19 Top Shade Plants to Brighten Your Garden
Tired of growing the same few plants every year in your shade garden? Here are shade-loving plants to help you brighten up your space with showy flowers and fantastic foliage.
1. Polka Dot Plant
Polka dot plants are always a crowd pleaser because they are so colorful and easy to grow. Their pink, red or white-patterned leaves shine all season in sun or shade, hot or cool weather, even indoors as a houseplant.
You could grow Hippo polka dot plants as a thriller or filler in your patio containers, or plant them in the landscape anyplace you could use a bright spot of color. Other than water, they require little to no maintenance through the growing season.
Height: 16-22”, Spread: 8-14”, Sun or shade, Grown as an annual
2. Pineapple Sage
Proven Accents® ‘Golden Delicious’ Salvia
Shade garden plants with fun foliage are always popular because they provide lively color and textural interest all season. ‘Golden Delicious’ is a large plant that you could grow as a bright filler in the landscape or a thriller in extra-large container recipes. Since its aromatic foliage is deer resistant, you can safely plant it out in your flower gardens, too.
Think of this salvia like a heat and humidity tolerant, disease resistant replacement for chartreuse coleus. In warm climates where the growing season is long and frost comes late, it may produce fire engine red flowers in fall.
Height: 3-4’, Spread: 2-3’, Part sun to sun, Commonly grown as an annual but is hardy in zones 8-11
Surefire Begonias are a surefire hit in landscapes and containers. They’ll grow and flower in just about any degree of shade and don’t require as much water as impatiens.
Use them as a flowering thriller in large combination containers and window boxes, or to plug the holes left when bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis) go dormant in the landscape in midsummer.
Height: 12"-2', Spread: 18"-2', Sun or shade, Grown as an annual
Shade gardeners know that it’s not all about the flowers when sunlight is limited. Instead, they rely on fabulous foliage to keep their garden in color from spring through fall.
If you don't want to fuss much with your annuals, grow ColorBlaze Coleus, which are super strong growers and set few to no flowers, so you won’t have to keep pinching them to keep the plants looking great all season.
Height: 14"-3'4", Spread: 16"-3', Sun or shade, Grown as an annual
5. Wishbone Flower
One of the most commonly overlooked annuals for shade are Torenias, commonly called the Wishbone Flower because of the unique markings on the flowers’ throat. They may not be as flashy as impatiens, but they do offer fun snapdragon-like flowers in cool purples, whites, pinks and yellows all summer long in partial to full shade.
The more sun you can give them, the more flowers you’ll see. Use Catalina Torenias as fillers in containers or as an annual groundcover in the shade.
Height: 8-16", Spread: 8-12", Sun or shade, Grown as an annual
Are you struggling to find something unique for your shade garden? Add an exotic look to shady areas with the large heart-shaped leaves of caladium. Choose from a wide array of patterns and colors.
All types of caladiums grow well in part shade (4-6 hours of sun). However, some varieties can tolerate full sun (6+ hours) and others can tolerate full shade (<4 hours).
Height: 15-20”, Spread: 8-10”, Sun or Shade, Annual
Rockapulco® Impatiens walleriana
Light up any shady area with masses of blooms that resemble miniature rosebuds. Rockapulco thrive in the hottest, most humid deep shade. Like inside a brick-walled courtyard in the Midwest or South.
Plant this reliable shade lover alongside brightly hued varieties of coleus, caladium or sweet potato vine for an extra pop of color.
Height: 10-20”, Spread:12”-2’, Part Shade to Shade, Annual
8. Heartleaf Brunnera
'Jack of Diamonds' Brunnera macrophylla
Brunneras are shade-tolerant perennials with huge patterned leaves and lovely blooms. This woodland plant does best in full shade and consistent, moist soils. In the north, morning sun is tolerated.
Height: 14-16”, Spread: 2'4"-2'8", Part shade to shade, Perennial in zones 3-8
This low maintenance, shade-loving perennial produces frothy sprays of creamy white flowers in late spring to early summer above a clump of ferny, dark green foliage. It is similar in appearance to astilbe but can handle drier conditions and blooms a bit earlier.
Grows best in moist, humus-rich soils. In northern climates, it can be grown in full sun if provided with adequate moisture. In southern zones, however, it prefers partial or full shade.
