We create shade gardens in areas that have little or no direct sunlight, sometimes where large trees are already established. But the challenge is to plant what will thrive and add interest to your overall landscaping plan. Foliage is usually dominant in shady spots, but if you add flowers that grow in the shade, it’s not difficult to add splashes of color.
You may be surprised to discover that there are hundreds of different types of flowers that grow in the shade. The trick is to identify those that will thrive in your local climate and microclimate conditions. Shade-loving perennials are particularly rewarding because once you have planted them, they will keep coming back year after year.
22 Flowers That Grow in Partial Shade
Hoping to inspire you, we have identified 22 perennial plants that grow well in partial shade.
Some grow in deep shade and prefer to be out of the sun completely. But most are simply plants that produce shade-loving flowers that you can plant in those difficult not-so-sunny corners of your garden.
Hostas are shade-loving plants that are grown mainly for their attractive, lush foliage. They produce fragrant white, bluish, or lavender flowers from early summer to fall.
They are useful for shady areas and thrive in gardens where there is a dappled shade for much of the day. They will also survive in heavy shade, as long as it’s not for more than four hours a day.
Sometimes called plantain lilies, hostas are reliable growers in shady areas as well as in gardens that only have partial shade. They grow best in zones 3 and 4, which makes them a favorite for shade gardens in these areas.
Hellebore, known as the Christmas rose, tolerates a wide range of growing conditions, but they do best in partial shade. These gorgeous plants thrive in shade gardens and reward with white, pink, yellow, or purple flowers.
Hellebores flower late in winter or in early spring, adding color to what might otherwise be a rather drab garden setting. Even though they look delicate, they are hardy and do well under pine trees
Corydalis plants will tolerate a bit of sun, but they do best in shady spots. A short-lived perennial, they don’t generally survive in U.S. plant hardiness zones that are lower than 5 or higher than 7.
Corydalis blooms in early spring and produces colorful, tubular, lightly-scented yellow or blue flowers in shade gardens or woodland settings. Even though they self-sow once they are established, they aren’t invasive.
Hardy, low-growing epimedium is a spring-flowering perennial that grows naturally in woodlands. They are remarkably easy to grow in home gardens as long as they have the right conditions, preferably in fertile shady spots.
Commonly grown as a ground cover for its beautiful leaf colors, epimedium flowers in early spring, producing tiny yellow, pink, light violet, or white flowers. If you grow this beauty you’ll understand why it’s often called fairy wings!
A carefree, easy to care for shade perennial, ligularia includes leopard plants that have yellow-green foliage with yellow spots.
All cultivars have attractive yellow flowers that form on long stems that can reach up to 2 feet. The Gigante (giant ligularia) produces leaves that are 15-20 inches wide and clumps can grow 3 feet tall.
The ligularia plant thrives in the shade but will tolerate the warm morning sun.
A versatile flower for shady areas, astilbe produces beautiful fluffy flowers ranging from white and pink to deep burgundy. They grow up to 4-feet tall and make great shade-garden companions for hosta and hellebores that have contrasting foliage.
Different varieties bloom at different times, so you can plant several for an ongoing color show of flowers. A little bit of morning sun encourages most types to flower.
A very common plant in shade gardens, brunnera is a perennial that can grow from 6 inches to 2 feet wide and up to 18 inches tall. Many different types are cultivated, and you should choose one that suits your region.
While Brunnera is generally prized for its tiny blue spring flowers, it also forms an attractive ground cover in shady spots.
A hardy ground orchid, Bletilla grows best in shady spots that get some morning sun. They are ideal flowers for woodland gardens.
Even though this is a tropical plant that is native to China and Japan, many people grow it successfully in temperate regions globally. Bletilla is hardy, but it doesn’t like frost and snow.
Similar in appearance to pansies, which are, of course, annuals, perennial violas are generally short-lived and only do well in warmer climates. While they enjoy partly shaded areas, they don’t do well in deep shade.
Violas are often the first flowers to bloom in spring gardens, adding color and life after long, cold winter months.
A fast-growing perennial ground cover, Lamium is also known as dead nettle because its leaves look like stinging nettles but they don’t sting. Lamium belongs to the mint family, and there are about 50 different species.
Ideal for shady spots under trees, Lamium has attractive foliage that varies depending on the variety. Many types have two-toned leaves.
One of the prettiest is Lamium galeobdolon Variegatum, which has silver-streaked leaves and sweet yellow flowers. But it’s invasive in many areas.
Lamium flowers also vary according to type, and you can opt for white, pink, or purple flowers.
Tall, showy foxgloves are available as hardy biennials or short-lived perennials. They grow just about anywhere and will thrive in full sun to full shade. They are common in cottage gardens and ideal for woodland settings.
Foxglove flowers look a bit like snapdragons, an annual flower, and it boasts clusters of tubular-shaped blooms in a rainbow of colors from white and yellow to pink, red, lavender, and purple.
