Plants for full shade

Dense Shade In Gardens: Exactly What Is Full Shade

Contrary to what many people think, there are numerous plants that thrive in full shade. These plants are typically defined as those that require only reflected, indirect light but not exposure to full sun. Full sun will often scorch these plants. But exactly what is full shade and how do you gauge full shade density? Keep reading to find out more.

What is Full Shade?

Full shade and full sun are the easiest of light categories to interpret when it comes to growing plants. Full shade basically means that the shade lasts all day long. Very little, if any, direct sunlight hits the plant at any time of the day.

Sunnier areas of the yard or light-colored walls may reflect some sunlight into the shaded area; however, none of this is direct sunlight. Dense shade in gardens is also referred to as full shade but usually under an overhang or canopy of thick trees or vegetation with dense leaf coverage. Full shade density can also be found under patios, decks or other garden structures.

Plants for Full Shade

Plants for full shade don’t generally display the brilliant colors of those that receive full sunlight; however, there are many interesting and attractive options to choose from.

One of the biggest challenges to shade gardening is to make sure that the soil is well augmented. Shady areas may already be occupied with other vegetation, such as trees or bushes, that draw a great deal of nutrients from the soil. Roots also make it difficult to plant at times. There are many woodland species of plants that are quite happy to share the earth with other trees and shrubs; however, adding some organic compost will help make planting easier.

Variegated or lightly colored leaves such as creams, whites, yellows and pinks add color and interest to densely shaded garden areas. If you wish to use deeper colors such as reds, blues and purples, set them off with lighter color plants.

It is also important to remember that light patterns vary depending on the season, so keep this in mind when choosing plants for shade. Watch your garden throughout the year and make notes as to the amount of sun and shade that each part receives during each month or season.

Six plants for full shade

Almost all of us have an area of full shade in the garden. Far from being a problem, deep shade provides the opportunity to grow a huge and diverse range of plants that relish it.

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Read more about the different types of garden shade.

Found under evergreen trees and hedges, and at the base of north-facing walls, fences and buildings, deep shade can be brightened by plants with different foliage colours, shapes and textures.

The shade you have could be dry or damp, depending on where it is. For example, shade at the foot of walls tends to be drier as it’s often in a rain shadow. Luckily, there are plenty of plants suited to dry shade and damp shade, too.

More plants for shade content:

  • Evergreen plants for shade
  • Five tips for sowing seeds in shade
  • 11 wildflowers for shade

We’ve picked six of the best plants for growing in full shade, for attractive foliage and flowers.

Far from being a problem, deep shade provides the opportunity to grow a huge and diverse range of plants that relish it. 1

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae

Euphorbia foliage

Euphorbia amygdaloides var. robbiae has lime-green spring flowers and glossy, evergreen foliage, giving this plant a long season of interest. It is the perfect plant for dark areas of dry shade. Flowers April to June.

Height × spread: 70cm × 1m.

2

Dryopteris wallichiana

Graceful bronze and green dryopteris fronds

Ferns are quite at home in shade and tall Dryopteris wallichiana is evergreen in all but the hardest winter weather. The subtle bronze of new fronds in spring turn dark green in summer. There are so many ferns to grow in full shade, so don’t let this be the only one you try. Flowers June to July.

H × S: 90cm × 90cm.

3

Beesia calthifolia

Starry white beesia flowers

Beesia calthifolia is evergreen, with prominently veined glossy leaves that are bronze when they emerge and stiff upright stems with white, starry flowers. A beautiful foliage plant for deep shade. Flowers April to June.

H × S: 30cm × 30cm.

4

Milium effusum ‘Aureum’

Pale, curling milium foliage

A soft, leafy woodland grass, Milium effusum ‘Aureum’ is well suited to growing in deep shade, and the golden foliage and sprays of tiny flowers provide a bright splash of summer sunshine. Try combining with other shade-lovers to create a milium, hosta and astilbe container display. Foliage spring to autumn.

