Plants for part shade

Perennial Garden Plans for Partial Sun or Shade

A Garden Plan for tricky sun/shade conditions

It’s fairly easy to find the right plants that do well in full sun or full shade situations… but what do you do when your garden is getting a little of both?

My house sits facing Northwest, so the front landscaping doesn’t get sun until later in the afternoon. Because of this, most plants that require “full sun” won’t work in this location. So, I had to pick out perennials that will do well in partial sun/partial shade. If you’re in the same situation, you may benefit from downloading the plan I used!

What do you mean by “full sun”, “full shade”, “partial sun”, “partial shade” etc.?

  • Full sun plants need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight.
  • Partial sun / partial shade plants are pretty much interchangable terms. These plants need between 3-5 hours of sun each day.
    • If a plant is listed as partial sun, it needs several hours of sun to get flowers and fruits, but isn’t as fussy as those with “full sun” needs.
    • If a plant is listed as partial shade, it needs some relief from the intense heat of late afternoon sun.
  • Full shade plants can survive on less than 3 hours of direct sunlight each day, with filtered sunlight during the rest of the day.

In addition to the sun/shade requirements of each plant, it’s useful to know your hardiness zone. The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the standard by which gardeners and growers can determine which plants are most likely to thrive at a location. The map is based on the average annual minimum winter temperature, divided into 10-degree F zones. Knowing your hardiness zone is especially important if you’ll be shopping for your plants online.

The benefits of using pre-planned gardens

The major benefit of using pre-planned gardens, or garden plans, is that you’ll get everything you need to set yourself up for success. Garden plans typically include plant choices, alternative plant options (if you can’t find the primary one), descriptions of your plants, the number of each plant you’ll need and a drawing of the garden plan so you know exactly where to put each plant.

When planning a new garden, talking to/bringing along a friend with some gardening knowledge is the absolute BEST tip I can give you. Using my garden plan and my sister-in-law’s expertise, I was able to pick plants for a beautiful, 4-season garden that suited both my lifestyle and my personality.

Plants for Shady Gardens

All green plants possess chlorophyll where they harness the energy from the sun to make food, grow and flower. Without sufficient light, they will exhibit symptoms like elongated, weak new growth (etiolation) and a lack of flowers. They also become easily infested with pests or succumb to diseases, and eventually waste away.

Shady areas can be problematic for gardeners and horticulturists as there is a limited range of plants to choose from. To complicate the issue further, there are different levels of shade. The amount, duration and intensity of light to sustain plant growth vary from one shady spot to another. Hence it is vital to first know the type of shade experienced at a particular location and then choose the right plant.

Understanding Shade

  • Partial shade refers to an area that receives between 4 and 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. An example would be an apartment corridor or balcony that faces east or west, that is, in the path of the sun.
  • Dappled shade refers to an outdoor location where sunlight streams all day through branches of a tree or palm with a relatively open canopy. It is often described as relatively similar to partial shade.
  • Full shade refers to an area that receives less than 4 hours of direct sun a day and gets only reflected or indirect light all day. This is often encountered in an apartment corridor or balcony that faces a direction that is not in the path of the sun, such as a north- or south-facing location.
  • Dense shade (also called “deep shade”, and “heavy shade”) refers to an area that receives no direct sunlight all day with very little reflected light. Such areas are found inside buildings. No plant can thrive for long under such conditions. It is a misconception to think that plants can survive inside hotel lobbies or shopping centres. Such plant displays are periodically changed to ensure the displays always look good.

A Selection of Plants for Shady Gardens

Parasol Palm (Licuala orbicularis)

The Parasol Palm features almost round leaves with a pleated texture. It is best grown in partial to full shade.

This palm species grows in the understorey of the rainforest, under partial to full shade. It features nearly-round leaves with a pleated texture that are distributed attractively around the plant. This palm looks best when several individuals are grown together in a colony.

This palm is very slow-growing. It can be grown in a pot with moist, friable (easily crumbled) soil mix that is rich in organic matter or in a well-draining location in an outdoor garden. Just note not to grow it in windy locations.


Orchidantha is a slow-growing plant with a lush clump of dark green strap-like leaves. It is one of the few plants capable of growing in dense shade.

