Shade perennials zone 4

Zone 4 Shade Loving Plants – Best Shade Plants For Zone 4 Gardens

It can be hard finding plants that last through the winter in zone 4. It can be just as daunting finding plants that thrive in the shade. If you know where to look, however, your options for zone 4 shade gardening are pretty great. Keep reading to learn more about picking cold hardy plants for a shade garden, particularly shade plants for zone 4.

Zone 4 Shade Gardening

Choosing cold hardy plants for a shade garden need not be a daunting task. There are actually plenty of zone 4 shade-loving plants out there:

Hellebore – Suited to dappled light to heavy shade.

Hosta – Available in hundreds of varieties with varying shade requirements.

Bleeding Heart – Beautiful, signature flowers, partial to full shade.

Japanese Painted Fern – Full shade or some sun if soil is kept moist.

Ajuga – Tolerates full sun to full shade.

Foamflower – Groundcover that prefers partial to heavy shade.

Astilbe – Likes rich, moist soil and full shade.

Siberian Bugloss – Likes partial to heavy shade and moist soil.

Ladybell – Tolerates full sun to moderate shade and produces blue bell-shaped flowers.

Oriental Lily – Tolerates full sun to partial shade. Not quite all varieties are hardy to zone 4.

New England Aster – Tolerates full sun to light shade.

Azalea – Does very well in shade, but only some varieties are hardy to zone 4.

Picking Shade Plants for Zone 4

When planting shade plants for zone 4, it’s important to pay attention to the plants’ needs. Even if a plant is rated for full shade, if it’s languishing, try moving it! See what works best with your climate and your level of shade.

Sun, Shade or Perhaps Something in Between

One of the most basic questions on gardening is whether you are looking for a sun or shade plant, or maybe something in between. This simple idea can be difficult to define if you don’t understand what constitutes full sun, full shade, and partial sun/shade. This article will go over the basics of sun and shade and how to determine which category different areas should be labeled.

Gardening doesn’t have a lot of black and white issues; a lot of having a garden is in understanding the many different shades of gray. How easy it is to put a sun plant where it gets too much shade or a shade plant where it gets too much sun? We think part of the problem is that many people aren’t certain just exactly what constitutes full sun or full shade, much less partial sun or shade.

The rules of thumb we go by are these:

Full Sun is 6 or more hours of direct sun a day

Partial Sun or Partial Shade is 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day

Full Shade is less than 4 hours of direct sun a day

So how can you avoid torturing your sun plants with too much shade and your shade plants with too much sun?

One way is to draw a simple diagram of your garden. Then one day when you have time go out every hour, starting first thing in the morning, and mark which areas have sun or shade. Count the number of hours each area has sun to determine which conditions apply. The angle of the sun will impact how much sunlight each area gets. Northern exposures become much shadier in the winter and southern exposures get much more sun in summer. You may want to ch

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eck the hours of sun each area receives every few months to get a really good feel for the amount of sunlight each area gets as the seasons change.

Full sun plants like bright sunny areas. Many full sun plants will be perfectly happy with sun 14 hours a day, every day. Some plants are happy with sun 14 hours a day, unless it gets hot then they like some afternoon shade (when the sun is hottest.) How do you know which sun plants prefer a bit of a heat break?

If the plant is noted as being great for early spring it is a good bet that it will be happiest with some afternoon shade. Some plants that fall into this category are:

Fruit Punch®

Soprano® & Symphony® Osteospermum

Pure White Butterfly, Vanilla Butterfly®

Plants that are noted as heat and/or drought tolerant are generally pretty tolerant of even hot afternoon sun. Plants in this category include:

‘Tuscan Sun’




Flambé® Chrysocephalum

Partial sun and partial shade are probably the most confusing category. The two terms are fairly interchangeable. These plants prefer 4 to 6 hours of sun a day and would be happiest getting their sun mostly in the morning and/or evening with shade through the middle of the day. If a plant is called partial sun the emphasis is on making sure the plant gets at least 4 hours of sun a day. If a plant is called partial shade then greater emphasis is placed on the plant not getting more than 6 hours of direct sun.

