I have to admit that planting in shady areas can sometimes frustrate me. I want bright colors and lots flowers and variety and sometimes that is hard to get. I’ve found several plants that have beautiful and brightly colored leaves that, when combined with other shade plants add structure and texture to my shade gardens.
This is a list of all herbaceous plants, no shrubs are included.
Perennial Shade Plants with Pretty Flowers
Hellebores – Lenten Rose
The flowers in the genus Helleborus are early spring bloomers come in many flower colors. The blooms last for several weeks, but are done by the time summer gets here. They are deer-resistant and prefer moist soil, but they don’t like wet feet. So use organic matter to your soil and mulch as needed. Lenten rose is hardy in zones 4 to 8.
Siberian Bugloss ‘Silver wings’
This little plant (Brunnera macrophylla) does double duty. It has both beautiful leaves and produces a delicate blue flower that provides a pop of color in a shade garden. The flowers appear in spring. It prefers medium moist soil and part to full shade. It will grow in a clumping habit. Hardy in zones 3a to 7b.
Orange Ginger Lily – Hedychium coccineum
Although this ginger lily can be planted in sun, in Mississippi summers, I have had it do very well in part-shade to nearly full shade areas. It’s a much taller plant than many shade-tolerant species. It can grow as tall as four to five feet. It is grown from a rhizome, so it requires moist but well-drained soil. The unique orange flowers bloom in summer and early fall. In zones 7 to 10, it is perennial. You can dig up and divide the rhizomes in winter to spread the plant.
Perennial Shade Plants with Amazing Leaves
Not all plants are grown for their blooms. This seems especially true when it comes to shade plants. You actually get more long-term color and interest in your garden from a plant that has interesting leaves than one that has a short-term flower.
Coral Bells – Heuchera and Heucherella
With so many choices in leaf colors, there is sure to be a Heuchera or Heucherella to suit you. From dark purple to lime green, reds, pinks, and greens, take your pick of a color that works well in your shade garden. While they do produce small flowers, I’m mostly interested in the amazing leaf colors.
They prefer part shade and are a clumping or mounding plant. It prefers well-drained, fertile soil. Mulching is a good idea. Plants can be divided in fall. You can propagate the plants from leaf cuttings. They are hardy in zones 4 through 7.
Heucherella is a hybrid of Heuchera and Tiarella.
Everyone is familiar with hostas, but did you know there were so many different kinds? There are over 2,500 cultivars! A fair warning with these plants, if you have a deer problem, DO NOT plant these. It’s like planting deer candy; it’s the first thing that gets eaten out of the garden. Hostas are hardy up to zone 8. Pick one that is well-suited to your zone and light conditions.
Hostas do not like wet soil, but prefer rich, well-drained, organic soil. If there are drought conditions, you will need to water your hostas. Additionally, if you have them planted close to tree roots, they will require more water as well. Mulch hostas in northern climates.
You can divide hostas in early spring to make new plants. They do best in part shade.
Aucuba japonica comes in many hybrids which range in color. I like the green and yellow leaves. This plant can grow several feet tall, depending on the variety you get. It’s very easy to root from a cutting. Hardy in zones 7a to 9b. Technically, it’s a shrub, but with it’s green stems, it doesn’t look much like one. It is drought tolerant and evergreen. It prefers part shade to full shade and leaves that are exposed to bright sun will turn brown. Aucuba prefers well-drained moist soil. It is actually an evergreen and will not lose its leaves in winter.
Annual Shade Plants with Amazing Leaves
I can’t write an article about shade plants without talking about Coleus. Although it’s an annual, they are very easy to grow from seed or from cuttings. There are so many different colors of leaves, I just adore this plant.
Coleus prefer well-drained soil but will need to be watered in periods of dry weather. There are sun-tolerant varieties, so check the label when purchasing seeds or plants. Coleus is a low-maintenance plant once it has settled in. As an annual, it can be grown in most zones of the U.S.
Read more about growing coleus from seeds or cuttings.
Often, it is easier to cover the ground in shady areas rather than try to grow plants that need deeper root penetration. Competing with trees can be a challenge. There are many options for ground covers in the shade. Here are some of my favorites.
This is a pretty aggressively spreading plant, so be careful where you plant it. It produces lovely periwinkle flowers in early spring. The vine gets to be about 5 inches tall and spreads rapidly. It prefers part-shade and can tolerate some sun. It’s really hardy.
This green and silver-leaved plant produces yellow, white, or pink flowers. The plant stays pretty low to the ground, but the flowers extend upwards of 6 to 7 inches. It isn’t an aggressive spreader in my zone (7b). It grows in zones 2 to 9. It’s rather hardy as well. Part to full shade.
Creeping Jenny – Lysimachia nummularia
This is another aggressively spreading plant and in some places it is considered an invasive, so be cautious. I love the lime green color and it mixes well with deep purples. It is very low to the ground, with a height of only an inch or two at the most. It also goes well in containers as it spills over the edge. It is perennial.