Orchidantha is a relatively unknown genus of flowering plants that is distantly related to gingers and bananas. The genus nameOrchidantha means “orchid flower”, as the flowers that are produced near the base of the plant resemble orchids.

Plants from this genus are slow-growing, with lush clumps of dark green strap-like leaves. They are capable of growing in dense shade and can be cultivated in a pot with moist, friable soil mix that is rich in organic matter, or in a well-draining location in an outdoor garden.

Tassel Fern (Huperzia)

Tassel Ferns have pendulous stems that hang gracefully and are excellent for growing on vertical gardens in shady locations. Shown here is the Blue Tassel Fern (Huperzia goebelii).

Several species of the Tassel Fern are now available for purchase in nurseries. The species commonly sold are epiphytic and they are best grown mounted against a well-aerated but moisture-retaining soilless media, such as pine bark.

This plant demands high humidity to thrive and is best protected from wind. It should be placed in a location with partial shade and not be exposed to direct sunlight. Tassel Ferns have pendulous stems that hang gracefully and are excellent candidates for growing on vertical gardens at shady locations.

Shingle Plant (Rhaphidophora korthalsii)

The Shingle Plant is an interesting climber with juvenile, heart-shaped leaves that grow so closely that they almost overlap one another. It prefers a cool and moist surface to climb on, such as a tree trunk or brick wall – give it a large vertical space exposed to partial shade for best results.

Bat Lily (Tacca)

The Bat Lily is an unusual plant with flowers that are somewhat bat-shaped and come with long ‘whiskers’! In nurseries, one may find two species of Bat Lilies, namely, the White Bat Lily (Tacca integrifolia, with white bracts) and the Black Bat Lily (Tacca chantrieri, with black bracts), which is shown above.

This plant grows as a rosette and it should not be buried too deeply as the crowns will rot. It is best grown in partial shade and well-drained soil that is kept moist, but not soggy. High humidity is a must.

Blue Pussyleaf (Nelsonia canescens)

The Blue Pussyleaf can form a dense carpet on the ground and is best grown in a moist location exposed to partial to full shade. It produces white, furry inflorescences.

The Blue Pussyleaf is a plant that features trailing stems which are densely covered with soft hairs. It produces white, furry inflorescences, where tiny white flowers peak out from in between the bracts. Capable of forming a dense carpet, the Blue Pussyleaf is best grown in a moist location exposed to partial to full shade.

Variegated Primrose (Asystasia gangetica ‘Variegata’)

The Variegated Primrose is a ground cover plant with highly ornamental leaves that are splashed with yellow. It can form a dense carpet and is best grown in partialto full shade.

A unique cultivar of the species that rarely flowers, the Variegated Primrose makes up for its lack of flowers by having ornamental leaves that are splashed with yellow. It is a creeper that is capable of forming a dense carpet and is best grown in a moist location exposed to partial to full shade.

By Dr Wilson Wong

Join us at Gardener’s Day Out at HortPark on 8 September 2012 where we have several activities and programmes laid out for you, including a talk on shade plants and terrarium workshop. Visit ourwebsiteor email us [email protected] more information.

Garden Plan for Partial Shade

Though this garden is primarily shady, it flaunts the rules and plants sunloving perennials. Thankfully, most sun-loving plants will tolerate partial shade during part of the day, although they won’t bloom as profusely as they would in the sun. Regardless, they add color under trees and along paths.

Featuring plants of various heights, the border is a showcase for perennials such as daylilies and phlox. It also includes an array of annuals, such as coleus, which boasts splashes of variegated, lacy foliage, and petunias, which furnish nonstop color all season long.

To minimize upkeep, incorporate garden workhorses—shrubs—in a border. They can bloom, provide berries, display interesting foliage and bark, and take up a large amount of space in a bed.

