Stone pathway through a shaded garden.

The Best Plants Suited For Full Shade

Originally contributed by Trent Weston • last updated 4/12/2021

Finding plants that thrive in full shade isn’t always an easy task.

And while many of us have areas of our yards that don’t get a ton of sunshine, we are often perplexed when it comes to what to plant in these spaces.

As planting season is upon us, we thought we’d share some tips on what works well in full shade areas.

What Is Full Shade?

Before we start making plant recommendations, we should probably let you know what precisely full shade entails because it’s a common misconception.

Contrary to popular belief, full shade doesn’t necessarily mean complete and utter darkness with no sunlight at all.

To be considered full-shade, a spot must receive fewer than three hours of direct sunlight per day. It’s ideal when this direct sunlight occurs in the morning or evening, as the sun’s rays are less potent during those hours.

Some plants that are not suited for full shade areas can grow there, but won’t flourish the same way as varieties that have adapted to these cool, low-light conditions.

Here are some plants that prosper well in those tricky shadowy spots in the yard.

Vines

Full disclosure, the options for shade-tolerant vines are more restricted than other plant types, but there are some that do well in darker outdoor areas.

We wanted to include them here because vines offer the ability to add height to your garden and can grow up surfaces such as trellises and walls.

Vines are known more for their foliage than their flowers but can certainly add a lush element to your space.

Some vines that do well in full shade zones are:

  • Boston ivy
  • Climbing hydrangea

Shrubs

Often neglected, shrubs are a great addition to your garden. They add depth, character and can even be shaped to your specific needs.

They also provide an excellent background to showcase your more vibrant or colorful plants, and they can help structure your outdoor areas.

Shrubs are also quite hardy, with many of them in the evergreen variety. Greenery should not be overlooked when it comes to planning a well-structured, healthy-looking garden.

Great shrubs to consider include:

  • Hemlock
  • Yew
  • Holly (Japanese or Inkberry varieties are lovely options)

Ground Covers

Ground covers are useful for a variety of reasons. For starters, they do as their name suggests: they cover the ground.

If you don’t particularly want to look at sparse patches of barren soil, ground cover can help fill these areas over time.

For balanced, multi-levelled gardens, ground covers take care of the lowest level in style.

Many of them also tend to love the shade, which means they’ll have no problem growing in those shady spots where nothing else seems to want to grow.

Here are some shade-loving ground covers to keep an eye out for:

  • Cast iron plant
  • Creeping myrtle
  • Spotted deadnettle
  • Bunchberry
  • Japanese Pachysandra or Painted Fern

Annuals

Okay, now we’re getting into some truly vibrant colors. While yes, annuals have to be planted every year, they can round out your garden beautifully.

At least that’s the case for gardeners in colder climates.

Did you know that the term ‘annual’ has nothing to do with the plant’s authentic lifecycle? The name actually derives from how gardeners use them in cooler areas of the world.

Where many of these plants originate places like the tropics or rainforests, for example, these flowers live happily all year round. They simply can’t adapt to the cold weather in some parts of the world, which is why they don’t survive the winter.

And many annuals love the shade. With so many varieties to choose from, you can add the bright, popping burst of color you may desire in your garden.

Oh, and you can change up your color-scheme from year to year if you want!

Check out these shade-contented annuals:

  • Fuchsia
  • Impatiens
  • Wax begonia
  • Coleus

Perennials

Last but certainly not least, we have the plants that come back to our gardens year after year.

There’s nothing quite like watching them pop up from the soil to fill our outdoor spaces with stunning flowers and verdant foliage.

What’s even better is that perennials that love shade also happen to produce brilliantly-colored flowers.

Of course, there are many that offer vivid greens, too, such as certain varieties of shade-dwelling hostas.

With so many to choose from, we’re sure you can find a perennial to beautify those low-light areas of the garden.

Here are just a few perennials that will do well in the shade:

  • Toad Lily
  • Common or fringed bleeding hearts
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit
  • Lenten rose
  • Leopard plants
  • Dutchman’s breeches
  • Virginia bluebells
  • Siberian Bugloss

Let us know what your favorite shade-dwelling plants are. Happy gardening!

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