General gardening topics

100+ Plants For Shade Including Shrubs, Perennials, Bulbs & Ferns

Last updated on January 21st, 2022

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There aren’t many gardens that don’t have a gloomy spot in the garden that seems impossible to grow plants in. But what if you knew what to plant in those areas? Then your gloomy areas can become inspiring and enriched with a new lease of life.

Many north and east-facing gardens can be naturally shaded because of their location. Shaded areas can suffer from dry soil conditions, these are usually found underneath trees and conifers where a heavy shadow is constantly cast over the areas and the little moisture in the soil is quickly sucked out by the roots.

This is an in-depth guide covering all types of shade and soil conditions as well as the best plants for shaded areas, from climbing plants perfect for shade to plants that are ideal for use in dry shade, for example, in places like under conifers and trees.

Our Top 10 Shade Loving Plants

plants for shade including bulbs, perennials, shrubs, climbers
  1. Vinca minor – an evergreen, ground spreading shrub with bright blue/purple flowers. Ideal for partial shade.
  2. Convallaria – also more commonly known as Lily of the Valley, it is a perennial with white bell-shaped flowers that grows to around 12cm tall.
  3. Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop) – small plants that are grown from bulbs. Produces small, white flowers during January-February. Ideal for sheltered or exposed areas.
  4. Buxus – Often used as topiary, an evergreen shrub that will tolerate shade and is ideal for forming small hedges.
  5. Mahonia – An evergreen shrub with spiky foliage and bright yellow flowers in Autumn and Winter. Grows to around 4ft (120cm).
  6. Hedra helix – Also more well known as Common Ivy, this is a climber that grows well in shade although it can become evasive and choke other plants so care should be taken.
  7. Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper) – another climbing plant that is ideal for partially shaded sites with dry soil.
  8. Ferns – Not all ferns are ideal but the Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern) is ideal for shade and gives off a woodland vibe.
  9. Digitalis (foxglove) – a perennial plant that is available in many colours. It is often seen in gardens with open areas and this perennial will also grow well in partial shade.
  10. Winter pansies & Polyanthus – These winter flowering bedding plants will grow well in partial shade and add a splash of colour during the winter. They are also ideal for using in pots and planters.

Types of shade

Firstly, before deciding what to plant in your shady area you will need to determine what type of shade category your area falls into. Some areas are dry, for example, areas under trees or overhangs on buildings whilst other areas, such as next to walls tend to retain moisture better as there are no trees to suck up the moisture.

Unfortunately, there are not many shrubs that will grow in very dense, deep shade and usually finding plants that will grow well is still a little trial and error. However, before you begin, it is good to know what plants are likely to be successful instead of taking a stab in the dark and planting the first plant you come across.

The 4 shade types

  1. Light shade / dappled shade: Light shade is a site that is open to the light and not overshadowed by an object such as trees. The site does not get direct light from the sun but is open to the sky. Most plants would grow in light shade except for a small selection that would need full sun.
  2. Partial shade: partial shade usually refers to a site that receives either morning sun or afternoon sun. These sites usually receive light for approximately 4 hours, which is enough for most plants.
  3. Moderate shade: moderate shade is an area where the light is shining through, for example, through tree tops but not as shady as it would be to consider that it looks very shady.
  4. Dense shade: Dense shade is an area there is very little light and where most plants struggle to grow. Usually sites like this are under dense tree cover and under large shrubs where little light can penetrate.

Top tips for transforming a shady garden

Some gardens, especially smaller gardens that are surrounded by buildings, often in built-up areas can be shaded throughout the whole garden. Here are a few ideas to help brighten up your garden with a few design ideas.

  • Try to choose plants that produce light coloured flowers rather than dark colours as lighter colours stand out better in shade.
  • Try using plants with brightly coloured or variegated foliage rather than just greens. An example is the Cotoneaster horizontalis variegata.
  • Using light coloured gravel, such as gold harvest, will help to enhance and reflect the light. Remember to put down groundcover fabric before laying stones or gravel.
  • Add solar lights that have a separate solar panel and can be placed in a more open area to receive light. (Don’t use solar lights where the solar panel is attached to the light as they will not receive enough light to actually power the light).
  • Try adding a water feature in shadier areas to reflect light and add a charming trickling sound of water.
  • Be creative and paint sheds, fences and garden benches bright, light colours.
  • If within budget, you could add mains powered lights around the garden.
  • Trim back trees and lower branches to try and allow more light.