Our free Planting Guide for this garden includes an illustrated version of the plan, a detailed layout diagram, a list of plants for the garden as shown, and complete instructions for installing the garden. (Free, one-time registration allows unlimited access to Planting Guides for all garden plans.)

download this plan

Plant List

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  • 2 Petunia: Annual
  • 2 Heliotrope (Heliotropium arborescens): Annual
  • 1 Sweet potato vine (Ipomoea batatas ‘Blackie’): Zones 9–11; annual elsewhere
  • 4 Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides): Annual
  • 9 Hosta spp.: Zones 3–8
  • 1 Persicaria polymorpha: Zones 3–8
  • 5 Daylily: (Hemerocallis spp.): Zones 3–10
  • 3 Garden phlox: (Phlox paniculata): Zones 3–8
  • 1 Hydrangea arborescens: Zones 4–9
  • 2 Shrub verbena: (Lantana ‘Samantha’): Zones 7–11
  • 2 Asparagus fern: (Asparagus densiflorus): Zones 9–11; annual elsewhere

Design Checklist

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Scale. Make your garden fit its environment. A large home with a small garden appears to loom over the space, making the garden seem even smaller than it is. A small home surrounded by an extensive garden often gets lost in the landscape. The oversize garden also quickly looks overgrown, even if it’s not.

Focal point. Create a focal point to capture attention and give substance to an area. A garden focal point can be as simple as a single large tree or as ornate as a fountain or sculpture. Scale counts here, too. The size and number of focal points in your garden should be proportionate to the space.

Color. To make a statement, plant groups of one color or one variety. For example, a mound of yellow coneflower (Rudbeckia) or a sea of bee balm (Monarda) injects drama into a landscape. There’s strength in numbers.

Texture. Use textures to make your garden perform year-round; don’t rely on color alone. Choose plants with varied leaf sizes; lacy, glossy, dull, and variegated foliage; shapely branches; and interesting bark.

Line. Define your garden’s character (whether formal or casual) by conscious combinations of straight and curving lines. In general, straight lines mean a formal garden, and curving lines create a more relaxed feel.

Repetition. Repeat plants throughout your garden. Spread them out to achieve a balanced look and use their shapes and colors to unify the space.

download this plan


Have you ever located a plant in the absolute wrong place for its needs? Come on; be honest. That sun-loving plant that was mistakenly located in heavy shade, its narrow, leafless, woody stems reaching for sun? Or the shade-loving plant that was just wilting in full sun in the middle of the lawn? These are common rookie mistakes for inexperienced DIYers. Not only is it sad to see a beautiful plant deteriorate but it’s a painful hit to the pocketbook when your plant purchases fade away. Make these gardening goofs a thing of the past with this advice from the pros.

Understand What is Considered Shade

You may see a tag on a plant at a garden center that reads “part to full shade.” What does that mean, exactly? Typically, light shade refers to portions of the yard that get (on average) between five to10 hours of sunlight. In a suburban yard, you’ll often see this right where the trees start to shade the lawn. Grass generally does pretty well in these areas.

Partial shade generally means your plants see less than five hours of sun each day. You’re closer to the trees, and grass gets thinner as the plants are competing with the trees for light, water, and nutrients.

Full shade means your plants receive less than an hour of direct sun, but they may still see some light filtering through the trees. If grass is present, it’s probably thin and patchy and (depending where in the country you are) it may be mixed with moss.

Deep shade means no sun reaches the ground. Think about a forest, or more relatably, the shady side yard between two large homes.

Know What Your Plants Need to Thrive

Most good nurseries and garden centers group plants by their shade or sun needs. After all, plants still have the same needs when they’re in pots as they do in the ground. You can get most information you need right from the tag on the plant, although know that plants may require more shade the farther south you are.

Whether you’re buying from a garden center or you’re trying to work with what you have, local information is the most useful. Besides the tag, your local experts can help you. Your landscape professional, a garden center employee, or a county extension agent or volunteer can help you with proper material selections.

Blend Your Plantings for a Unified Looking Landscape

If part of your yard is sunny and part is shady, you certainly don’t want it to look like there are two totally different landscapes happening with a short distance of one another. There are two ways to tie everything together.

Unifying elements are simple elements can tie disparate areas of your landscape together. These can be natural, like trees or shrubs that tolerate a wide array of shade and sun conditions or they can be offered through hardscape. From a simple stepping stone path, to a cobblestone border, to repeating trellis panels, anything that shows the two spaces are part of a whole can be key for creating a cohesive landscape.