Toad lilies are shade-loving flowers that are native to Japan. You can grow them in part or full shade as long as the soil is kept moist.
They are an unusual choice for edging shady borders in woodland paths and adding interest to all kinds of shade gardens. Toad lily gets its name from the spots on its intricate, orchid-like flowers.
There are many different cultivars that all produce completely different (but spotted) flowers that bloom from late summer to early fall. Colors range from white and pink to lavender hues.
Trillium gets its name from its triangular shape and the three geometrically placed leaf-like sepals under the flowers. It’s a hardy plant that is very pretty, and different species have flowers that vary in both shape and color.
According to the U.S. Forest Service, there are 43 species of trillium worldwide, 38 of which grow in North America. Since they grow naturally in woodlands, they are a particularly good choice in any shade garden.
Dicentra, which is more commonly known as bleeding heart, is a low-maintenance garden plant with shade-loving flowers. This is another lovely perennial that will thrive in shade gardens
Bleeding heart is an old-fashioned favorite that has pink to deep red flowers and foliage that ranges from lime green to a deep dark green hue.
Caladium is a stunning plant that is often grown for its huge heart-shaped leaves, in the garden, and as a houseplant. But it’s a tropical plant and will only work in a shade garden in warmer climates (zone 10 and upwards) because it won’t survive cold winters.
Just a quick word of caution. Caladium plants are potentially toxic, so you might want to give them a miss if you have children and pets.
A favorite spring-blooming perennial that is ideal for partially shaded spots, spiderwort is a large plant with dainty, pink, blue, blue-purple, violet, or white flowers.
Spiderwort is native to Florida, and it grows best in warm climates. If your climate is right, it’s one of those shade-loving flowers that will pop up all on its own in spring.
Spiderworts also attract bees and butterflies, which is a bonus for pollination in any garden setting.
Grown for its tall, beautiful purple or blue flowers, aconitum can grow up to 3 feet. It prefers shady areas and does well in zones 3-7.
Aconitum has a good spread of 1-1.5 feet and, with its pretty purple flowers, will reach a height of between 2 and 4 feet. It’s one of those versatile plants that you can grow on the edges of shady areas because it also does well in full sun.
Lungworts (Pulmonaria species) are a very good choice for shade gardens. They make a pretty ground cover and look stunning when planted en masse in shady areas.
There are many different lungwort varieties that produce a range of different colored bell-shaped flowers from coral and rosy pink to pale blue and white. But many people grow them simply for their intriguing spotted foliage.
The lungwort plant thrives in partial shade and prefers soil that is moist and well-drained.
Ferns are an absolute favorite in any shade garden. While they are the only non-flowering plant we have included in this list of shade-loving species, they add amazing shape and texture.
The other reason for including them is that they are just about the only plant on earth that will grow in total darkness!
Many different types of ferns are found growing naturally under dense canopies of trees. They are a natural choice in any woodland setting.
Ferns should never be exposed to full sun and they will do best in the coolest areas of your garden. If you live in a cold climate, they aren’t going to survive the winter months. Instead, plant them in a hanging basket and take them indoors in winter.
Not just a shade-loving plant, heuchera will grow just about anywhere, though it does prefer partial shade. Better known as coral bells, it has ruffled reddish-hued foliage and small flower spikes that you’ll spot from spring to mid-summer.
There are many species of coral bells that are native to North America, which makes them a very good option for local shade gardens.
Whether you want to add color with foliage or flowers, heuchera offers a wonderful selection, so be sure to shop around. They all combine particularly well with other native wildflowers and ferns that thrive in woodland settings.
Better known as Canadian wild ginger, Asarum canadense has pretty heart-shaped leaves and tiny purple-brown flowers. It’s a wonderful ground cover garden plant for shade gardens because it prefers really deep shade and moist soil conditions.
Even though it will flower, the blooms are insignificant.
Also known as foamflower, tiarella has interesting lobed leaves with purple or red veins. Its floaty, white foam-like flowers bloom on long stems from late spring to early summer.
Tiarella is a native wildflower that is related to coral bells (see above). It is often grown as a woodland ground cover in shady spots.
Are there flowers that can grow without sunlight?
While all the flowers we have mentioned thrive in the shade, they all need some light to survive. Even flowers that thrive indoors need some kind of light.
Growing flowers in shady areas can be quite a challenge. Most plants need at least a bit of sunlight every day.
But when you get it right, a shade garden can include not just lush green foliage and ferns thriving under trees and bushes, it can also be a haven of color that bursts out in spring. Think about woodland forests and other areas in nature that are usually shaded all day long.
Perhaps surprisingly, there are many flowers that will grow in a shade garden. Most do well in partial shade, while there are some that don’t rely on sunlight at all.
The 22 garden plants we have included in our 2023 garden guide range from ferns to glorious flowers that will add color to your shadiest spots. These will give you a starting point that we hope will inspire you.