Beyond Hostas: Shade Plants Galore!

Hosta Photo by Maria Gulley

Hosta
Photo by Maria Gulley

Many of us have yards with shaded areas, but I get a lot of questions asking what the plant options are beyond hostas. Don't get me wrong, I love hostas - there are so many unique varieties, and bees and hummingbirds can't get enough of the flowers. But they are prone to slug and deer damage, and it's not crazy to want a little bit of something different. Below I've come up with 40 different plants for shade - some prefer dappled sunlight, and others can take pretty dense shade. I could have come up with more, but in the interest of not going overkill I limited myself to ten plants in each of four categories: shrubs and small trees, perennials, groundcovers (yes, these are technically perennials, but a separate category means ten more plants), and annuals and tropicals.

Some of the plants that people often pick for shade have been deliberately omitted due to having invasive tendencies (wintercreeper, English ivy), being poorly matched for central Indiana growing conditions (azalea, rhododendron), or other reasons they are no longer an ideal pick for our region. With the plants that remain, I did my best to pick many different colors and styles. All of these plants should be available for retail purchase, although some may be easier to find at independent garden centers rather than big box stores. If you have a specific need you're trying to fill, never hesitate to ask! I love a good plant selection challenge. Since I'm a bit of a native plant and pollinator nerd, I'm marking species native to Indiana with a * and pollinator-friendly species with a + .

Shrubs and Small Trees

Bottlebrush Buckeye flower Photo by Maria Gulley

Bottlebrush Buckeye flower
Photo by Maria Gulley

Bottlebrush Buckeye (Aesculus parviflora)*+: a large, showy-flowered shrub that tends to form a sprawling colony

Boxwood (Buxus species and hybrids): this popular evergreen has some shade-tolerant varieties, although they will be less dense growing in the shade than in the sun

Chokeberry (Aronia species and hybrids)*+: known for its brilliant fall color, this medium sized native shrub also sports edible berries and small white flowers

Coralberry (Symphoricarpos orbiculatus)*: a lesser known and harder-to-find shrub, coralberry is a low-growing suckering shrub that is perfect for filling low-maintenance areas; white, pink, or red berries in the fall

Japanese Maple (Acer palmatum): there is a Japanese maple for every situation, with a wide range of sizes, habits, leaf colors, and leaf shapes; some varieties are more shade tolerant than others

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)+: a reliable, low-maintenance shrub with amazing flowers; both dwarf and large varieties available; good dark red fall leaf color

Pawpaw (Asimina triloba)*+: a.k.a. Indiana banana, this isn't the showiest tree but it's a good understory filler that makes delicious fruits

Serviceberry (Amelanchier species and hybrids)*+: showy white flowers, delicious early summer berries, and fantastic fall color make this small tree a winner

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)*+: sweet-smelling white flowers and a tolerance for dense shade make this small shrub perfect for shady back yards

Witchhazel (Hamamelis vernalis): this shrub has some of the earliest blooms in the garden with color starting as early as February; there are also varieties that bloom late in the fall around November

Perennials

Astilbe Photo by Maria Gulley

Astilbe
Photo by Maria Gulley

Astilbe (Astilbe species and hybrids)+: one of my favorites for shade, astilbe has bright feathery plumes of flowers in a range of reds, pinks, whites, and purples

Ferns (Cinnamon, Autumn): ferns on the whole thrive in shade, and several do quite well in central Indiana; two of our favorites are cinnamon fern and autumn fern

Bleeding Heart Photo by Maria Gulley

Bleeding Heart
Photo by Maria Gulley

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra species and hybrids)+: with a unique flower and convenient spring bloom time, bleeding heart is an old-fashioned favorite that's regaining popularity

Coral Bells/Foamflower/Hybrids (Heuchera, Tiarella, and Heucherella varieties)*+: these closely related native species and hybrids come in a lovely range of leaf colors and sizes; they're perfect for getting a warm color palette in the shade

Ice Dance Sedge (Carex morrowii 'Ice Dance'): if you love grasses but have lots of shade, sedges are for you; Ice Dance Sedge has the tamest appearance and its white variegation helps it stand out

Toad Lily Photo by Maria Gulley

Toad Lily
Photo by Maria Gulley

Lenten Rose (Helleborus species and hybrids): with a February to March bloom season and evergreen foliage, Lenten rose delights year round; be careful around kids though - it's poisonous

