How to Select Shade Garden Plants How to Select Shade Garden Plants

Before matching the right shade garden plants to the right locations, the amount and quality of available light must be taken into consideration. Suitable conditions for survival and proliferation will vary from species to species, but whether you're dealing with full, partial or light shade, rest assured a little research and planning will uncover a surprising array of plants for any area - even those with the shadiest aspect.

Full Shade

Densely shaded areas such as those beneath evergreen trees can limit choice. This is not only due to lack of sunlight, but also because of soil conditions. Soil around evergreens will tend to be acidic in nature, and supplementing the planting area with organic material may be necessary. When doing so, take care not to damage the roots of any evergreens. 

Suitable full shade perennials include ferns, brunnera, hosta and lugwort. Lugwort is excellent for shade ground cover, since it can also be grown successfully on sloping areas overlooked by trees, which can be a notoriously difficult site. 

Other plants suitable for full shade ground cover include:

  • Creeping buttercup
  • Sweet woodruff
  • Wild ginger
  • Ground ivy
  • Periwinkle. 

Lily of the valley is an excellent sweet-scented spring flower that will thrive in a large shaded area under trees. Bunchberry, Houttuynia Chameleon Plant and Virginia Creeper are all vigorous shade ground cover plants. However, these may become highly invasive and require regular maintenance and cutting back. Full shade locations are, some of the most challenging to cultivate, but there are still a good many species that will do well here. 

Partial Shade

Deciduous trees, on the other hand, create partial or medium shade where blooming bulbs can receive sufficient light before the leaves are out in spring. Excessively large trees may overshadow a plot to the extent that trimming of the branches is necessary. Trees with roots that are close to the soil’s surface can absorb most of the moisture and nutrients, thus inhibiting the newly introduced plant’s ability to compete. 

Partial shade indicates an aspect that, for four to five hours a day, receives little or no direct sunlight. Perennials that will do well here include:

  • Daylily
  • Bleeding heart
  • Members of the Heuchera family, such as ‘Coral Bells’
  • Hardy Begonias
  • Hardy Cyclamen

Light Shade

Buildings and trees often produce what is termed ‘light shade’ as the sun moves overhead throughout the day. Plants in this category form the largest group of shade perennials and will tolerate, and often prefer, two to three hours of shade daily. Included in this group are:

  • Daylilies
  • Foxgloves
  • Columbines
  • Hellebores
  • Daffodil/narcissus

Suitable ground cover plants for light shade conditions include:

  • Periwinkle
  • Wild Ginger
  • Bugleweed
  • Siberian bugloss
  • Dwarf false astilbe

Soil Types

Many shade garden plants will prefer moist soils that are rich in humus, while others have adapted to dry, well-drained conditions. Check with a garden center to ensure the right choice of planting for any shaded area.

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