20 of the Best Shade Plants
Shade gardens are a welcome retreat in the hot months of summer, but it can be difficult to find plants that will add color and texture to your flowerbeds without full sun.
So, if you have spots under shade trees, near fences or adjacent to structures that are in part or full shade, you might need a little help finding attractive shade plants that will thrive in these conditions.
To that end, here are 20 of the best plants for shade to help you make your garden a success this year.
Hostas are first on the list because they are pretty much the go-to plants for shade. Hostas are available in many varieties and are attractive perennials with big, showy leaves that vary widely in color and texture. They are easy to grow, do well in shade and add great color to your garden.
They are toxic to cats, dogs and horses when ingested, so if you share your yard with pets that like to nibble on plants, hostas might not be the right choice for you. If this is not an issue, these are the first shade plants to turn to when designing landscaping for areas with lots of shade.
Height: 2 inches to 4 feet tall
Most begonias prefer morning sun and afternoon shade, so if that is the situation in the spot you are trying to fill, begonias are a perfect choice. If your flowerbed is shaded most of the day, opt for tuberous begonias, which do better with more shade.
Begonias do not do well in colder weather, so if you live in an area that regularly sees the temperature drop below 50 degrees, you will need to bring them inside or put them in a greenhouse for the winter.
While begonias prefer moist soil and, therefore, are not a great choice for drought-tolerant landscaping, they do add some fantastic color with their deep green or patterned leaves and bright flowers.
Zones: 9, 10
Height: 8 inches to 2 feet
3. Lily of the Valley
If children and pets do not frequent your garden, Lily of the Valley is an attractive shade plant you might consider. While it is okay if a child or dog touches a Lily of the Valley while playing, all parts of the plant are poisonous when ingested. If this is not an issue, these attractive shade plants feature tiny, white flowers and can fill a flowerbed quickly.
Lily of the Valley is a perennial plant that spreads through seeds and underground rhizomes, so it can spread quickly and can be divided to feature in containers or other areas of your yard. You might also consider growing these shade plants in containers to keep them from spreading.
Height: 6 to 12 inches
Most hydrangeas need full sun in the morning followed by shade in the afternoon, but there are some varieties that will tolerate partial shade throughout the day. Since hydrangeas prefer moist soil, they are not the best choice for drought-conscious gardeners, but they do offer stunning bunches of blooms in shades of pink, white, purple, blue, and red.
Aside from regular watering, you can feed your hydrangeas once a year when the weather is cool, but keep in mind that overfertilizing could result in fewer blooms, since the plant will focus on growing leaves.
Height: 2 to 3 feet; sometimes up to 6 feet tall
Not all geraniums love the shade, but there are many varieties that will thrive in full or partial shade in your garden. This easy-to-grow bloomer can be grown as a perennial in most parts of Southern California. If you live in an area where the temperature drops below their comfort zone, you can always bring them inside for the winter or grow them as annuals.
Usually found in shades of pink, purple, blue, or white and available in sizes ranging from less than one foot in height to more than seven feet, geraniums definitely come in a variety that will fill that shady spot in your yard.
Zones: 10, 11
Height: 4 inches to 4 feet
When ferns are growing in the wild, it is often in woodland areas beneath the canopy of trees or interspersed in crevices on rocky slopes. So, it should come as no surprise that many varieties of ferns can be perfect additions to shade gardens.
Ferns are a particularly good choice if you are looking for lush, feathery foliage to cover a large space and are not concerned about colorful flowers. While many ferns are not low-water options, purchasing from a local nursery can help you find varieties that grow well in Southern California without wasting water. Regardless of the fern variety you choose, you will need to water it regularly until it is established. Once established, these shade plants should thrive in your garden with weekly irrigation and yearly feeding.
As an added bonus, ferns can be planted on shady hillsides to control erosion.
Height: 1 to 6 feet
Heuchera, aka alumroot or coral bells, tolerates partial shade and encourages bees and birds to visit your garden. The many varieties available offer a wide range of hues complimented by the bell-shape blooms that appear in late spring and summer.
