10 Shade Loving Perennials - You Can Enjoy Full Shade Perennials in Your Backyard Garden

Part of the You Can Learn Landscaping and Gardening series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, YouCanLearnSeries.com
March 14, 2008

Are you looking for some summer color in an area of your yard that gets Full Shade? Many gardeners have a north facing section of their garden that receives little to no sun and is in shade all year long. We all want to have flowers in this spot, but we don't want them to die. What can we do? What shade loving perennials will handle the lack of direct sun and the extra moist conditions in this environment?

Ten Perennials for Shady Garden Areas

Here is a list of 10 perennials that I have in my yard that receive no sun or partial sun all day long during those hot dry days of summer in Illinois. Each of these go well with the others. They require little water each week and will look great from late spring to late fall.

For the back of your full shade garden place Variegated Fallopia. The fallopia works well in the shade. In the spring it will pop its head out of the ground and has light, almost white leaves. But as the summer progresses the leaves begin to turn green and white. In late summer the plant will be the star of your landscape design as the variegation draws eyes to it's beauty.

It becomes a terrific change of pace from all the green normally found in the garden. The Fallopia is a nice representation of the term variegated, where the foliage (leaves) has a color that is not green. The leaves might have stripes, blotches or unique marks that stand out from the green that is in the leaves.

Click on Variegated Fallopia photo to see larger photo.
The Variegated Fallopia should be planted in back of the shade garden for height and visual change.
The Variegated Fallopia adds visual interest with its white and green leaves.


Also in the back you can place the Rhododendron. The Rhododendron is a beautiful shrub that blooms for two weeks in early spring. The same time the tulips are flowering. The plant comes in a deciduous variety or an evergreen variety.

The leaves of a Rhododendron are small and leathery looking. They start the season as a dark green and then transition to a maroon for winter. They need to be watered during dry weather and require moist well drained soil. The plant desires an acidic soil or a neutral or low pH.

Full Shade Perennials Offer Northern Exposure Beauty

Many people like the Holly for it's green all year beauty. The Holly brings the dark green foliage and the exciting red berries. You have to remember to buy a male and female variety to get the berries. The holly is a staple in the shade garden and provides food for mammals and birds during the cold winter months.

If you are looking for some spring color don't be afraid to put the Bearded Iris in your shade garden. The Bearded Iris is a spring bloomer, that grows up to four feet tall with a spread of as much as two feet. Though the iris blooms in early spring like bulb plants, most grow from rhizome systems. There are some that grow from bulbs. You can get a wide variety of colors: blue, violet, yellow, purple, red, white and pink.

This flower is easy to grow, requiring little care. They will reward you with spring and early summer beauty. Be sure and allow for good drainage to prevent rhizome rotting.

Many Varieties of Hostas

The Hosta is a shade plant and comes in a wide variety of greens and whites. Some have leaves that are small, curly and variegated while others have wide, broad leaves and a single shade of green. Grows from spring till fall, then will die off during the winter. Hostas are great to share with family and friends. Just divide clumps in the spring and replant in good soil and they will thrive. There is not much you can do to kill off these plants. Many people will cut off the seed pod after the hosta flowers.

Click on plant to see larger photo.
The Hosta has many different varieties to enhance your shade garden
The different varieties of Hostas will enhance your shade garden.


Click on Variegated Hosta Photo to see larger image for your shady garden area.
The Shade garden can use the different variegated Hostas
Variegated Hostas can fill a garden with summer interest.

There are many different varieties of Hostas. You could easily create an entire Shade Garden just with Hostas. They have full color green, variegated hostas and even bluish green hostas. Find the variety you like and enjoy. You can even choose based on thin leaves or huge elephant size leaves.

Another classic cool, moist, shade loving perennial is the Fern. The fern is another beautiful plant that makes the area of the garden that is in full shade an interesting section of your yard. Like the Hosta you choose the fern based on leaf and size. You can get yourself a huge Ostrich fern or a smaller fern. You may find that ferns require more care and attention than some of the other plants in this collection. You need to keep the fern moist and you want to mist the leaves.

Click on plant to see larger photo.
The Holly is a classic full shade or partial shade garden favorite
The Holly is an evergreen with red berries that the mammals and birds love.