You may also see the term Dappled Shade. Dappled shade refers to areas where there is a mixture of sun and shade, generally because a deciduous tree is nearby. Dappled shade is similar to partial shade. Plants in this category are often woodland plants and will do best with little full sun (even morning or evening sun). These plants thrive in sun that has been filtered by trees:

New Guinea
‘Bottle Rocket’
‘Jade Peacock’

Full shade plants prefer to get little direct sun. They like less than 4 hours of direct sun a day and prefer morning and evening sun to mid-day sun. Full shade plants should also do outstanding in dappled shade conditions. An area that will be shaded by a fence or wall will need to get several hours of sun in either morning or evening for plants to do well. Full shade does not refer to dark places. All plants need at least some light.

Hosta series
Fun and Games™

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The best shade-loving plants

Shade can be difficult if your heart is set on growing summer bedding, fruit and veg, or Mediterranean plants, which need direct sun to flourish. But there are plenty of beautiful plants which thrive in shady conditions.


Many people imagine that the only way to tackle a shady patch is to turn it into a foliage garden filled with box, ivies and ferns. But too many dark greens can make a shady area look gloomy. Instead, use them for background structure and texture, then bring the area alive by making use of pale, pastel colours. White, cream, pale yellow, lilac, light mauve and pale pink show up best. Add variegated plants for splashes of cream, yellow and white.

There are various degrees of shade. Light shade means slight shade for all or most of the day; partial shade means plants are in sun for some of the day; dappled shade is blotchy shade created when the sun filters through overhead foliage.

For shady places with dry or damp soil it pays to be selective – some plants thrive in these conditions. You can even find plants that suit really difficult situations such as shady watersides or areas under large trees whose roots suck all the moisture out of the ground in summer. If you have borders of moist but well-drained and humus-rich soil in light shade, you can grow choice woodland plants which need exactly these conditions.

More shade content:

  • Evergreen plants for shade
  • Tips for planting in shade
  • Five tips for raising seedlings in shade

Find plants to suit your conditions, with the help of our recommendations, below:

There are plenty of beautiful plants which thrive in shady conditions.

Deep or full shade

Snowdrops (Galanthus nivalis)

There are plants that will grow in the darkest of corners, such as butcher’s broom, Iris foetidissima, wood spurge and spring bulbs such as snowdrops (pictured) and winter aconites. Discover more plants for full shade.

Light, partial and dappled shade

Brunnera flowers

Many popular border plants, such as campanula, stachys and golden rod, grow happily in both sun and light shade. Some plants actually prefer shady conditions. These include aquilegia, foxglove, bleeding heart, pulmonaria and brunnera (pictured). Discover six plants for dappled shade.

Dry shade

Sweet rocket (Hesperis matrionalis)

Dry shade is often caused by trees, which suck moisture out of the soil. Suitable plants include: lords and ladies, barrenwort, cranesbill geraniums, hellebores, astrantia, ivy, cyclamen, Viola labradorica and sweet rocket. Discover 20 plants for dry shade.

Damp shade

Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos)

Plants that will grow in these conditions typically suit boggy areas, at the edges of ponds and rivers. These include bleeding heart (pictured), monarda, astilbe, actaea, Solomon’s seal, toad lily, Himalayan blue poppy and heuchera. Read more about flowers for damp shade and foliage plants for damp shade.

Lift the crown

If trees or large shrubs are casting more shade than is desired, you don’t need to get rid of them completely. Instead, consider lifting the crown of the plant by removing the lowest branches on the plant.


Top 10 plants for shade

Make sure you choose plants that thrive in shade and it might just become the favourite part of your garden. Here are our Top 10 plants for shade in the garden.

Top 10 plants for shade

Anemone ‘Honorine Jobert’

This is a vigorous perennial plant that flowers at the end of summer. The flowers appear on the end of long, wispy stems, creating a higgledy-piggledy display that works very well in an informal cottage garden style border. This plant will spread quickly. You can dig up and divide the plant in spring after the leaves appear to consolidate the amount of space it takes up. Height: 1m

Top 10 plants for shade

Vinca minor

In a sheltered, shady position, this evergreen ground cover plant can flower all through the year. It spreads well without becoming a nuisance and is suitable for any type of soil. A plant that you can plant and just leave to get on with it, provided it is not allowed to dry out in its first summer. There are variegated forms such as ‘Illumination’ and ‘Argenteovariegata’ if you want a plant with two colours on the leaves. Height: 20cm

Top 10 plants for shade

Heuchera ‘Green Spice’