Improving the condition of shady areas

Shady areas can vary, but more often than not they are areas that are usually dry. This is because the roots from hedging and trees suck out any moisture in the soil. However, in some locations, they can be wet because the area lacks trees and shrubs, for example, areas next to walls and fences.

In shady areas under trees and hedges where the ground is dry, you could try adding organic matter that will help retain more moisture in the soil and should be ideal for bulbs such as snowdrops and cyclamen, which are perfect for adding a splash of autumn and spring colour.

Shady areas where conifers are present tend to be acidic from fallen needles so this is something that needs to be taken into account when you are deciding what to plant in these areas. Plants such as spring bulbs, ivy and skimmia usually grow fine in these conditions.

Adding mulch not only helps to retain moisture but also helps to protect plants from hard frosts and improve the soil structure.

Plants that like shade

Types of plants

Before choosing plants for shady areas it is important to know what types of plants are good for the location and how they grow.

Perennials for shade
 – perennial plants are plants that begin to grow in the spring and usually flower in the spring or summer and sometimes into the autumn. They then die back to the ground in winter before shooting again the following spring and the whole process begins again.

Shrubs for shade – Shrubs can be evergreen, which means they do not lose their leaves, or deciduous which means they do drop their leaves for the winter. Evergreen, variegated shrubs tend to be less successful in shady areas.

Climbers for shade – Climbers are ideal for climbing up fences, walls or up trees in shady areas as well as through shrubs and hedges. Successful climbers for a shady area include Honeysuckle and Virginia Creeper.

Bulbs for shade – Bulbs including snowdrops, daffodils and bluebells all add spring colour and are ideal for planting in partial shade and often grow under trees and hedgerows.

Plants for dry shade

Dry shade is usually found under trees and shrubs where the rain does not penetrate through the foliage of large plants and any moisture that does get through is quickly taken by the shallow root systems of trees and shrubs.

You can help improve such a site before planting by adding a mulch of farm manure or compost to help retain any moisture. A mulch is best applied in spring and autumn.

Below is a short list of plants that can be successfully grown in dry shade.

Arum ‘Marmoratum’: A bulb that produces variegated green and cream leaves and forms a carpet in spring. Grows to around 30cm (1ft) tall.

Epimediums: A perennial plant that grows well in dry shade and produces stunning bronze foliage and yellow flowers in spring. Grows to around 30cm (1ft) tall.

Geranium: Hardy geranium varieties grow well in dry, shady conditions and perform particularly well.

Bulbs for shade

There is a nice selection of bulbs that can be grown in both dry and wet shade, many of them are naturally woodland plants so are well-suited for such areas. The bulbs in the list below are ideal for shady areas.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

  • Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
  • Colchicum (Autumn Crocus)
  • Anemone nemorosa (Windflower)
  • Cyclamen coum
  • Arum italicum subsp. italicum ‘Marmoratum’
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Bluebell
  • Daffodils

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

  • Galanthus nivalis (Snowdrop)
  • Erythronium (Dog’s-tooth Violet)
  • Fritillaria camschatcensis (Black Sarana)
  • Scilla bifolia (Alpine Squill)
  • Eranthis (Winter Aconite)
  • Cardiocrinum (Giant Lily)

Perennials for shade

Perennials are plants that die back in winter and then grow again in spring. There are many varieties of perennials for both dry shade and damp shade that grow well in both.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

  • Aquilegia
  • Digitalis (Foxglove)
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • Dryopteris filix-mas (Male Fern)
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Epimedium (Barrenwort)
  • Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides (Wood Spurge)
  • Alchemilla mollis (Lady’s Mantle)
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)
  • Brunnera macrophylla (Siberian Bugloss)
  • Luzula nivea (Snowy Woodrush)
  • Liriope muscari (Big Blue Lilyturf)
  • Geranium nodosum and Geranium phaeum (Cranesbill)
  • Stachys
  • Campanula
  • Solidago
  • Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’
  • Geranium macrorrhizum ‘Album’
  • Hellebores
  • Astrantia
  • Sweet rocket
  • Anemone Rhizomes – Nemerosa
  • Corydalis
  • Ajuga Burgundy glow
  • Athyrium metallicum
  • Alchemilla mollis
  • Bergenia
  • Hosta
  • Luzula sylvatica (woodrush)
  • Lamium
  • Black grass

