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The Ultimate Guide to Full Shade Perennials: Beautify Your Shaded Garden Spots

May 11, 2024

Are you looking to enhance the darker corners of your garden with lush, vibrant plants? Full shade perennials are perfect for those spots that receive little direct sunlight but still deserve to be adorned with beautiful foliage and flowers. In this guide, we’ll explore some of the best full shade perennials that can bring life and color to the shadiest parts of your garden.

Why Choose Full Shade Perennials?

Full shade perennials require less than four hours of direct sunlight per day, and many thrive in dappled sunlight or even complete shade. These plants are ideal for areas beneath dense tree canopies, on the north side of buildings, or under the shadow of tall structures. They are not only practical for low-light areas but also add aesthetic value with their diverse textures and colors.

plants for the shade
Hostas provide beauty and depth to any garden

Top Full Shade Perennials for Your Garden

Below is a reference table for some great shady plants for your garden and landscape.

Common NameLatin NameAvailable ColorsKeeps Foliage?Description (including zone)
HostasHosta spp.Green, blue, white, variegatedNoVersatile with lush foliage, thrives in deep shade; ideal for under trees or north-facing gardens. Hardy in zones 3-9.
FernsVarious generaGreen, some with bronze or redYesFeathery fronds add texture; prefers moist, cool conditions. Various species are evergreen. Hardy in zones 3-8.
AstilbeAstilbe spp.White, pink, redNoFeathery flowers ideal for low light; needs moist soil. Adds vibrant color and texture in early to mid-summer. Hardy in zones 3-9.
Bleeding HeartDicentra spectabilisPink, whiteNoHeart-shaped flowers in spring; prefers cool, moist conditions. Goes dormant in late summer. Hardy in zones 3-9.
HelleboresHelleborus spp.White, green, pink, purpleYesBlooms in winter to early spring; evergreen in many climates. Resistant to deer and cold. Hardy in zones 4-9.
LungwortPulmonaria spp.Blue, pink, whiteYesSpeckled foliage with delicate flowers; excellent ground cover. Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 3-8.
ColumbineAquilegia spp.Various including blue, purple, redNoDistinctive bell-shaped flowers; attracts hummingbirds. Self-seeds readily, providing many seasons of bloom. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Solomon’s SealPolygonatum spp.WhiteNoArching stems with dangling flowers; adds elegance to any shade garden. Prefers moist, well-drained soil. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Toad LilyTricyrtis spp.Purple, white with specklesNoOrchid-like flowers bloom in late summer to fall; thrives in moist, shady environments. Hardy in zones 4-9.
PrimrosePrimula spp.Yellow, red, pink, blue, purple, whiteYes (some varieties)Bright, early spring flowers; prefers moist, well-drained soil. Some varieties are evergreen. Hardy in zones 3-8.
Popular shady perennials

Underplanting considerations

Associate is created by either natural structure, trees, or a man-made element in the garden. When you were under planting, there’s some considerations based on the types of trees that are creating the canopy. Certain shade areas, particularly those under specific types of trees, can be challenging for planting and growing perennials. Here are some key factors and tree types that can affect under-tree plantings:

  1. Walnut Trees (Juglans spp.): Walnut trees, especially Black Walnut, release a chemical called juglone from their roots, which is toxic to many other plants. Juglone inhibits the growth of many species of plants beneath and around the tree canopy. Plants sensitive to juglone may wilt or die if planted near these trees.
  2. Pine Trees (Pinus spp.): The dense needle drop from pine trees can acidify the soil over time, making it less suitable for plants that do not tolerate acidic conditions. Additionally, the thick canopy can limit sunlight and the dense root system can dominate the soil, making it hard for other plants to establish.
  3. Maple Trees (Acer spp.): Maples, particularly Norway and Silver Maples, have very dense, shallow root systems that can make it difficult for other plants to get established. They compete heavily for water and nutrients and can create dry shade conditions that are challenging for many plants.
  4. Cedar and Spruce Trees (Cedrus and Picea spp.): These trees tend to have dense root systems and create deep shade, reducing the availability of sunlight needed for underplanting. Additionally, the needle drop can change soil chemistry similarly to pines.
  5. Oak Trees (Quercus spp.): While some oaks provide a lighter shade that some plants can tolerate, others, like the Red Oak, create a dense shade and have extensive root systems that compete for moisture and nutrients.
  6. Beech Trees (Fagus spp.): Beech trees have dense foliage that creates deep shade and their shallow root systems spread widely, competing aggressively with other plants for nutrients and water.

For gardens with these trees, choosing the right underplanting is crucial. Plants that are tolerant of juglone, can thrive in acidic soil, or can withstand competitive root environments are necessary. Ferns, astilbes, and hostas are generally good choices as they are more adaptable to various challenging conditions. Additionally, improving the soil with organic matter and ensuring adequate mulching can help other plants survive in these tough conditions

Design Tips for Planting Full Shade Perennials

Creating a visually appealing shade garden involves considering the height, bloom time, and color of these perennials. Plant taller species like Solomon’s Seal at the back of your beds with shorter plants like primroses at the forefront. Mix textures and bloom times to keep the garden interesting throughout the season.

Master Gardener Tip: Many full shade perennials thrive in rich, well-drained soil and require consistent moisture to look their best. Since these areas receive less sunlight, evaporation is slower, and soil can remain damp for longer. Enhance your garden’s foundation by incorporating organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure into the soil before planting. This will improve drainage, provide essential nutrients, and help maintain the right moisture level.

Maintenance Tips for Full Shade Perennials

Full shade perennials generally require minimal maintenance. Here are some tips to keep them thriving:

  • Watering: Shade plants typically need less water due to reduced evaporation, but be sure to keep the soil consistently moist.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture and suppress weeds.
  • Fertilizing: Most shade perennials benefit from a light application of a balanced fertilizer in early spring.


Full shade perennials can transform your shaded garden areas into lush, vibrant spaces. With the right plants and care, even the darkest corners of your garden can become a stunning display of colors and textures. Start planning your shade garden today and enjoy the serene beauty of these wonderful plants.

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