H × S: 50cm × 50cm.

5

Hosta ‘El Niño Green’

White-edged, deep-green hosta leaves

Hostas are indispensable in deep shade. The white leaf edges on ‘El Niño Green’ will gleam out from dark borders. It produces spikes of pale lilac, bell-like flowers in summer. There are a huge range of other hosta cultivars to grow, too. Flowers June.

H × S: 50cm × 60cm.

6

Epimedium x youngianum ‘Niveum’

Pink flowers and oval leaves of epimedium

Epimediums are robust shade-lovers that spread quickly, covering the ground with their low, leathery foliage. Above the leaves rise airy clouds of tiny flowers. Other cultivars to grow include the buttery yellow-flowered ‘Amber Queen’ and the white and yellow-bloomed ‘Wudang Star’. Flowers April to May.

H × S: 30cm × 30cm.

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Planting in shade

Before planting any plant, it’s worth improving the soil first. Read our five tips for planting in shade.

White bell flowers and lush foliage of lily of the valley

More plants for deep shade

  • Hart’s tongue fern, Asplenium scolopendrium
  • Japanese shield fern, Dryopteris erythrosora
  • Lily of the valley, Convallaria majalis
  • Lilyturf, Liriope muscari
  • Pachysandra terminalis
  • Shuttlecock fern, Matteuccia struthiopteris
  • Wake robin, Trillium grandiflorum


Your perennial bed receives a few hours of morning sun, but shade during the rest of the day. So, should you consider plants that require shade, partial shade, or partial sun conditions?

Gardeners understand that different plants require different degrees of shade ranging from dense shade to dappled or partial shade. However, shade is a concept which can have a multitude of meanings when used by gardeners. For one gardener, shade may describe the dimly lit area in the Southeast corner of the home landscape where that towering live oak grows and which is bounded by a six-foot tall wood fence. For another gardener, shade may describe the bright but non-sunny spot on the north side of the home. What one gardener might consider to be light shade conditions, may in fact refer to partial shade conditions as described in the nursery drawing trade.

The following provides a description of various light conditions (and other descriptive names) ranging from full sun to dense shade:

FULL SUN: Direct sunlight on plant all day

LIGHT SHADE: (Also called “Thin, Filtered Shade”)

10:00 a.m. —- 6:00 p.m. In summer when sun is most intense, there is either:

A. 2-3 hours without direct sunlight on plant

– – OR – –

B. a slight, light pattern of shade all the time (or there is shade through young trees or shade through open-canopy trees).

PARTIAL SHADE: (Also called “Dappled Shade”, “Half Shade”, “Medium Shade”, and “Semi-Shade”)

10:00 a.m. —- 6:00 p.m. In summer when sun is most intense, there is either:

A. 4-5 hours without direct sunlight on plant

– – OR – –

B. a defined dappled pattern of equal sun & shade all the time under trees whose leaves let sunlight through all day in a changing pattern (dappled shade).

FULL SHADE: Shade all day. Under Full Shade conditions, plants do not receive any direct exposure to the sun. Under such growing conditions, plants receive only reflected, indirect light.

DENSE SHADE: (Also called “Deep Shade”, and “Heavy Shade”) No direct sunlight all day with very little reflected, indirect light.

Examples: Shade under large, fully mature evergreens; shade under raised decks; shade under large trees with dense canopies, such as live oaks.

In order to successfully garden under shade conditions, it is important that you analyze and understand the type or types of light conditions under which your plants will be growing. Hence, all of the above considerations should be taken into account in order to provide optimum growing conditions for what you intend to grow in your shade garden.

Do you have a shaded area in your yard that it seems like nothing will grow?

I feel your pain because I have the same problem spots in my yard. But don’t worry because today I am going to bring you a list of plants that will grow in the shade.

