiky flowers, deer usually leave this plant alone.
Good companions: Plant with other water-loving shade plants such as Hostas and Astilbes.
Fun facts: In Japan, this shade-loving plant is known as Metakaraku, which means “sweet smelling roots.”
FOAM FLOWERS GROW IN SHADE
Foam Flower (Tiarella) is a shade-loving perennial with beautiful decorative foliage. From green to maroon, the leaves of the foam flower plant provide ornamental color all year round.
Tiarella gets its common name from the mass of tiny bell-shaped, spidery flowers on a single short stalk — looking like foam on a stick.
The fragrant flowers (usually white, pink or coral) bloom above its feather-like leaves in the Spring, lasting for about 6 weeks. If you want longer-lasting blooms, look for the new hybrids; their blooms can last for months. But with or without flowers, the beautiful foliage of this plant that grows in shade will dress up your landscape palette.
Foam flower enjoys partial to full shade and is perfect for that sun-starved woodland area.
You can easily grow Foam Flower from seed. Or you can use one of its horizontal runners (called a stolon) like a stem cutting; just pop it in the soil and add water.
Tiarella are low maintenance plants, little TLC is needed. But if you happen to notice them looking a bit tattered (which high winds and extreme weather can do), feel free to cut them back; foam flower will rejuvenate.
These shade-loving plants can’t fertilize themselves; they need to be pollinated. Which means, if you want to harvest seeds, you’ll need to plant more than one variety.
Tips & Fun Facts about foam flower
Good for USDA growing zones: 3-9
Varieties to try: Jade Peacock, Black Velvet, Butterfly Wings
Helpful Hint: Tiarella is generally animal resistant; its foliage tastes acidic so rabbits and deer leave it alone. But…in the middle of a long winter, a hungry animal will eat anything, including Foam Flower.
Good companions: Tiarella complements most other shade perennials like Ferns, Hostas, and Sedges.
Fun facts: Tiarella is native to the United States. As a medicinal, Native Americans used Foam Flower for a variety of ailments, including sore mouth in babies.
PLANT your color!
There you have it.
7 perennial flowers that grow in shade. All sure-fire choices to cure your garden color craving. So pick one or two, experiment, and have some fun.
Because that’s what gardening is — lotsa’ fun.
To your gardening health!