You will need to divide these evergreen perennials every few years to keep them thriving. Simply dig up the plant, divide the root system to make a few separate plants, and then plant each of the divided plants for long-lasting color and texture in your garden.
Height: 6 to 16 inches
8. Sweet Alyssum
The tiny, delicate blooms of alyssum make a great ground cover around other shade plants or can be planted in a container garden as a filler or on its own to spill over the edges. Alyssum varieties generally come with white, pink or purple flowers, all of which do well in shade. If the spot you are filling is in deep shade, you might consider going with a purple variety, since these seem to have the most potential for thriving in shade.
Alyssum is a shorter plant and grows to only about four to eight inches high, so it is best at the front of a border or as a ground cover between other plants.
Height: 3 to 9 inches
9. Coprosma (Mirror Plant)
Mirror plants add year-round color to your garden starting with shiny, deep-green leaves that eventually become mottled with orange or pinkish hues. Since this hardy shrub is drought tolerant, thrives in coastal areas and requires little care once established, mirror plants are a good choice for Southern California gardens and for busy homeowners. It does just fine in salty air, so it is particularly good for folks living near the beach.
While coprosmas prefer full sun, they will survive in partial shade. You will need to water your mirror plant regularly until established. Once established, it will need extra irrigation during hot or dry spells. Annual fertilizing and pruning will also help your coprosma thrive.
Zones: 9, 10
Height: 4 to 5 feet
10. Dead Nettle (Lamium)
If you need shade plants for a spot that gets little sun during the day, dead nettle might be the option for you. These easy-care, flowering plants are often used as a quick-growing ground cover and will grow in flowerbeds and borders or in containers. The most common colors for dead nettle blooms are white, pink and purple.
It is important to remember that all varieties of lamium are members of the mint family, so they can be invasive and can take over your yard if you let them. To avoid this, you can cut them back to encourage compact growth or you can divide these perennials every spring to plant them in other areas of your yard or to give away to other folks with shady spots to fill.
Height: around 6 inches
11. Toad Lilies
Toad lilies are one of the most beautiful plants for shade gardens and add an exotic look that makes them a welcome addition in cutting gardens as well. Blooms come in white, pink, purple, yellow, and blue and this pretty perennial will do just as well in containers as they will in the ground.
Toad lilies are generally easy to care for; however, they do require regular watering and are usually not drought tolerant. It is also important to note that toad lilies are a member of the lily family and all parts of the plant are poisonous. This means that these shade plants are not a good choice for planting near play areas for small children or your pet’s favorite spot for an afternoon nap.
Height: 1 to 3 feet
12. Vinca Major and Vinca Minor (Periwinkle, Creeping Myrtle)
Vinca major and vinca minor are perennial, evergreen ground covers that thrive in shade. While vinca minor is a bit more shade loving than vinca major, either of these options will do fine in your shade garden. Vinca major is a bit bigger than vinca minor, does not tolerate cold weather quite as well, and its vines can spread more aggressively. So, if you are looking for something that can quickly cover the ground in a shady spot and you do not mind some serious spreading out, vinca major might be your best bet. If you want the hardiest, most shade-loving option, go with vinca minor.
Vincas prefer moist soil, but they are drought tolerant. Historically, vinca major was used to treat high blood pressure, so it is probably not a good idea to allow children or pets to spend a lot of time around the vinca unattended. Consuming a small amount is likely harmless, but consuming too much could cause low blood pressure.
Height: 6 to 10 inches
Impatiens do not like full sun and do best in partial or full shade. This, of course, makes them a perfect choice for anyone looking for plants for shade.
These annual flowers are great for adding quick color to flowerbeds or containers. They can be planted in between other plants for pops of color, or you can plant several impatiens close together for a large grouping of colorful blooms.
Unfortunately, these little beauties are not drought tolerant and may even require more than one watering a day during the summer if they are planted in containers. However, the good news is that they are not considered toxic to people or pets, so they are a good choice for shady spots where you cats, dogs or kids like to spend time.