Ligularia (Ligularia species)+: the dramatic large foliage (nearly black on some varieties) is matched only by the brilliant yellow flowers that shoot up on spikes in mid summer

Pulmonaria (Pulmonaria longifolia): a low-growing foliage plant with a humble spring flower and interesting spotted patterns of variegation

Snakeroot (Actaea racemosa)*+: with leaves 2-3' tall and white flower spikes up to 6', snakeroot can fill space easily in a shade garden

Toad Lily (Tricyrtis hirta)+: toad lily has fascinating speckled flowers and a late summer/early fall bloom time that keeps the color coming after most plants are done for the year

 

Groundcovers

Pulmonaria Photo by Maria Gulley

Pulmonaria
Photo by Maria Gulley

Ajuga (Ajuga reptans)+: purple flowers in the spring are a special treat, but the low-growing foliage is a delight all year long

Bigroot Geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum)+: there are many kinds of perennial geranium, but only certain species and hybrids are adapted for shade; be sure to check the tag before picking one

Mondo Grass (Ophiopogon japonicus): this short, spreading, grass-like groundcover comes in green and a deep purple that approaches black

Lily-of-the-valley Photo by Maria Gulley

Lily-of-the-valley
Photo by Maria Gulley

Epimedium (Epimedium species and hybrids): I consider this fascinating plant one of the most underused perennials; the spring flowers come in amazing shapes, and the foliage changes color through the year and can be evergreen in mild winters

Japanese Forest Grass (Hakonechloa macra): another pick for grass-lovers, this one comes in greens and golds, and it waves beautifully in the lightest breeze

Solomon's Seal Photo by Maria Gulley

Solomon's Seal
Photo by Maria Gulley

Lily-of-the-Valley (Convallaria majalis): another old-fashioned favorite for its sweet-smelling white flowers, lily-of-the-valley is another poisonous pick to avoid if you have small children

Pachysandra (Pachysandra procumbens* and terminalis): in addition to the more readily available Japanese pachysandra, there is also a native species; both are evergreen

Solomon's Seal (Polygonatum odoratum)+: the arching stems and identical oval-shaped leaves are the show-stoppers here, but you'll also find hanging white flowers in pairs in the spring

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense* and europaeum): another underrated superstar, you can find wild ginger in a glossy European variety or a more plain North American species; both are low-maintenance and trouble-free

Wood Phlox (Phlox divaricata)*+: this native shade phlox is a little trickier to find in garden centers, but its pale blue flowers and popularity with all manner of pollinators make it worth the hunt
 

Annuals and Tropicals

Lobelia and Japanese Forest Grass Photo by Maria Gulley

Lobelia and Japanese Forest Grass
Photo by Maria Gulley

Begonia: begonias are faithful, tried, and true; many varieties work in both sun and shade, so if you want consistency this is a great pick

Caladium: sometimes mistakenly called elephant ears, these delicate foliage plants come with foliage in all kinds of patterns of green, white, pink, and red

Coleus and Creeping Jenny Photo by Maria Gulley

Coleus and Creeping Jenny
Photo by Maria Gulley

Coleus+: there is a coleus for every occasion, including some that take full sun as well as full shade; this leafy plant comes in oranges, red, yellows, greens, and combinations of all of the above

Cordyline: also known a ti plant, cordyline is a tropical foliage plant that likes light shade; it's a good upright plant to fill space in containers

Creeping Jenny: this is currently my favorite trailing plant for containers, and it can also be used as a groundcover; the foliage is an almost yellow lime green in sunnier spots and more green in the shade

Persian Shield By Montréalais - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Persian Shield
By Montréalais - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Lobelia+: lobelia offers one of the only true blues in the landscape, and it loves shade; it's a popular pick as a bedding plant or to fill little nooks and crannies in planters

New Guinea Impatiens and Sunpatiens: I left impatiens off the list since impatiens downy mildew has become a major problem, but their cousins New Guinea impatiens and sunpatiens aren't suscpetible to the disease; as a bonus, sunpatiens are also happy in full sun

Persian Shield: silvery purple foliage with dark green veins stand on stems that grow to over three feet tall on this stunning shade annual

Philodendron: there are many kinds of philodendron, but all of them can take the shade; they are also popular houseplants, so bring them inside overwinter to keep a little bit of green in your life

Torenia+: another good bedding plant option, torenia comes in purple, pink, blue, white and yellow; it keeps close to the ground at about 8-10" tall


Recommended Posts