It is my hope that after you read this list, you’ll get a few ideas on what you can plant in those trouble spots to still bring beauty to your yard even in the shade.

So let’s get started—

1. Coral Bells

This is a beautiful flowering plant that is actually a perennial. They grow in the shade and are known for their ease.

Apparently, they are easy to grow and require very little maintenance from that point forward.

So if you want something that could add a splash of color and come back year after year then this might be the plant you’ve always wanted.

2. Dead Nettle

This is another perennial that is meant to add beautiful colors and foliage to your shaded garden spots.

Now, the only thing that may make this choice less than perfect for some is that it is used as a ground cover.

So it will make roots and run. If you don’t want something running through your yard (though colorful and pretty) then you might want to choose a different option.

3. Foam Flower

I love the name of this flower. Doesn’t it just sound interesting?

Well, it is a beautiful perennial flower. This one is not a ground cover. Instead, it has lots of individual blooms on one stem.

The appearance is not only unique but colorful as well.

So if you are looking for a splash of color to add to your shady spot then this might be a good option.

4. Lungwort

This is another very interesting plant. It actually gets its name because long ago people believed it looked like a lung and actually tried to treat lung diseases with it.

Unfortunately, the plant didn’t have any real medicinal powers but the name stuck with it regardless.

However, this plant is a perennial and another one that can take off and run as well. It grows in batches so if you aren’t looking for a ground cover type plant then this might not be a good choice.

But it is one of the few plants that can be planted around trees and withstand the toxic effects of the Black Walnut tree.

5. Astilbe

This perennial is a beautiful flower that loves the shade. It also brings along a special quality when planted.

So if you are a butterfly lover then this plant is for you. When you plant these flowers, they draw them which is a great addition to any yard or flower garden.

6. Foxglove

Foxgloves are undecided in the perennial and annual department. The same plant will not come back year after year.

But they do reseed themselves which makes them come back year after year.

So if you need a plant that will come back each year and provide lots of beautiful colors then Foxgloves are for you.

7. Japanese Forest Grass

This is an interesting plant. It is a perennial so you should only have to plant it once.

But it isn’t extremely colorful by any means. However, it looks like a little pom-pom made of grass.

So if you are looking for something to add a finishing touch to a shaded area without adding a rainbow of color then this is a good option.

To make sure your Japanese Forest Grass is thriving, you might want to give it the best fertilizer.

8. Primrose

A primrose can be either an annual or a perennial flower.

So if you try them out and decide they aren’t for you then they don’t have to be a permanent fixture.

But after you see their bright colors and good temperament towards cold weather, you may decide to keep them around.

9. Spurge

Spurge is another that can be a perennial or an annual depending upon where you live. If you live in the frost-free zone then it will stay year round.

However, if you live in a colder area then it is an annual. Regardless, it is a beautiful flower that can add lots of life to a shaded space.

So if you are looking for a plant that won’t add a rainbow effect but still add a splash of color to your shaded areas then you might want to consider spurge.

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Plants for Shade 

There are lots of plants that love a sheltered and shady spot in the garden.
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Most gardeners have at least one dark or shady spot in their garden. Shade can be difficult for plants as it creates a cool environment and is often coupled with extremes of dry or very damp soil. However, there are plenty of plants that tolerate these low-light conditions so it doesn’t need to remain bare for long.

Top tips for designing a shady garden

Light gravel instantly brightens a shady corner.
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Shady corners needn’t be left bare. Here are some of our top tips to help you make the most of this space.

  • • Provide more light: Got a tree that’s casting shade? Try removing the bottom layer of branches to raise the canopy and allow more light through.
  • • Brighten up the area: Pale stones, gravel, paving slabs or even outdoor mirrors reflect light and immediately lift the look of a gloomy area. A pond or water feature is also a good way to reflect light and create interest. Painting walls, sheds or fences with a pale colour also brightens the space.
  • • Choose wisely: Use plants with light or colourful foliage and flowers to lift your planting scheme. These will stand out in a shady area.
  • • Use texture: Make the area more eye-catching by incorporating different leaf shapes such as ferns, hostas and grasses with your flowering plants.
  • • Lawn type: If you want a lawn, make sure you choose a seed mix or turf that’s suitable for shady areas.