Zones: 10, 11
Height: 10 to 16 inches
Rhododendrons are evergreen shrubs with showy blooms that come in hues of white, pink, purple, red and yellow. While they do require at least some sun, rhodies do well in part shade and are a beautiful addition to shade gardens. With their shallow root systems, regular irrigation is required, particularly when the weather is hot or dry. Most varieties grow to be between three and six feet tall, so this is a good choice for large spaces that need color.
Aside from regular watering, rhododendrons also require acidic soil. Many Southern California gardeners are working with clay soil, so you will need to amend it to shift the pH level to about 5.0 or 5.5 to keep these shade plants happy.
Height: 5 to 6 feet
Azaleas are in the same genus as rhododendrons and have similar requirements regarding irrigation, care and soil acidity. Some azalea varieties are evergreen and some are deciduous, so be sure to choose a variety that fits your needs. Different varieties also vary greatly in when they bloom, which can be as early as spring or as late as fall, so do a little research or ask for recommendations at your local garden center to make sure you purchase plants that will bloom at the right time of year to compliment the other plants in your shade garden.
Height: 4 to 6 feet; sometimes up to 20 feet
Camellias do best in partial shade and come in both shrub and tree varieties. This large bloomer has beautiful, showing flowers in the fall and attractive foliage throughout the year. Camellias do not require excessive water once established, so this is a plus, but they are pretty picky about the few things they are picky about. For example, they cannot survive in neighborhoods that are close enough to the beach to experience salt spray. They also do not tolerate afternoon sun well and, when exposed, will not bloom as readily and can show signs of sunburn.
Height: 6 to 12 feet
17. Lungwort (Pulmonaria)
Lungwort was named for its resemblance to the shape of a lung, which was, at one time believed to mean it would treat lung ailments. Although it proved to have no healing properties related to lung health, the name stuck. While the name might be a bit unfortunate, the spotted foliage and delicate flowers are a beautiful addition to shade gardens. These low-maintenance perennials prefer moist soil until established, and then can tolerate some drought, particularly when planted in the shade.
Lungwort prefers partial shade and will do best in a spot that has some morning sun, but then is shaded for most or all of the afternoon.
Height: 6 to 12 inches
Astilbe is a colorful shade plant with showy plumes that attract butterflies to your garden. Flowers are generally shades of white, red, pink or purple, and you can choose varieties with foliage that ranges from light green to deep red for even more color throughout the year.
Astilbes are perennial, so you can pick a spot for planting, and then enjoy them year after year without needing to replant the area. As good plants for shade gardens, astilbes prefer shade in the afternoon and tolerate full shade – just know that you will not get as many floral plumes on astilbes that are in deep shade all day.
Height: 1 to 4 feet
19. Japanese Forest Grass
Japanese forest grass is a good choice for folks in search of shade plants that will enhance their garden’s visual appeal without colorful flowers. This attractive, slow-growing grass grows in mounds that reach about 18 inches in height and, as is common with perennials, it can be divided every few years to provide you with new plants to fill in spots in your garden.
Japanese forest grass requires regular watering and must have shade to survive Southern California’s hot, dry summers.
Height: 12 to 18 inches
There are thousands of varieties of spurge, which means you can choose between annuals and perennials, green or burgundy foliage, and flowers and bracts that come in white, pink, yellow, orange, red and even green. Most of the plants in this class grow no more than three feet tall, but some varieties of this aggressive spreader can take over a garden border before you know it. This makes it a good choice as a ground cover or for erosion control.
Height: 1 to 3 feet
Look for varieties that are drought tolerant to add color to shaded areas without increasing your water usage.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a full shade plant?
A full shade plant is a plant that can thrive in mostly shaded areas and typically only need a few short hours of direct sunlight per day.
Which plant grows the fastest in the shade?
Rhododendrons and Azaleas grow the quickest in the shade. Rhododendrons have hundreds of varieties to choose from and are relatively low-maintenance while Azalea’s require plenty of water.
Which flowers bloom in the shade?
This blog was originally posted on Oct 24, 2018 and was updated on June 24, 2022.