Choosing Shade Perennials that will Thrive with Little to No Sun

While some gardeners complain about not having enough space to expand a garden to its fullest potential, many gardeners have plenty of space, but not enough sunshine to go around. When a tag on a plant states “Full Sun,” the plant’s success will depend on more than 6 hours of sunshine. Less than that and what you get won’t resemble the plant you’re expecting. Leggy, few blooms, smaller than expected…a plant that requires sunshine planted where it doesn’t receive enough will surely disappoint. Rather than face the frustration, if your garden offers a mere 2 to 4 hours of sunshine, or if you are trying to fill in ground beneath shade trees or beside fencing, choose perennial plants that will flourish in little to no sunlight. Surprisingly, there are many from which to choose!

Old Stand-Bys

The two most popular shade plants – popular because they won’t disappoint – are hosta and astilbe. Both come in many different colors, both have interesting textural foliage and both will hold their own in the beauty department, even without an abundance of sunshine. Astilbe’s blooms look like fuzzy plumes and its foliage resembles ferns. It is available in white, maroon, pink and peach. Hosta are very happy campers even in practically no sunlight at all. And they show their happiness two ways: by growing very large (can get to several feet across) and spreading. Hosta varieties include solid green, green and yellow, green and white, bluish green and even flower in mid-summer, producing white or blue blooms.

Shade-Loving Ground Cover

Deadnettle, or, lamium is a great bang-for-your-buck ground cover that will thrive in the shade. Many varieties offer leaves that are attractive for their silver sheen, and come in purple, pink and white. Lily of the Valley is attractive to fill in the space under shade trees. It produces fragrant white flowers in early spring and its leaves remain green throughout the summer. Wild ginger does not produce blooms, but will spread its glossy dark green leaves over a shady spot, looking very attractive and not missing sunshine one bit. Ajuga comes in many varieties, is an avid spreader and produces leaves in colors from burgundy to pale yellow and green. It flowers in late spring, but is a good choice for ground cover.

Color Me Shady

If it’s color you are looking for in your shade garden, and you’re tired of astilbe, there are still many contenders. Bleeding heart is an early spring bloomer. Its unique red or pink and white blooms are often the first sign of spring, from their shady garden corner. Lungwort (Pulmonaria) is a powerful flowering shade plant, despite its off-putting name. Its flowers are blue, purple, pink – and sometimes all at the same time! Brunnera is a popular shade plant for color, producing an abundance of forget-me-not-like blue blooms above attractive striated leaves. Once the flowers are spent, the leaves continue to add interest.

Columbine is a shade-garden favorite, coming in almost every color imaginable. They re-seed themselves each year. They appreciate good drainage and are happy with a bit of morning sun. Foamflower is a unique shade-loving perennial. Its flowers are white and feathery and once gone, the mounding foliage continues to fill in the garden throughout the summer. Final mention goes to hellebore, or Lenten Rose, because it flowers during the Lenten season. Extremely hearty, available in many different colors, it is early blooming, its blooms are long-lasting, and its leaves are evergreen. But careful: the ASPCA considers the hellebore toxic to pets.