Types of shade

A garden under a tree canopy is likely to be in “dappled shade”.
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In order to grow plants that thrive in the shade, you need to choose one that is suitable for your particular conditions. In short: you need to understand the type of shade in your garden.

At the top of the list, there’s “full sun”, which is just what you’d imagine – a spot in the garden that gets more than six hours of sun during the day (at midsummer). This moves down through:

  • • light shade (open to the sky, but not getting direct sunlight)
  • • semi-shade (some direct sun at midsummer)
  • • dappled shade (diffused light, such as the kind that comes through a canopy)
  • • moderate shade
  • • deep shade (under dense tree cover)

In addition to the amount of shade your garden gets, you’ll also need to think about whether the ground is dry or wet in order to choose the best plants.

How to deal with dry shade

Coloured wood chips make a good mulch for areas of dry shade.
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Dry shade often occurs in urban gardens. Usually, it’s the kind of shade found at the base of walls that face away from the direction of the wind, meaning the ground is sheltered from the rain. Dry shade also occurs beneath large trees with shallow roots. The leaves prevent rain reaching the ground and the soil moisture is further depleted by the shallow root system of the tree. These problems may be further exacerbated if your soil is sandy or shallow and chalky.

The most important thing to do before planting is to improve your soil’s ability to hold water. You can do this by digging in lots of organic matter (such as well-rotted manure or compost) during the spring or autumn. It’s also worth adding mulch around the base of your plants after the soil is damp from seasonal rainfall (also in the spring and autumn). Suitable mulches include organic matter, decorative stones, gravel or bark chippings.

Another trick is to create a wide planting hole and line it with perforated polythene. Mix the excavated soil with well-rotted manure or compost before backfilling the hole. The polythene should help retain more water for your plants. Remember that new plants won’t have an established root system so will need constant watering in their first season.

How to deal with damp shade

Damp shade is often found in woodland, or in gardens near water.
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Damp shade naturally occurs in areas of woodland or forest where the cool, moist environment is ideal for foliage plants such as ferns and hostas. In gardens, these conditions may occur near water or in areas with clay soil.

As with dry shade, the most important thing to do before planting is to improve your soil by digging in plenty of organic matter, such as well-rotted manure or compost. This will improve drainage, which is particularly helpful if you have heavy clay soil. It’s also worth applying a mulch of organic matter around the base of your plants every year in the spring. This will break down over time and further improve your soil structure.

Best shrubs for shade

Clematis is a good choice for growing up a shady wall.
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There are lots of shrubs that grow equally well in areas of dry or damp shade including Mahonia, the non-fussy Symphoricarpus (Snowberry), Viburnum and Sarcococca (Sweet Box).

For dry shade, you can plant:

  • • Cotoneaster horizontalis – a deciduous, resilient choice
  • • Pyracantha (Firethorn) is another hardy choice
  • • Eleagnus x ebbingei (Oleaster)
  • • Garrya elliptica (Silk-tassel bush)
  • • Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort/Aaron’s Beard)
  • • Osmanthus delavayi
  • • Chaenomeles x superba (Japanese Quince)

For damp shade, you can plant:

  • • Aucuba
  • • Buxus sempervirens (Common Box)
  • • Camellia
  • • Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)
  • • Hydrangea
  • • Skimmia japonica

Best climbing plants for shade

Some varieties of Virginia Creeper thrive in shade and provide stunning autumn colour.
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Climbers aren’t well-suited to shade, per se, but there are some that can be used, including several varieties of clematis, like the Clematis armandii. Some of these will require support wires or a trellis in order to climb whereas others naturally cling to a surface, like Hedera helix (ivy).