Amid the many different heucheras available if can be difficult to know which one to choose. This is a great choice for adding some finesse to a shady corner. A super mix of silver, purple and an unusual dusky green, it will add intricacy and detail to a shady place. It will look like this nearly all year. Leaves may spoil in wet periods in winter but new ones will emerge in spring and the old ones can be trimmed off. Height: 20cm

Top 10 plants for shade

Geranium phaeum ‘Lily Lovell’

Hardy geraniums are synonymous with summer but this one is an early flowerer and will be in bloom in spring. It shows graceful darkest purple blooms, which are larger than those of many hardy geraniums. The flowers are borne on long spikes amid finely cut foliage. A plant with a touch of class. Height: 1m

Top 10 plants for shade

Rose ‘Charles de Mills’

A deliciously scented old-fashioned rose; this is perfect for adding some charm to an area of dappled shade. The petals are very stiff and the flowers almost indestructible, holding their shape and colour well in wet weather. This rose only produces one flush of flowers so it is a luxury in the garden but if you have the space for it you won’t be disappointed. It grows to 1.5m tall and is largely untroubled by diseases.

Top 10 plants for shade

Astilbe ‘Amethyst’

This perennial is the perfect choice if you have boggy, heavy soil and growing it in a shady spot keeps the leaves fresh, green and vibrant. In early summer it displays soft, pink flowers that resemble a feather duster! If exposed to full sun and dry conditions, the leaves can spoil and become brown and ‘crispy’ at the edges. Height: 1m

Top 10 plants for shade

Aster novae-angliae

Known as New England asters, these autumn flowering perennials will light up a semi-shaded spot, providing some welcome late colour. These asters (re-named symphyotrichum from aster but we are sticking with the well-known, easy to pronounce name) are more mildew-resistant than varieties of Aster novi-belgii (New York asters). There are forms in a range of soft shades, from light ‘Harrington’s Pink’ to the lilac ‘Purple Dome’. Height: from 60cm

Top 10 plants for shade

Meconopsis cambrica

The Welsh poppy is a splendid plant for adding a touch of cheerfulness to the edges of paths and borders. Try planting it at the extremity of a woodland border where conditions are damp and shady and it will seed around and create a natural display of colour through the summer. Height: 50cm

Top 10 plants for shade

Skimmia japonica ‘Rubella’

An evergreen shrub that helps to light up a shady part of the garden in winter and spring. It needs to be grown in acid soil or in containers of ericaceous compost (ideally mixed with equal parts lime-free John Innes compost). ‘Rubella’ is covered in rich red buds from winter to spring, before unveiling clusters of pretty white flowers that have a strong, sweet scent. Height: 75cm

Top 10 plants for shade

Cyclamen hederifolium

This cyclamen flowers at the end of summer, with light pink blooms appearing before the marbled leaves, which sprout in autumn. This adds welcome fresh foliage to the garden in autumn and winter when the leaves of many perennials has died back and evergreen foliage has lost its initial spring lustre. Height: 15cm

Did you enjoy reading about our Top 10 Plants for Shade? To read another Top 10 plant list, click here

Looking for more expert advice? See our 10 top plants for acid soil.

More Information About Shade Perennials

We have hundreds of the best flowering perennials for shade! If you garden in the partial sun of a dappled woodland garden, or on the north or east side of a building then you need shade loving perennials for your garden. We have a huge selection of shade tolerant flowers and we have sifted through our massive catalog of plants to create this mini-catalog of the best shade loving flowers for your garden.

Below are several top-10 lists of the best perennials for shade to help you find exactly what you need.

Top 10 perennial flowers that grow in shade

In shade gardens, light colored flowers stand out really well. We recommend white perennial flowers for shade, or pale yellow or pink.

  1. Calanthe – small orchid flowers that like shade
  2. Cypripedium – ladyslipper orchids are highly sought after partial shade flowers
  3. Dicentra – bleeding hearts are quintessential shade loving plants
  4. Edgeworthia – fragrant winter flowering plants for shade
  5. Epimedium – Fairy wings are colorful shade plants for early spring…both in leaf and flower
  6. Gloxinia – intensely red summer flowers are some of the best flowers for shade
  7. Helleborus – long bloom period in winter makes lenten rose one of the best best shade perennials
  8. Iris – shade iris have smaller blooms than their sun counterparts, but are more intricate in design
  9. Lycoris – partial shade perennials for a late summer flower show
  10. Paeonia – woodland peonies produce very large flowers for shaded areas

