Top 10 Questions About Shade Gardening

By Mary H. Dyer | March 24, 2019
Image by Thomas Bullock
by Mary H. Dyer
March 24, 2019

Here at Gardening Know How we get lots of questions, questions, and we hope to answer them all to the best of our abilities. A lot of gardeners struggle with shade and how to grow plants with less sun. The following information includes the 10 most commonly asked questions about shade gardening.

1. What plants do well partial sun?

Plants that do well with some shade, or partial sun, include tropical rainforest plants, which grow well in hot, humid climates. In more temperate locations, woodland plants and shade-tolerant groundcovers are best. Some examples of tropical shade plants include elephant ears, asparagus fern, bird of paradise, gardenia, and star jasmine. Woodland shade plants include azalea, flowering dogwood, bleeding heart, columbine, and ferns. Groundcovers for shady areas include periwinkle, pachysandra, and lily-of-the-valley.

2. What perennials grow best in the shade?

Shade perennials to consider include ferns, elephant ear, and hostas for spectacular greenery. For more flowers, try calla lily, campanula, bleeding heart, anemone, blood root, bee balm, forget-me-not, hydrangea, primrose, Siberian iris, and violets. Perennial groundcovers that do well with shade include ivy, lily-of-the-valley, periwinkle, pachysandra, Virginia creeper, carpet bugleweed, and sweet woodruff. 

3. What shrubs can I plant that will grow in shade?

Shrubs that tolerate shade are typically woodland plants. Those that will do well in light shade include hazelnut, mock orange, summersweet, dwarf fothergilla, and cornelian cherry dogwood. For moderate shade try daphne, witch hazel, holly, or Virginia sweetspire. For the deepest shade, try Japanese Kerria, which will bleach when exposed to too much sunlight. Some other woodland shrubs to consider include flowering dogwood, hydrangea, azalea, and rhododendron. Evergreen shade-tolerant shrubs include Indian hawthorn, boxwood, hemlock, and yew.

4. Can you recommend any shade container plants?

Yes, there are actually many shade tolerant plants for containers. To add spectacular and varied color foliage to a shady area, try different types of coleus, which grow well in containers. Other annuals to try in containers and that will tolerate shade include fuchsia, begonia, impatiens, and caladiums. Perennial plants that grow well in containers and with some shade are ferns, hostas, forget-me-not, bleeding heart, and hardy geraniums.

5. Can evergreens grow in a shade garden?

Evergreen trees are not shade plants, and generally don’t need to be as they tower over others. But there are several varieties of evergreen shrubs that will grow in partial shade. Shrubs to try in shady areas include honeysuckle, witch hazel, viburnum, yew, Juneberry, goat’s beard, boxwood, holly, azalea, and rhododendron.

6. Can I grow any vegetables in shade?

Most vegetables require full sun to grow and produce, but there are some vegetable varieties that will tolerate shade. These are generally the more cold-weather plants and include a lot of greens: lettuces, arugula, endive, spinach, Swiss chard, cabbage, mustard greens, and kale. Also, try broccoli and turnips in shadier spots. All of these will need some sun but will tolerate a little shade.

7. What can I plant under a tree?

The dark area under trees makes growing difficult, but there are some shade-tolerant plants that can fill up that space. When planting under trees, groundcovers often thrive in the shade and make a good alternative for grass. Try ivy, lily-of-the-valley, vinca, pachysandra, periwinkle, Virginia creeper, sweet woodruff, and carpet bugleweed. Woodland shrubs will also grow under trees, including azalea, rhododendron, holly, and flowering dogwood.

8. What are good ground covers for shade areas?

Groundcovers are often well suited to growing in shade and are good options for filling space under trees and in other shady spots where grass struggles to grow. Try perennial groundcovers like lily-of-the-valley, ajuga, or carpet bugleweed, periwinkle, pachysandra, deadnettle, vinca, ivy, Virginia creeper, and sweet woodruff.  Some ideas for warmer climates include yellow star jasmine, Algerian ivy, liriope, or monkey grass, mondo grass, and autumn fern.

9. Are there any herbs that I can plant in my shade garden?

A lot of herbs need full sun but many will tolerate some shade. Those that are best to try in a shady patch are chives, mint, catnip, parsley, angelica, ginger, sweet woodruff, and lemon balm. These plants need rich soil, so add compost or fertilizer as needed. And living in the shade they will not need to be watered as often. Just be sure the soil drains well.

10. How can I get color in a shade garden?

There are plenty of flowering plants that tolerate shade, and some with colorful foliage. For containers and borders, try coleus with foliage that comes in a wide range of colors and patterns. Annual flowers for shade that do well in beds and containers are impatiens, begonias, alyssum, pansy, snapdragon, and calendula. Shade-tolerant perennials that will add colorful flowers include bellflowers, bleeding heart, foxglove, hydrangea, primrose, violets, hellebore, forget-me-not, and astilbe.

We all have questions now and then, whether long-time gardeners or those just starting out. So if you have a gardening question, get a gardening answer. We’re always here to help.

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