Gardening

23 Shade Plants That Are Suitable To Grow Outdoors

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Shade plants have adapted to thrive in conditions with limited exposure to direct sunlight. Also known as shade-loving or shade-tolerant plants, they have evolved various mechanisms to cope with lower light levels, such as broader leaves to capture more light or the ability to efficiently utilize available light.

The term "shade" typically refers to areas where sunlight is obstructed or filtered, either by structures like buildings or trees or by other plants casting shadows. Shade plants are often cultivated in gardens where these conditions prevail, such as beneath trees, along north-facing walls, or in areas with dense foliage.

By understanding the needs of shade plants, gardeners can create beautiful and thriving landscapes even in areas with limited sunlight.

1. Hostas

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Hostas are popular shade plants with large, variegated leaves that come in a variety of colors, shapes, and sizes. Hostas typically feature large, heart-shaped, or oval leaves that range, making them one of the best ground cover plants.

They are quite adaptable and can thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 9. This means they can tolerate a wide range of temperatures, from cold winters to hot summers, making them suitable for most regions of the United States.

  • Shade tolerance: Full to partial shade

2. Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)

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Shade bushes, impatiens walleriana, commonly known as impatiens, are popular flowering plants valued for their prolific blooms and ability to thrive in shade or partial shade.

Impatiens typically grow to a height of about 6 to 24 inches, with a spread of up to 12 to 18 inches, depending on the variety. Impatiens are commonly grown as annuals in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11, where they can be planted outdoors year-round due to the mild climate.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade to full shade

3. Begonia (Begonia spp.

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Shade plants for pots, begonia belong to the family Begoniaceae and encompass a wide range of species, hybrids, and cultivars, offering a plethora of options for gardeners. Begonias are native to tropical and subtropical regions, including parts of Africa, Asia, and Central and South America.

In the United States, the growing zones for begonias vary depending on the species or cultivar. Generally, they thrive in USDA hardiness zones 9-11, where temperatures remain relatively warm throughout the year. Along with the growing guide, learn some begonia care tips.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade to full shade

4. Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)

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Tall shade plants, bleeding heart is a charming perennial plant known for its unique heart-shaped flowers that hang gracefully from arching stems. Native to parts of Asia, including Japan and China, this plant is beloved for its delicate and romantic appearance.

The flowers typically bloom in spring, showcasing shades of pink or white that dangle like jewels from the stems, resembling rows of dangling hearts. In the United States, bleeding hearts generally thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 9.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade

5. Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.)

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Tall plants for shade, coral bells are native to North America and belong to the Saxifragaceae family. Coral bells are valued for their attractive foliage, which comes in a wide array of colors, ranging from deep purple and burgundy to lime green and silver.

The leaves are often intricately veined, adding further visual interest to the plant. They are typically suited for zones 4 to 9 in the USA, though specific varieties may have narrower or broader ranges within this spectrum.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade to full shade

6. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.

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Astilbe, belonging to the Astilbe genus, are popular shade plants prized for their feathery plumes of flowers and attractive foliage. These herbaceous perennials are native to Asia and North America, thriving in moist, shady conditions.

They are commonly cultivated for their ability to add vibrant color and texture to shady garden beds, borders, and woodland landscapes. In the United States, Astilbe can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9, though specific cultivars may have different zone tolerances.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade to full shade

7. Ferns (Pteridophyta)

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Outdoor plants for shade, ferns belonging to the plant group known as Pteridophyta. They are a diverse and ancient group of plants that have been thriving on Earth for millions of years.

These non-flowering vascular plants reproduce via spores rather than seeds and are characterized by their distinctive feathery or lacy fronds. Ferns come in various shapes, sizes, and textures, making them versatile additions to gardens, landscapes, and indoor spaces.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

8. Columbine (Aquilegia spp.

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Columbines, belonging to the Aquilegia genus, typically grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 to 9 in the United States, though specific species may have narrower ranges within this spectrum.

They typically form clumps of foliage ranging from 1 to 3 feet in height, with a spread of about 1 to 2 feet. However, some taller varieties may reach up to 4 feet in height.

Columbines attract pollinators such as bees and butterflies with their nectar-rich flowers, making them a valuable addition to wildlife-friendly gardens.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade

9. Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis)

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Indoor plants, lily of the Valley is a charming and delicate perennial plant known for its fragrant, bell-shaped white flowers and lush green foliage. Native to Europe and parts of Asia, it has been naturalized in many regions around the world.

In the United States, Lily of the Valley typically thrives in USDA hardiness zones 2 to 7, although it can also be grown in cooler parts of zones 8 and 9 with proper care.

  • Shade-tolerance: Full shade

10. Lungwort (Pulmonaria officinalis)

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Lungwort is an herbaceous perennial plant native to Europe and Western Asia and is a member of the Boraginaceae family. Lungwort is also sometimes referred to as a common lungwort, spotted dog, or Bethlehem sage.

The plant features lance-shaped leaves with distinctive white or silver spots, giving them a unique appearance. The leaves often change color throughout the growing season, starting with shades of green in spring and transitioning to silver or gray later in the year.

Traditionally, it was believed to have healing properties for respiratory ailments, which led to its common name "lungwort." However, its medicinal use has declined in modern times due to potential toxicity and lack of scientific evidence.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

11. Brunnera (Brunnera macrophylla)

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Brunnera macrophylla, commonly known as Brunnera or Siberian Bugloss, is an herbaceous perennial plant prized for its striking foliage and delicate blue flowers.

It typically forms clumps of heart-shaped leaves that are often compared to those of the forget-me-not plant (Myosotis). The leaves are glossy green with prominent veins and can vary in size, reaching up to 6–8 inches in diameter.

