Ferns are a shade garden staple adding height, texture and movement to any site. Use in masses for a classic woodland setting or pair with other perennials like Hosta and Coral Bells. Fronds can be used in cut flower arrangements too! Fern fronds can be finely cut, variegated, stiff or soft and airy while the stems can be fine or thick and in multiple shades of green or even black. Explore the many species of ferns available at your local garden center to find the perfect fit for your outdoor space.
Top Shade Perennials
Delicate, two-toned leaves spread quickly to form a groundcover that will brighten up any shady spot. These vigorous plants can cover a significant amount of space in no time yet mind their manners by not being invasive. While the foliage is lovely from spring to fall, it is complimented nicely in spring with snapdragon-like flowers in pink, purple or white. Use in the landscape for a pop of color or in a combination planting in your favorite container.
A tough and easy to grow perennial with evergreen, grass-like foliage and flower spikes that develop into decorative berries. Lilyturf is a popular perennial for good reason. It withstands quite a bit of neglect and just keeps going strong. Pick a green or variegated variety to line a walkway or border. They can be used as a groundcover, under trees and in containers too!
Soft ferny foliage adds an airy feeling to the shade garden. In spring, look for tubular flowers in shades of pink, white, purple or blue. Corydalis is great for early season color with its green foliage and bright blooms. Once it’s done flowering, the plant’s growth slows, making room for summer and fall-blooming perennials to take the stage. Give this plant room to grow as it has a tendency to reseed freely.
Lungwort is easy to spot with their fuzzy, speckled foliage and little bell-shaped flowers that bloom early to late spring. Plant them in clusters as a groundcover. The distinct foliage of Lungwort can break up a monotonous planting long after the flowers have done their job in spring.
Delicate, heart-shaped blooms dangle from arching stems in early spring. Each individual flower has outer petals that form a heart shape with the inner petals and stamen that take on the appearance of a droplet, hence the name Bleeding Heart. Most often, the blooms are pink, but they are available in red and white as well. Bleeding Heart can be referred to as a “Goldilocks plant” as it likes the soil just right; not too dry and not too wet. That being said, Bleeding Heart is an easy to grow perennial for spots that need early season color.
Grown for their semi-evergreen foliage that provides year-round color to the garden as well as in containers. Their fabulous foliage comes in a wide range colors from chartreuse to silver, black to deep red, orange to maroon and often showing off an ombre or lustrous effect. They get their common name from the dainty flowers that bloom late spring to early summer. Make sure their soil is kept well-drained, they don’t do well in soggy soil.
One of the best groundcovers for shade because of its attractive foliage and beautiful spring blooms. The leaves of the Ajuga come in varying shapes and ranges of colors form green, chocolate brown, near black and variegated forms. They stay low to ground, averaging a height of about 6 inches tall and spread across the ground. Use these in clusters of colors to add drama to your shade garden.
Hydrangeas been the choice of gardeners for generations with continuous blooms from mid-summer to autumn depending on variety. These woody shrubs come in all sizes to suit any setting. Depending on the species, you can have rounded or cylindrical shaped blooms in a wide range of colors and various leaf shapes. Newer varieties even change bloom colors as the season progresses! You can find blooms in an array of colors like lavender, blue, pink, red, white, and green. As you probably guessed, they get their name because they do like to water. Be sure to prune and care for your Hydrangea based on their species. Some bloom on new growth and others on old wood, so a little homework will go quite a ways in ensuring a beautiful blooming shrub for years to come!
The feathery plumes of Astilbes add spectacular color to your shade garden coming in shades of pink, red, burgundy, white and lavender. Finely cut foliage is often a deep green but the new growth can emerge in bronze and green. Astilbes prefer moist, shady conditions and look best when planted in groups. Tall varieties can be planted in the back of the garden. Smaller and more compact selections can be planted in borders or even in containers. Try them as a lawn alternative where shade makes it harder to grow grass.