Height: 30-32”, Spread: 40-48”, Sun or shade, Perennial in zones 3-7
10. Coral Bells
It’s easy to spot this unique variety of coral bells from a distance because its fabulous rosy purple foliage absolutely glows, even in the shade. Who needs flowers with long lasting, colorful foliage like this?
‘Wild Rose’ forms a low, wide mound that fits perfectly along the edge of a border or as an underplanting to taller ferns, medium-sized shrubs or weeping trees like Japanese maples. Pink flowers in midsummer are an added bonus.
Foliage Height: 8-10”, Flower Height: 18-20”, Spread: 26-30”, Sun or shade but best in part shade, Perennial in zones 4-9
11. Foamy Bells
Fun and Games® ‘Eye Spy’ Heucherella
Every shade garden needs at least a few chartreuse plants as accents in an otherwise green setting. ‘Eye Spy’ emerges in spring with bright yellow leaves with rosy red centers, then mellows to chartreuse for the summer months. The mounded foliage is topped with a profusion of bubblegum pink flower panicles on red stems for several weeks beginning in late spring.
This perennial grows beautifully in containers and landscape borders, requiring little more than occasional watering to thrive. Try growing it on its own in an 8-12” pot alongside your flowering annuals for beautiful contrast with little upkeep needed throughout the seasons.
Height: 8-10”, Spread: 16-20”, Part shade to shade, Perennial in zones 4-9
Shadowland® ‘Waterslide’ Hosta
If you garden in shade, you know how reliable hostas are for such challenging conditions. If you haven’t added any new varieties to your collection lately, take a look at the fancy new cultivars that have come along like this distinctive mid-sized blue variety, ‘Waterslide’. Its extremely rippled leaves and powder blue color easily stand out from the crowd, while thick leaves help it to be more pest resistant.
Grow this hosta in a container (a dark colored pot would really make the light blue foliage pop), or near the front of your shade border. Its low, broadly mounded shape is easy to pair with most other shade lovers.
Foliage Height: 14”, Flower Height: 17”, Spread: 32”, Part shade to shade, Perennial in zones 3-9
You’ll love how this elegant woodland wildflower adds tapestry-like texture to your shade garden and delights with its early spring, bottlebrush blossoms. Its intricately dissected, deep green leaves with burgundy centers form a low mound similar to coral bells. Deer typically leave it alone because of the leaves’ fuzzy texture.
Try planting a mass of ‘Cutting Edge’ foamflowers under a small weeping tree such as a weeping cherry or at the base of a spring flowering shrub like Spilled Wine® weigela. Together, they’ll create a feast for pollinators every spring.
Foliage Height: 8-10”, Flower Height: 18-20”, Spread: 16-18”, Part shade to shade, Perennial in zones 4-9
This robust grower will make a statement in your shade garden with its bright mustard yellow flower spikes in summer. Ligularias are at their best when grown in cool, moist locations in part shade. Protect from hot afternoon sun.
Pair the big, bold texture of this Ligularia with ferns, Siberian irises, and Japanese maples.
Height: 2’4”-2’10”, Spread:2’-2’4”, Part Shade to Shade, Perennial in zones 4-9
15. Crested Japanese Painted Fern
‘Crested Surf’ Athyrium niponicum
Perfect for moist, shady areas of the garden. 'Crested Surf' looks similar to traditional Japanese Painted Fern, but the tips of the fronds are double-crested. Tall enough to plant in the middle of the border!
Height: 20”-22”, Spread:2’4"-2’6”, Part shade to shade, Perennial in zones 3-8
Want to learn more about shade gardening?
- Browse our database of shade articles.
- Save pins from our Pinterest board featuring shade plants.
- Watch how Laura from Garden Answer plants up a shaded window box.
Patent Info: Rockin'® 'Golden Delicious' Salvia elegans USPP17977; 'Chantilly Lace' Aruncus USPPAF CanPBRAF; Primo® 'Wild Rose' Heuchera USPPAF CanPBRAF; Fun and Games® 'Eye Spy' Heucherella USPPAF CanPBRAF; Shadowland® 'Waterslide' Hosta USPPAF CanPBRAF; 'Cutting Edge' Tiarella USPPAF CanPBRAF; Invincibelle Mini Mauvette® Hydrangea arborescens USPPAF CanPBRAF; Invincibelle Wee White® Hydrangea arborescens USPPAF CanPBRAF; Wabi-Sabi® Viburnum plicatum var. tomentosum USPP29553 CanPBRAF