Top 10 foliage plants that grow in shade

Light colored leaves also work well as shade garden plants, especially when they can stand out against surrounding dark green foliage. We recommend for the woodland garden, shade perennials with colorful silver foliage or shade tolerant plants with yellow foliage

  1. Acorus – fragrant chartreuse leaves for shade. A medicinal herb too.
  2. Brunnera – very drought tolerant plants that like shade
  3. Carex – grass-like plants for shade garden
  4. Cyclamen – a dwarf shade plant with variegated, heart-shaped leaves
  5. Farfugium – similar in form to a hosta but with glossier leaves and a fall bloom in the woodland garden
  6. Ferns – must have perennial plants for shade for texture, form, and color
  7. Hosta – hand down, the best shade plants
  8. Polygonatum – these tall shade perennials have an upright habit to balance out clumping plants
  9. Pulmonaria – silver foliage topped with blue or pink flowers make lungwort one of the best shade plants
  10. Zingiber – tall shade plants with large tropical leaves with a mild ginger scent

Top 10 shade tolerant plants for texture

When gardening with plants for shade, don’t forget about texture either. Shade tolerant ferns offer a very fine texture to balance with the coarse texture of other shade tolerant perennials

  1. Adiantum – very tough and adaptable ferns for shade with a unique frond shape
  2. Alocasia – tall shade perennials with large shiny leaves
  3. Amorphophallus – bizarre tall shade plants with incredible leaf forms and flowers in the woodland garden
  4. Arisaema – jack-in-the-pulpit produces candy-striped, tall, purple and white flowers for shade
  5. Athyrium – lady fern features a feather-plume-like textured leaf
  6. Helleborus – leathery, hand-shaped, leaves on this shade plant
  7. Hosta – shade perennials that form elegant mounds in the woodland garden
  8. Onychium – very fine textured fronds on this shade fern
  9. Polygonatum – tall shade perennials whose leaves look like a staircase
  10. Zingiber – large, tropical leaves with a mild ginger scent

Top 10 native full shade perennials

When gardening with plants for shade, don’t forget about texture either. Shade tolerant ferns offer a very fine texture to balance with the coarse texture of shade tolerant perennials

  1. Anemonella thalictroides – charming little button-like flowers on these flowering shade perennials
  2. Chrysogonum – yellow flowers and a groundcover habit for the shade flower garden
  3. Cimicifuga – tall spiky white flowers for shade garden
  4. Heuchera – a wide variety of foliage colors, and a mounding habit on these perennial shade plants
  5. Illicium parviflorum – the chartreuse-leaved forms make very colorful shade plants
  6. Sanguinaria – lovely white flowers and a long history of medicinal use make bloodroot popular flowering shade plants
  7. Iris cristata – Intricate and beautiful flowers for the woodland garden
  8. Onoclea sensibilis – moisture loving ferns for shade
  9. Cardamine – a spring ephemeral with powder blue perennial shade flowers
  10. Phlox divaricata – shade loving perennial flowers with light blue blooms in early spring

Top 10 evergreen shade perennials

  1. Acorus – chartreuse leaves with a pleasant herbal scent make Acorus a great plant for the perennial garden
  2. Asarum – leathery, heart-shaped leaves that are frequently variegated with silver veins are great woodland garden plants
  3. Carex – grassy mounds with variegated leaves…better than liriope for the woodland garden
  4. Danae – a dwarf shrub with orange berries that tolerates dry shade
  5. Fatsia – large, hand-shaped leaves and cool, white, alien flowers
  6. Helleborus – leathery, hand-shaped, leaves on this shade plant
  7. Ophiopogon – black mondo grass looks great growing next to silvery shade plants
  8. Pulmonaria – fuzzy leaves with wonderful silver variegation
  9. Ruscus – dwarf shrubs with small pointed leaves and red berries…these are excellent drought tolerant plants for shady areas
  10. Sarcococca – glossy green leaves with fragrant white flowers for shady areas

You can also narrow down your list of shade tolerant plants by special water needs: Shop for Dry Shade, or Wet Shade flowering plants here. Or you can narrow down your shopping list by plant type: Ferns for Shade, Grasses for Shade

To learn more about the best plants for shade check out our article entitled ‘Gardening in the Shade’ that describes many cool shade plants and perennial flowers and also take a peek at our short articles: Create a Woodland Garden with Flowers for Shade, and Full shade flowers.

Also, check out our many shady blog posts about shade plants and flowers and woodland gardens.

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