In spring, Brunnera produces clusters of small, sky-blue flowers held above the foliage on delicate stems.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

12. Virginia Bluebells (Mertensia virginica)

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These plants are beloved for their clusters of pendulous, trumpet-shaped flowers that bloom in shades of soft blue, pink, or lavender in early to mid-spring. As the flowers mature, they gradually shift to a delicate pink hue.

Virginia bluebells emerge from fleshy, gray-green foliage that turns yellow and withers away after the blooming season. The plant's leaves are broad, oval-shaped, and alternate along the stem, lending a lush appearance to the plant.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

13. Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra)

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The foliage of Japanese Forest Grass is its standout feature, with slender, cascading leaves that can range in color from bright green to golden yellow, depending on the variety.

The leaves form dense clumps that gently sway in the breeze, creating a soothing and tranquil effect. This grass typically grows in compact mounds, reaching heights of around 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) and spreading slowly via rhizomes to form an attractive ground cover.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

14. Tiarella (Tiarella cordifolia)

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Tiarella, commonly known as Foamflower, is a genus of flowering plants in the Saxifragaceae family, with the most popular species being Tiarella cordifolia. Native to North America, Tiarella cordifolia is primarily found in moist woodlands, along stream banks, and in shady mountainous regions.

It is an herbaceous perennial known for its attractive foliage and delicate flower spikes. In late spring to early summer, Tiarella cordifolia produces slender, erect flower spikes adorned with small, star-shaped blossoms.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

15. Sweet Woodruff (Galium odoratum)

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Sweet Woodruff features whorls of narrow, lance-shaped leaves arranged in a circular fashion along upright stems. The leaves are a vibrant green color and have a distinctive, fresh aroma when crushed. In spring, it produces clusters of small, white, star-shaped flowers that add to its ornamental appeal.

Sweet woodruff is typically hardy in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 8, although it can be grown in warmer zones with adequate moisture and shade. It contains coumarin compounds that have mild sedative and anticoagulant effects.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

16. Bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia)

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Bergenia, also known as Bergenia cordifolia or Elephant's Ears, is a perennial herbaceous plant native to central Asia, particularly Siberia, Afghanistan, and the Himalayas. It belongs to the Saxifragaceae family and is prized for its attractive foliage and colorful flowers.

The leaves form a basal rosette, which remains evergreen in many climates. The flowers are borne on sturdy stems and appear in clusters above the foliage. They come in shades of pink, magenta, or white, depending on the variety.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

17. Hellebore (Helleborus niger)

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Helleborus niger, commonly known as Christmas Rose or Black Hellebore, is a perennial flowering plant native to mountainous regions of Central and Southern Europe.

Helleborus niger typically grows to a height of about 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm) and produces dark green, leathery leaves with serrated edges. The flowers are large and bowl-shaped, usually white or creamy-yellow, with prominent yellow stamens in the center.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

18. Epimedium (Epimedium spp.

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Epimedium, also known as barrenwort or bishop's hat, is a genus of flowering plants in the family Berberidaceae. These perennial herbaceous plants are native to Asia and parts of Europe, where they are valued for their ornamental foliage and delicate flowers.

Epimedium species are popular choices for shaded or partially shaded gardens, as they are well-adapted to low-light conditions and can thrive in various soil types.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

19. Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum)

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The Japanese Painted Fern is a striking and ornamental fern species native to Japan. It is highly prized for its attractive foliage, which features a unique combination of colors and patterns.

It has elegant fronds that emerge in a graceful arching habit. The foliage is characterized by its silver-green coloration, often tinged with shades of purple, burgundy, or red. The fronds are typically triangular and finely divided, giving them a delicate and lacy appearance. Learn how to grow and care for fern plants.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade

20. Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)

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Solomon's Seal is a graceful and versatile perennial plant native to North America, Europe, and Asia. It is part of the Asparagaceae family and is characterized by its arching stems adorned with pairs of dangling, bell-shaped white flowers in spring.

The plant derives its name from the scars left by the withered leaves on the stem, which resemble the ancient seal of King Solomon. They feature alternating, oval-shaped leaves along their stems, which can reach heights of around 1 to 3 feet (.3 to 9 meters) depending on the variety.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade

21. Rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.)

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Rhododendrons (Rhododendron spp.) are a diverse genus of flowering shrubs and small trees that belong to the family Ericaceae. They are known for their stunning clusters of large, showy flowers that come in a wide range of colors, including pink, purple, red, white, and yellow.

Rhododendrons prefer acidic, well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. They thrive in locations with partial shade or filtered sunlight, although some varieties can tolerate full sun with adequate moisture.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade

22. Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)

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Hydrangeas are deciduous or evergreen shrubs with opposite leaves and large, conspicuous flower heads. The flowers can be round or cone-shaped, composed of small, individual florets, and range in color from white and cream to pink, blue, purple, and red, depending on the variety and soil pH.

Hydrangeas thrive in different climates, depending on the species and variety. Most prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial shade, although some species can tolerate full sun with adequate watering. Learn about different types of hydrangea.

  • Shade tolerance: Partial shade

23. Lilyturf (Liriope muscari)

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Native to East Asia, including China, Japan, and Korea, lilyturf has become popular in gardens around the world due to its low maintenance requirements and adaptability to various growing conditions.

Lilyturf features long, slender leaves that resemble grass blades, typically growing in dense clumps. In late summer to early fall, Lilyturf produces spikes of small, bell-shaped flowers in shades of lavender, violet, or white, adding a charming accent to the landscape.

  • Shade tolerance: Full shade to partial shade