Transition plantings. There are a few shade plants that are extremely intolerant of sun (and vice versa), but there are many more plants that will tolerate a range of conditions. This allows you to have the sunny parts of the beds transition from full sun plants to part sun, to part shade, to full shade. If you echo the shapes and groupings of plants from one type to another, that creates one more unifying element and ties the plantings together!

So there you have it: 1) understand the conditions; 2) pick the right plants; and 3) use good design choices to make the most of your shade and sun areas. Sure, there may still be some trial and error issues but armed with the advice of landscape professionals you have the fundamental tools to help ensure the right plant is assigned the right place in your landscape. For more planting advice and expertise, contact a landscape professional in your area.

Photo courtesy of Lambert Landscape Company, Dallas, TX.

Landscaping in the Shade

Shade provides welcome relief from Florida’s intense sun and heat, but gardening in shade can be challenging. Many landscape plants demand extended periods of full sun to produce well.

Shade shifts daily, seasonally, and over time as trees grow. Carefully analyzing where and when shade occurs in your landscape is an important first step.

Also, recognizing types of shade is important as some kinds of shade are suitable for growing plants while other types are very problematic. For example, many shade-tolerant plants prefer the following conditions:

  • Four or fewer hours of full sun, preferably morning or evening
  • Dappled shade all day
  • High, shifting shade (pine shade)

Examples of difficult shade include the following areas:

  • Dense and dark (no sun)
  • In the shadow of buildings
  • Dominated by tree roots
  • Very wet or dry

Sometimes difficult shade can be improved by lifting or thinning the tree canopy or large shrubs so more sun or indirect light can penetrate. Keep in mind that there are right and (very) wrong ways to prune trees. Rely on a professional, such as an ISA Certified Arborist, to do the job.

Sometimes the best solution for difficult shade is to convert it to an outdoor garden room enhanced by seating, garden art, mulch, hardscape, colorful containers, a water feature, a birdbath, or other focal points.

We’ve listed some plants that do well in shady landscape, but these lists are not exhaustive. Every plant has cultural needs besides light. Make sure to select plants that are suited to your particular landscape.

A few other considerations when growing plants in shade include the following:

  • Areas under tree canopy tend to be warmer, frost-free spots more amenable to cold-tender plants.
  • Digging among the roots of trees and shrubs is difficult, so use smaller plants that don’t need a large planting hole. Water them frequently until they’re established.
  • Fertilizer cannot compensate for inadequate light. It is not a substitute for photosynthesis.
  • Shaded lawns should be mowed higher and receive less fertilizer, water, and traffic.
  • For color in shady areas, use plants that produce light-colored flowers. Dark flowers don’t show up as well.
  • Your local county Extension office can verify the reliability of a plant in your county.

Perennials for the Shade

Some shade loving plants also love the sun, so if your shade shifts, look for plants that adapt, like flax lily. Many shady areas are also dry, so use drought tolerant shade lovers like devil’s backbone. Perennials with white or brightly colored flowers or variegated leaves, such as jewels of opar, will really stand out. Other shade-loving perennials include ferns, crossandra, and gingers, but many more are available.

Also on Gardening Solutions

  • Begonias
  • Blue Ginger
  • Bromeliads
  • Caladiums
  • Crossandra
  • Fabulous Ferns
  • Farfugium (Leopard Plant)
  • Mahonia
  • Oakleaf Hydrangea
  • Ornamental Gingers
  • Peacock Ginger
  • Persian Shield
  • Sanchezia

Groundcovers for Shade

Most varieties of lawngrass won’t thrive in shade, so you’re better off planting a groundcover that’s easy to grow in low-light conditions. Liriope muscari, often called lilyturf or border grass, offer thin grass-like leaves and attractive flowers. Asiatic jasmine is a fast-spreading, densely growing groundcover that will thrive in sun or shade. Remember that unlike turf, groundcovers won’t tolerate foot traffic, so you’ll need to plan for walkways or paths. Read our article, Groundcovers for Shade, for more options.

  • Asiatic Jasmine
  • Border Grasses
  • Cast Iron Plant
  • Groundcovers
  • Groundcovers for Shade
  • Japanese Plum Yew
  • Southern Shield Fern

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