Perennials for Shady Areas

For many gardeners, shady areas are problem spots in the home landscape. Many plants, however, perform well in shady areas. Selecting and planting shade tolerant plants can turn a shady problem site into an attractively landscaped area.

When selecting plant materials, gardeners should consider the degree of shade at the site. Some plants thrive in partial shade, others tolerate heavy shade. Areas on the north side of buildings or under the canopy of dense shade trees receive little or no direct sunlight. Only plants that grow well in heavy shade should be planted in these sites. Partial shade can be described as areas that receive a few hours of direct sun, but are shaded much of the day.

The following perennials are good choices for partially to heavily shaded sites.


Perennials Adapted to Partial Shade

Common Name Scientific Name Height Comments
Columbine Aquilegia spp. 1-3 ft. Flowers come in shades of white, yellow, pink, red, blue, purple
Dwarf Goat's Beard aethusifolius 12 in. Korean native, plant somewhat runcus resembles a sm. white astilbe
Goat's Beard Aruncus dioicus 4-6 ft. Much larger species.
Astilbe Astilbe spp. 10-24 in. Flowers are fluffy plumes of white, pink,red,or lavender
Tuberous Begonia Begonia x tuberhybrida 12-18 in. Tender, tubers must be dug in fall
Bergenia Bergenia cordifolia 12 in. Best feature is large, shiny leaves
Siberian Bugloss Brunnera macrophylla 12-18 in. produces small, blue forget-me-not-like flowers
Caladium Caladium x hortulanum 1-2 ft. Tender,tubers must be dug in fall.
Turtlehead Chelone spp. 2-3 ft. Flowers resemble the head of ac turtle
Bugbane Cimicifuga racemosa 3-8 ft. Well suited to background areacs.
Bleeding Heart Dicentra spp. 1-3 ft. Heart-shaped flowers are produced on arching stems.
Shooting Star Dodecatheon meadia 12-18 in. Native to eastern Iowa. Flowers petals sweep upward forming "shooting star"
Barrenwort Epimedium spp. 12 in. Groundcover, small flowers somewhat resemble columbine
Queen-of-the-Meadow Filipendula ulmaria 3-4 ft. Flowers are white
Creeping Lily-Turf Liriope spicata 8-12 in. Groundover. Grass-like foliage. Spreads quickly by rhizomes
Gooseneck Loosestrif Lysimachia clethroides 3 ft. White curving flower stalk
Woodland Phlox Phlox divaricata 12-15 in Woodland native, blue flower
Siberian Squill Scilla siberica 3-6 in. spring blooming blubs, bright blue flowers
Meadow Rue Thalictrum spp. 1-6 ft. Size varies greatly among specaies. Plants have fine-textured foliage.
Foam Flower Tiarella cordifolia 6-12 in. White flowers,attractive foliagie

Perennials Adapted to heavy Shade

Common Name Scientific Name Height Comments
Madenhair Fern Adiantum pedaturm 10-18 in. Fine-textured foliage.
Bugleweed Ajuga reptans 6-9 in Agressive groundcover, blue flsowers
Jack-in-the-pulpit Arisaema triphyllum 1-2 ft. Woodland native. Needs moist soil
Wild Ginger Asarum spp. 6-10 in. Creeping rootstalks and leaves have ginger-like fragrance
Lady Fern Athyrium nipponicum 'Pictum' 2-3 ft. An easy to grow fern
Lily-of-the-Valley Convallaria majalis 6-12 in. Groundcover, can become invasive
Shield or Wood Fern Dryopteris spp. 2-3 ft. Large group of ferns
Sweet Woodruff Galium odoraturm 6-8 in. Groundcover. Plants produce white fragrant flowers in spring
Hosta Hosta spp. 4-36 in. Dependable perennial. Numerous species and varieties available
Yellow Archangel Lamiastrum galeobdolon 12-18 in. Yellow flowers, silver variegated foliage, also known as Galeobdolon luteum
Spotted Deadnettle Lamium maculatum 6-8 in. Groundcover.
Ostrich Fern Matteuccia struthiopteris 4 ft. Coarse-textured fern with large fronds.
Virginia Bluebells Mertensia virginica 1-2 ft. Early spring-blooming perennial. Plants produce nodding clusters of blue flowers.
Cinnamon Fern Osmunda cinnamomea 2-4 ft. Fertile fronds resemble cinnamon sticks
Japanese Pachysandra Pachysandra terminalis 6-8 in. Groundcover. Often winterburns in exposed sites.
Mayapple Podophyllum peltatum 12-18 in. Woodland native. Spreads by rhizomes forming colonies
Solomon's Seal Polygonatum spp. 2-5 ft. Woodland native. Long, arching stems bear greenish white flowers.
False Solomon's Seal Smilacina racemosa 3 ft. Woodland native
Celandine Poppy Stylophorum spp. 18 in. Produces bright yellow flowers and deeply cut, oak-like leaves
Merrybells Uvularia spp. 1-2 ft. Woodland native. Produces nodding, yellow flowers

Many of the shade tolerant perennials are native to woodland sites. Add organic matter, such as compost or peat, and incorporate to a depth of 6 to 8 inches prior to planting. The organic matter improves soil drainage and helps to conserve soil moisture.

This article originally appeared in the June 17, 1994 issue, pp. 1994 issue, pp. 94-95.


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