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Plants to grow in a shady garden


You can grow plants in a shady garden if you take into account just how shady it is and choose plants that will grow in that degree of shade.

It might seem impossible to grow plants in a shady garden, but providing some sunshine gets through and you select plants that are tolerant to the degree of shade in your garden, it is very possible. 


These are the two things you need factor in to grow plants in shady gardens;

  1. The different degrees of shade in your garden.
  2. Which plants can tolerate and thrive in that degree of shade.

How to work out the degree of shade in your garden.

  • Light shade: "dappled sunlight" A site that is open to the sky, but screened from direct sunlight by an obstacle, such as a high wall or group of trees
  • Partial shade: An area receiving sunlight for two or three hours either in early morning or late evening.  Midday sun supplies considerably more light
  • Moderate shade: Mainly reflected or diffused light, for example through tree canopies.
  • Deep shade: Usually under dense deciduous trees, e.g. beech, conifer hedges or overgrown shrubberies

list of plants that will grow in shade

 You might be surprised by the number of plants that will grow in shade, it is quite a long list.

  • Annuals; Shade tolerant flowering annuals do well in light to medium shade, but do not bloom well in heavy shade. Some annuals in fact prefer light shade to full sun. Impatiens. Browallias, Coleus, Wax begonias and  Dwarf salvias all tolerate light shade
  • Bulbs; Some spring flowering bulbs can tolerate even deep shade and providing the leaves receive full sunlight for most of the day and are left to die back naturally to build up food reserves for the next blooming cycle, will establish and come up year after year. Bulbs like Crocus, Scillas, Snowdrops, and species tulips bloom and produce leaves before the trees are fully in leaf, so that they receive the light they need to blossom annually. Daffodils and English bluebells are natural to our hedgerows and open wooded areas.
  • Perennials; Most perennial woodland plants flower very early in the season and will grow and flower in light shade, and some even in fairly dense shade, they are muted and delicate in colour rather than bold and brightly colored.   Most perennials only flower for a few weeks, but even when flowering is over, their stems, foliage, seed pods and sometimes bright berries add variety and interest to a shade garden. Some shade loving perennials, such as hosta, lilies and Ferns don't flower at all, but are planted for the interesting leaf shape and colour.
  • Ground cover plants like wild violets, lilies of the valley, goutweed, wild ginger, Japanese spurge, periwinkle and English ivy will survive in the shadiest and most hostile parts of a shade garden. These perennial ground cover plants need minimum maintenance, but plants like Ivy are invasive and spread quickly.
  • Herbs and Vegetables
  • Some herbs, particularly the mint family do quite well in lightly shaded areas,  they need moist fertile soil and it is easier to control fertility and water when planting them in containers. Containers can also be moved around to catch what light gets into your garden and control the spread of invasive herbs like mint. 
  • All Vegetables do best in bright all-day sunlight , but a few of the leafier types  grown for greens rather than for fruits or roots will grow in light or partial shade.
  • Shade tolerant vegetables include  lettuce, spinach, Swiss chard, kale and mustard greens. You may get smaller, thinner and paler coloured leaves when grown in light shade, but the taste will be the same. 

Obviously in a garden with light shade the choice of plants will be greater, in deep shade choice will be limited. Providing deep shade plants are positioned in the shadiest area and so on, most plants iI have listed can be used. I have  listed a few more shade tolerant plants toward the bottom of this page.

If you like growing from seed, flowering annuals can be started indoors or in a greenhouse and then when big and sturdy enough, transplanted into the ground or containers. 

A few more things to consider when growing in shade.

  • Gardens shaded by trees, fencing, high walls and buildings are increasingly common as economic factors and shortage of building land mean more homes are being built on available land with gardens getting smaller. Gardens facing North and East, especially those surrounded by fencing and high walls added for privacy can be cold and shady for much of the year. 
  • Gardens in shade can be very challenging to plant, but  providing some sunshine gets through and plants are selected for their tolerance of the degree of shade in your garden, it is possible to successfully grow stuff, even some vegetables.
  • Shade-tolerant plants are generally not very colourful in flower, but make up for lack of colour by  having  attractive or interesting foliage. They often have large very green leaves to catch what light there is. So you might, want to group plants by shades of colour and shape of foliage instead of bright colours. 

Other factors effecting planting in shady gardens are lack of moisture and nutrients.

  • Light is not the only factor to take into account when designing shady gardens. Lack of  moisture caused by the thick canopy of  trees or the overhang of a house deflecting rainfall away from the ground and trees sucking up moisture from the soil.  Plants growing in the shade of large trees or sheltered by your home or garage will need watering regularly. 
  • Poor soil fertility caused by trees using up the nutrients your shade plants need to survive, will mean regularly applying  fertiliser.  Planting shade tolerant annuals, bulbs and perennials in containers  can overcome the lack of water and poor soil fertility.
  • Most shade-tolerant plants grow best in well drained, relatively fertile soil.  Sandy soils are less fertile than clay based soil  and will benefit from adding homemade  compost, or well-rotted manure.
  • *plants suitable for heavy shade; the rest need light or partial shade.
  • Annuals  balsam, begonias, wax browallia, catharanthus (vinca), coleus, feverfew, fuchsias, impatiens, lobelia, mimulus, salvia, dwarf, torenia (wishbone flower)     
  • Bulbs begonias, tuberous, crocus, daffodils, grape hyacinths, scillas, snowdrops, species tulips.     
  • Groundcovers ajuga (bugleweed), *barrenwort, *ginger, wild and European, *goutweed (bishop's weed), *hosta lilies, *lily of the valley, *pachysandra (Japanese spurge), *periwinkle, *wild violets. 
  • Herbs basil, chervil, chives, coriander, mints, parsley, sage, sorrel, tarragon. 
  • Perennials astilbe, bergenia, bleeding heart, columbine, coral bells, *daylilies, *ferns, forget-me-nots, *hosta lilies, leopardsbane, meadowsweet, monarda, monkshood, trollius (globe flower). 
  • Woodland Flowers *bellwort, bloodroot, cardinal flower, *Dutchman's-breeches. *foam flower, fringed bleeding heart, harebells, hepatica, *jack-in-the-pulpit, Jacob's ladder, *lungwort, *meadow rue, rue anemone, snakeroot, white or black, *Solomon's seal, spring beauty, *trillium, *Virginia bluebells, wild columbine, *wild violets.
  • *plants suitable for heavy shade; the rest need light or partial shade.