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

  • Astilbe (False Goat’s Beard)
  • Uvularia grandiflora (Large Merrybells)
  • Hosta (Plantain Lily)
  • Milium effusum ‘Aureum’
  • Thalictrum (Meadow Rue)
  • Pulmonaria (Lungwort)
  • Primula (Primrose)
  • Astrantia major (Hattie’s Pincushion)
  • Bergenia (Elephant’s Ears)
  • Carex flagellifera (Sedge)
  • Convallaria (Lily-of-the-Valley)
  • Geranium sylvaticum (Wood Cranesbill)
  • Digitalis (Foxglove)
  • Brunnera
  • Astrantia major ‘Claret’
  • Dicentra (Bleeding Heart)
  • Monarda
  • Actaea matsumurae ‘White Pearl’
  • Polygonatum x hybridum
  • Tricyrtis hirta ‘Miyazaki’
  • Himalayan blue poppy
  • Heuchera
  • Athyrium metallicum

Shrubs for shade

There are many shrubs that are suited to both dry shade and damp shade. Most shrubs that grow well in shade tend to have large foliage and be evergreen, meaning they do not drop their leaves in winter.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

  • Mahonia
  • Osmanthus delavayi
  • Cotoneaster
  • Viburnum
  • Symphoricarpus (Snowberry)
  • Garrya elliptica (Silk-tassel bush)
  • Hypericum calycinum (St John’s Wort/Aaron’s Beard)
  • Eleagnus x ebbingei (Oleaster)
  • Daphne laureola and Daphne pontica
  • Cotoneaster
  • Vinca
  • Buxus
  • Gaultheria shallon
  • Ruscus
  • Euonymus
  • Pachysandra

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

  • Hydrangea
  • Mahonia
  • Viburnum
  • Skimmia japonica
  • Symphoricarpus (Snowberry)
  • Aucuba
  • Fatsia japonica (Japanese Aralia)
  • Camellia
  • Buxus sempervirens (Common Box)

Climbing plants for shade

Most gardens have a shaded wall or fence, usually south-facing that receives little light. Our list of climbing plants includes climbers as well as more shrub-like plants that can be trained against walls and fences. Some plants, such as Pyracantha, need to be fixed to trellis or wires.

Dry Shade, usually under trees and hedges with shallow roots

  • Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)
  • Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)
  • Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis

Damp Shade, usually against walls and fences or areas that collect moisture

  • Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)
  • Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)
  • Hedera helix (Ivy)
  • Akebia quinata
  • Pileostegia viburnoides

Plants for a north-facing wall

North facing walls can be challenging as they receive very little direct sunlight and finding plants that grow well there can be difficult. There is, however, a selection of shrubs and climbers as well as fruit bushes that will grow happily against a north-facing wall. Gooseberries as well as blackcurrants and redcurrants will grow well although not as well as they would do if they had been grown in full sun.

The list below includes plants that have been known to grow well on north-facing walls.

  • Euonymus fortunei (Winter Creeper)
  • Hedera helix (Ivy)
  • Pyracantha (Firethorn)
  • Schizophragma hydrangeoides (Japanese Hydrangea Vine)
  • Parthenocissus tricuspidata (Virginia Creeper)
  • Pileostegia viburnoides
  • Akebia quinata
  • Berberis
  • Lonicera japonica ‘Halliana’, Lonicera x tellmanniana and Lonicera periclymenum ‘Serotina’ (Honeysuckle)
  • Hydrangea petiolaris (Climbing Hydrangea)
  • Cotoneaster horizontalis
  • Clematis alpina
  • Clematis armandii
  • Clematis montana
  • Chaenomeles speciosa
  • Chaenomeles x superba (Japanese Quince)
  • Celastrus orbiculatus (Oriental Bittersweet)


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