September: Anemone

We all want some late season blooms to keep our landscapes vibrant as the temperatures cool off, and anemone is an excellent candidate. Also known as windflower, these perennials send up long stalks with airy white or pink flower in September and October, and they sway gracefully in a breeze for an ethereal feel.

There are many different landscape-friendly species in the anemone genus with many different shapes, sizes, and bloom times (and they’re all called anemone or windflower), but we’ll be focusing on the taller plant sometimes known as Japanese windflower, not the smaller perennials typically classified with bulbs. For most of the year, the dark green grape-leaf-like foliage forms a decent sized mound, and then in late summer into fall the flower show starts. When they find a spot they like, they really take off and can be split to keep them shorter and more tame. They do not always transplant well, but when they do become established they are survivors.

Common Name: Anemone or Windflower

Scientific Name: Anemone hupehensis and Anemone x hybrida

Light: full sun to partial shade

Size: foliage is 12-24” tall and 18-30” wide, flower stalks are 3-4’ tall

Bloom Time and Color: white, pink, or occasionally purple single or double flowers in late summer into fall

Notable Varieties: ‘Honorine Jobert’ (white flowers with earlier bloom time), ‘September Charm’ (pink flowers with latest bloom time), ‘Wild Swan’ (white flowers with silvery purple on the backs of the petals)

Soil: prefers consistent moisture and good nutrient levels, but can be drought tolerant once established

Other Notes: late bloom season, will spread to form a colony once it’s happy, deer resistant

See other plants of the month.

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40 Winning Plants for Shade

Hosta Photo by Maria Gulley

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 divided the plants into four categories: shrubs and small trees, perennials, groundcovers, 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. 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 (Aesculus parviflora)*+: a large, showy-flowered shrub that tends to form a sprawling colony

Boxwood (Buxus species and hybrids): this evergreen has some shade-tolerant varieties, although they will be less dense 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


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 (such as Cinnamon, Christmas, 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 (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 (HeucheraTiarella, and Heucherella varieties)*+: these closely related native species and hybrids come in a 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

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

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

Astilbe Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

Bleeding Heart Photo by Maria Gulley

Bleeding Heart
Photo by Maria Gulley

Japanese Forest Grass Photo by Maria Gulley

Japanese Forest Grass
Photo by Maria Gulley

Toad Lily Photo by Maria Gulley

Toad Lily
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 (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

Pulmonaria Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

Lily-of-the-valley Photo by Maria Gulley

Photo by Maria Gulley

Solomon's Seal Photo by Maria Gulley

Solomon's Seal
Photo by Maria Gulley

Annuals and Tropicals

Begonia (Begonia species and hybrids): 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 (Caladium bicolor): sometimes called elephant ears (that name is more often used for other plants), these delicate foliage plants come with foliage in all kinds of patterns of green, white, pink, and red

Coleus (Solenostemon species)+: 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 (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 (Lysimachia nummularia): 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

Lobelia (Lobelia erinus)+: 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 (Impatiens hawkeri): I left non-new guinea impatiens off the list since impatiens downy mildew has become a major problem, but their cousins New Guinea impatiens aren't susceptible to the disease

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

Philodendron (Philodendron species): 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

Wishbone Flower (Torenia fournieri)+: another good bedding plant option, torenia comes in purple, pink, blue, white and yellow

Lobelia and Japanese Forest Grass Photo by Maria Gulley

Lobelia and Japanese Forest Grass
Photo by Maria Gulley

Coleus and Creeping Jenny Photo by Maria Gulley

Coleus and Creeping Jenny
Photo by Maria Gulley

Persian Shield By Montréalais - Own work, CC BY 3.0

Persian Shield
By Montréalais - Own work, CC BY 3.0

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August: Wild Ginger

This month we meet a hardy groundcover for shaded properties: wild ginger. The gingery-smelling roots are edible and do have a ginger-like taste, although they are not closely related to true ginger. But mostly they are valued for forming dense, attractive green carpets, and the North American species is valued as a native groundcover.

Canadian wild ginger has larger, almost velvety leaves.  By Michael Wolf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Canadian wild ginger has larger, almost velvety leaves.
By Michael Wolf - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

We use both European wild ginger and American wild ginger in the landscape, although it does take some work to find them. Currently it’s easier to find the glossier European species, but as interest in native species grows, the Canadian variety is showing up in more places as well. The small, bell-shaped flowers are pollinated by flies, and they bloom on the ground underneath the leaves. They are only visible by pulling the leaves back.

European wild ginger has smaller, glossy leaves.  By Stefan.lefnaer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

European wild ginger has smaller, glossy leaves. By Stefan.lefnaer - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Common Name: Wild Ginger

Scientific Name: Asarum canadense and europaeum

Light: full to partial shade

Size: 3-6” tall, 12-18” wide

Bloom Time and Color: small, maroon flowers grow underneath the leaves in spring

Notable Varieties: no cultivated varieties, just the two straight species

Soil: prefers consistent moisture

Other Notes: tolerates very deep shade, deer resistant

See other plants of the month.

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Keep Pollinators Around All Season Long

Keep Pollinators Around All Season Long

If you’ve been following our blog for a while, you have probably picked up on the fact that I’m a big fan of pollinator-friendly landscaping. Pollinators like bees, butterflies, moths, and hummingbirds are responsible for reproduction in many of our favorite landscape and food plants, and they’re fun to watch. Nothing says “summer” to me like watching a garden buzzing with all kinds of pollinators. But summer isn’t the only season these critters are out and about, and one of the keys to ensuring that they maintain healthy populations is to make sure that we’re planting pollinator-friendly plants for the full season.

Salt Tolerant Plants

Salt Tolerant Plants

While we haven’t had a lot of huge snow events this year, almost every week there’s enough of a risk of snow or ice to put down road salt at least once. Over time, this salt can splash onto parking lot and roadside plants enough to damage the foliage, or temporarily shock the soil with too much salt for the plant roots. Salt draws water out of plant cells and leaves them looking burnt and stunted. In cases of soil salt accumulation, sometimes it just looks like a plant is smaller and struggling compared to the same plant a few feet further back from the street.

December: Christmas Fern

December: Christmas Fern

Ferns don’t typically make me think of Christmas, but this semi-evergreen fern keeps going strong into December. Its foliage remains green into mid to late winter. It is not the most delicate and dainty fern, but its tough, large leaflets are a good addition to shade gardens when evergreen massing is called for.

Form and Function in Midtown

Form and Function in Midtown

The owners of this property in the Meridian Kessler neighborhood of Indianapolis called us in to revitalize their limited outdoor space to turn it from some foundation plantings and lawn into a multi-purpose space that would bring their family outside and improve curb appeal. We completed this project in two phases: first we did a functional overhaul on the back yard, and then a few years later we dressed up the front yard to fit with the new style and feel of the re-vamped back yard.

July: Cranesbill

July: Cranesbill

If you're looking for an adaptable, colorful, varied, and space-filling family of plant, cranesbill (also known as geranium or hardy geranium) may be what you're looking for. There are cranesbills adapted to sun or partial shade, ones that form tidy little mounds or sweeping masses, bright and vibrant flowers or cool shades. Some are even semi-evergreen! Read on to learn more.

June: Japanese Forest Grass

June: Japanese Forest Grass

Most grasses do not do well in shade, as anyone who has tried to grow a dense lawn on a wooded lot can confirm. There are, however, a few ornamental grasses and relatives of grasses that love the low light conditions of a wood edge or an airy forest. Japanese forest grass is one of these. It doesn't like dense shade, but in filtered light conditions it brings gorgeous texture and movement to the landscape.