Click on Ostrich Fern Photo to see larger image for your shady garden area.
The Shade garden can use the Ostrich Fern perennial
The Ostrich Fern loves shade and moist conditions.


The seventh perennial classic in our full shade perennial garden is the Emerald Gold Euonymus. There are a couple of varieties that I have in my garden. I have the Emerald Gold Euonymus and the Emerald Gaiety Euonymous. Both are slow growers in the shady area of your yard. They can handle full shade or partial shade. These two variegated varieties add color to your garden and can be used as a background plant. They come in evergreen varieties that have leaves all year long spring, summer, fall and winter.

Click on plant to see larger photo.
Emerald Gold Euonymus is a great background plant for a full shade garden.
Emerald Gold Euonymus adds bright gold and green to your shade garden

Click on plant to see larger photo.
Emerald Gaiety Euonymus shows green and white.
Emerald Gaiety Euonymus adds white and green variegation to your shade garden

How about a plant with flowers in your backyard? The Columbine will thrive in the shade and show off it's flowers. The Columbine works well in shade or sunshine with blooms occurring from May to July. Columbines come in a variety of colors such as red, white, yellow, blue, violet and multicolors. Reaching a height of from 12 inches to 3 feet, Columbines can spread from 12 to 18 inches. The flowers are considered spurred which gives them an unusual shape. The leaves will be blue-green with a scalloped shape. The Columbine will seed itself if you allow it to scatter naturally.

Many people enjoy having the dark red (burgundy) color of Coral Bells or Heuchera. Coral Bells are grown for their beautiful leaves. The leaves may be purplish, metallic silver or purple bronze. The underside of the leaf can also be purplish-pink in some cultivars.

You can get potted Coral Bells at your local landscape store or you can grow from seed planted in midsummer. The Heuchera can be planted in full sun or ranges all the way to partial shade. The plants bloom in late spring and early summer with tiny greenish-pink or red flowers. You won't be able to see the flowers from a distance.

Number 10 Full Shade Perennial

Number ten on our list of ten full shade perennials is the Lamium. Are you looking for a shade loving plant? Try out the Lamium in your shady or partial shade portion of your yard. The lamium will provide great ground cover throughout the spring, summer and fall. The lamium comes in a couple of different varieties, the White Nancy and the Beacon Silver. The lamium maculatum is a creeping perennial and has heart shaped leaves. The flowers bloom in little clusters and come in white for the White Nancy and pink (purple?) for the Silver Beacon.

It is so much fun watching perennials come up each spring as they provide beauty to your front yard or back yard. Winter time can be so bleak and hostile outside. Then a few warm days and these perennials pop their tiny leaves through the soil. A little water and tender loving care and they show little flowers. A few more days and back garden beauty is bursting colors of red, blue, yellow, white, pink, purple, lavendar and rose.

How do you know if your garden area requires full sun perennials or full shade perennials? If during the middle of the summer that section has sun for 4 to 5 hours or less you will probably be okay putting in a perennial that is marked as requiring full shade or partial shade.

How Do I Know if the Plant is Considered a Full Shade Perennial?

When you go to your local landscape or garden shop and begin to look at the plants and flowers there are two things to look for on the tags. One, see if the plant is a perennial. Does it state on the tag that the plant will last more than one year or even uses the word, perennial, on the tag? Second, the grower will put a sun picture on the tag that is covered in black. The sun will be partially covered if it should only get partial shade and the sun will appear in full eclipse mode if it should be a shade plant. Each grower has a little different image, but they all represent the same idea as the tag nearly yells at you, "I am a Full Shade Perennial."

Look at the Height of Your Full Shade Perennials

Another thing to be aware of when looking at perennials is the height of the full grown plant. Plant the taller perennials in back and the smaller perennials in front. The Lamium will work best in front while the Rhododendron, Holly, and Fallopia should be in back. You can fill in space in between with the smaller Hostas, the Euonymus and Ferns.

Remember these plants all enjoy full shade and partial shade. They are looking for well drained soils and require minimal care all summer long. A little pruning and weeding between the perennials will go a long way to providing a wonderful summer garden. I hope you enjoy the plants from this list all summer long.

Other plants that will also work well in the shade can be the Princess Spirea, Yew, Astilbe (partial Shade), Japanese Spurge, Jacobs ladder (a form of fern) and the Astilbe.

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