If you’re looking for something that can handle areas of deeper, dry shade, Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper) is a fantastic choice. The ‘Troki Red Wall’ variety is a particularly popular low maintenance option: leafy, rich, green vines appear quickly in the spring and turning a deep, rich red at the end of summer. The tough and evergreen Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper) and even some varieties of Honeysuckle can also handle dry shade.

Ivy, climbing hydrangeas such as Hydrangea petiolaris and Akebia quinata (Chocolate Vine), meanwhile, are happier in damp shade.

Best bulbs for shade

Bluebells are a beautiful addition to any garden, growing well in areas of shade.
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As you’ll no doubt be aware from woodland walks, there are some bulbs, like English Bluebells and Snowdrops that burst to life in areas of shade. While common in the woods, they work just as well in gardens with varying degrees of dry shade, as do some varieties of Cyclamens and Anemones.

If yours is a garden with damp shade, never fear. The astonishing hardy perennial, Cardiocrinum (Giant Lily), will grow well (much to the delight of pollinating insects), along with Eranthis (Winter Aconite). In addition to being a virtually zero-maintenance addition to your garden, Eranthis is a fantastic springtime partner to Snowdrops and Bluebells, creating a carpet of pretty yellow flowers.

Best annuals and biennials for shade

Foxgloves love shade and attract wildlife.
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Digitalis purpurea (Foxgloves) and Lunaria annua (Honesty) are both stunning additions to any garden that prosper in areas of dry shade. Both plants are nectar-rich, attracting lots of wildlife, and easy to grow. Honesty is even self-seeding.

If your garden is a little more damp, the best things to grow for a pop of colour are:

  • • Begonias
  • • Busy Lizzies
  • • Mimulus
  • • Pansies

Best perennials for shade

Hostas are perennials that are well-suited to shade.
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Perennials do particularly well in the shade, and you’ll find a huge variety for darker areas of your garden. Some, like Bergenia cordifolia (Elephant’s Ears) and Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley) work equally well in damp or dry shade. Some you’ll need to pick according to the conditions in your garden.

For dry shade, you can plant:

  • • Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  • • Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss)
  • • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • • Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)
  • • Euphorbia amygdaloides (Wood Spurge)

For damp shade, you can plant:

  • • Astilbe (False Goat’s Beard)
  • • Astrantia major (Hattie’s Pincushion)
  • • Carex flagellifera (Sedge)
  • • Geranium sylvaticum (Wood Cranesbill)
  • • Hosta (Plantain Lily)
  • • Ligustrum ovalifolium ‘Aureum’ (Golden Privet), which can handle even deep shade
  • • Primula (Primrose)
  • • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • • Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)
  • • Uvularia grandiflora (Large Merrybells)

Best vegetables for shady gardens

Climbing beans will grow towards the light.
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Many edible plants can be grown in partial shade. Although deep shade won’t yield good results, some plants actually perform better with some shelter from intense heat and sunlight.

One thing to keep in mind is that while many fruiting plants are happy to grow in shady conditions, they will often produce a lower yield of fruit. But there are ways around this. For example, if a garden fence is casting the shade, make the most of it and grow climbing beans (which will grow towards the light) against it.

Fruit, such as strawberries, gooseberries, and rhubarb can be grown in shady spots, as well as a wide variety of herbs, including mint, parsley, lovage and chervil.

There’s an even longer list of vegetables that suit shady gardening, including:

  • • Peas
  • • Parsnips and carrots
  • • Beetroot
  • • Radishes
  • • Lettuce and Salad Leaves
  • • Spinach
  • • Swiss Chard
  • • Cabbage
  • • Cauliflower
  • • Kale
  • • Broccoli
  • • Mushrooms

We hope we’ve given you plenty of ideas for making the most of your garden’s shady spot. Happy planting!

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