Perennials for Shade

By Neil Moran

            If you think your choices are limited when it comes to perennial plants for the shady or woodland areas in your yard, follow along as I share some perennial flowers that perhaps you’ve overlooked. These perennials have done well for me in my garden and some of the yards I’ve landscaped.

The nice thing about this list of plants is that unlike the perennials you find featured prominently in national gardening magazines and books, you’ll be able to find these plants in most garden centers in your area. If you have trouble finding any of the plants I mention, simply go to and click on “find a professional.” Here you’ll find retailers in your area who carry some or all of the plants I am describing.

Shade-Loving Perennials

Aquilegia (Columbine): This Spring-flowering perennial with droopy flowers comes in pink, purple and lavender. Plant at least five in a group to get them noticed in a flowerbed or landscape. Columbine will do OK in less than ideal soils, though like all flowers, will do best in a loose soil rich in organic matter (see growing tips below).

Dicentra (Bleeding Heart): This crown jewel of the shade garden is another early bloomer. It can get fairly large, so it’s good for filling in large spaces. I’ve found bleeding heart to be a little picky about where it calls home. Once you find it thriving in a certain location, don’t do as I did and move it. You may end up in the doghouse with your significant other like I did.

Aruncus (Goatsbeard): Here’s another perennial that will fill in a large space in a shady location. It likes a rich soil with lots of humus and will grow to six feet tall. It blooms best where it is exposed to sunlight at least part of the day.

Ligularia: I discovered this plant at a local garden center last Summer while looking for a good shade plant for a customer’s landscape. “Bottle Rocket” is one of the more compact Ligularias that features mustard yellow flowers atop chocolate stems. This compact, deer-resistant variety grows to just over a foot.

Lungwort: This under-appreciated plant is used in the woodland garden as a border plant or to carpet a large area under a tree. Its leaves resemble trout lily, a native species you see often in northern forests. It likes moist, rich, well-drained soil and will grow from 6”-24” tall. It stands out nicely when mixed in among hostas, ferns and brunneras.

Hemerocallis (Day lily): although we usually see this one growing in the sunny locales, it is also listed as a good plant for shady spots. Very adaptable, day lily will grow just about anywhere under any conditions and comes in more colors than found in a box of Crayolas.

Hostas Galore!

There are some fairly new shade-loving hostas that recently became available to gardeners. Be sure to keep your eyes open for these new hostas: Hosta ‘Autumn Frost,’ a frosty blue specimen with a bright yellow margin that will lighten to a creamy white during the Summer months. It’s a medium-sized hosta, spreading to about 24 inches.

Hosta “Goodness Gracious,’ has large heart-shaped leaves and a wide spreading habit. The deeply veined leaves are dark green with a very wide, yellow margin. Hosta ‘Hudson Bay, has a wide, bright blue margin and apple green jetting, which contrasts well with a creamy white center. The flowers are near white, and it’s also resistant to slugs!

Cultural Requirements for Shade Plants

There is no one-size-fits-all on how to grow shade perennials however, most will do well in soil that is moist, but not wet, slightly acidic and fairly rich in organic matter.

Here are a few tips for planting any type of perennial plant:

  • For best results plant in the Spring or Fall.
  • Dig a hole twice as deep and wide as the root ball.
  • Fill the hole with compost or well-rotted livestock manure.
  • Sprinkle in a little slow-release organic or inorganic fertilizer at the time of planting and water well.
  • Space properly and plant at least three in an area for best visual impact.

To find out the growing requirements for specific shade-tolerant perennials visit and click on “Perennial Encyclopedia.”


More shade-loving perennials:

  1. Aconitum (Monkshood) ‘Blue Lagoon’
  2. Acorus (Sweet Flag Grass) ‘Variegatus’
  3. Actaea (Baneberry)‘Misty Blue’
  4. Alstroemeria (Peruvian Lily) INCA ICE
  5. Aralia (Golden Japanese Spikenard) ‘Sun King’
  6. Cimicifuga (Snakeroot) ‘Hillside Black Beauty’
  7. Helleborus (Lenten Rose) series Winter Thrillers
  8. Heuchera (Coral Bells) H. villosa hybrids such as, ‘Caramel’
  9. Lobelia (Cardinal Flower) L. cardinalis

10. Pulmonaria (Lungwort) ‘Raspberry Splash’

11. Tiarella (Foamflower) ‘Sugar & Spice’

12. Tricyrtis (Toad Lily) ‘Gilt Edge’ or ‘Miyazaki Hybrids’


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