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Apr 09

Best Flowering Perennials for Shade Gardens

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What are the best flowering perennials for a shady garden? You will be glad to know that there are a lot of beautiful options available for a shade garden.

Perennial plants suit my lazy gardening ‘style’.  I do like my garden to look nice, but I don’t really enjoy spending hours and hours at making it look good.  While I do have some planters of annuals that attract butterflies and hummingbirds, I prefer plants that have pretty flowers and that mostly take care of themselves.  As someone who is also frugal, I appreciate not having to spend hundreds of dollars each spring in order to add beauty and interest to my garden.  In my view, simple and pretty is better than labour-intensive, expensive, and pretty.

I do rely a lot on the advice and experience of my friends and neighbours as well as a couple of really terrific books.  My absolute favourite ‘go to’ book is Home Depot Gardening 1-2-3. I use it a lot because it is easy to understand (even for an amateur like me) and it includes all of the information (and more) that I could ever imagine needing. As of right now, you can get a used hard cover copy for 39 cents at Amazon.  You could also probably find an old copy kicking around at a garage sale as well.  In any case, having at least one great book is well worth it.

On to the Best Low Light Perennials for a Shady Garden:

Astilbe

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Astilbe

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: 1′ – 4′ tall, and 10″ – 3′ wide, depending on species

Features:  These bloom in mid- to late summer.  Spikes ripen into pretty seedheads that can last into winter.

Needs:  The astible needs shade.  Requires moist, well-drained, deep soil.  Fertilize every four weeks or so and remove fading flower stalks.  Mulch is recommended in order to help retain moisture.

Varieties: ‘Showstar, ‘Bunter, and ‘Purple Candles are just some of the many varieties available. The also come in a stunning White variety.  

Bleeding Heart

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Bleeding Heart

Hardiness: Zones 2-9

Size: Range from 9″ – 4′ tall and wide.

Features:  The Bleeding Heart plant is famed for its strings of beautiful little heart-shaped flowers.  It blooms for a couple of weeks in the early spring.

Needs:  Light shade and rich, well-drained soil.  Needs to be constantly moist and the soil should be covered with mulch.  Trim spent blooms.

Varieties: Some of the most attractive varieties include pinkwhite and redand canary yellow.  There are also many other varieties as well.

Bugbane

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Bugbane

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: 3′ – 6′ tall, 2′ to 3′ wide

Features:  The bugbane looks wonderful in any low light garden with its elegant, tall spikes of white flowers.  It is particularly nice because it blooms late summer to late fall when there is little else blooming.  It also adapts well to wet soils.

Needs:  The bugbane like part shade but can adapt to sunnier locations if it is kept moist.  It prefers rich, deep, and moist soil that is slightly acidic.  It is also quite resistant to pests and diseases as long as it is kept in good health.

Varieties: Flowers are white.  ‘Black Bugbane’ and ‘Atropurpurea’ (which has purple foliage) are popular varieties.

Christmas Rose; Lenten Rose

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Christmas Rose; Lenten Rose

Hardiness: Zones 3-9

Size: 14″ – 18″ tall, 18″ to 2′ wide

Features:  The Christmas Rose may be challenging the Hosta as the new low light garden favourite.  There are several reasons for this:  it is very hardy, has lush evergreen foliage, and also has beautiful winter blossoms that last for more than two months.  They are also easy to care for.

Needs:  Very rich, well-drained soil with lots of moisture is ideal.  Protect them from hot afternoon sun.  Mulch in the spring to conserve moisture. The Christmas Rose spreads rapidly and is normally disease and pest free.

Varieties: Flowers are white or light pink. ‘Royal Heritage’ is a popular variety which has single and double flowers that have a wide range of colours.

Epimedium; Bishop’s Hat; Barrenwort

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Epimedium; Bishop’s Hat; Barrenwort

Hardiness: Zones 4-9

Size: 6″-15″ tall, 12″-18″ wide

Features:  Flowers can be white, pink, red, or yellow and bloom in the spring.  The foliage is heart-shaped and starts off bronze in the spring, bright green in the summer, and back to bronze again in the fall and winter.  This plant also grows well in shade (and dry conditions as well) and can grow in competition with tree roots.

Needs:  Shade to part shade.  It prefers rich and moist soil but will grow in dry conditions as well.  It is largely pest free.

Varieties: Popular varieties have purpleand amber flowers.

Hosta

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Hostas

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: 3″ – 48″ tall, 3″ to 48″ wide, depending on variety

Features:  The hosta is one of the best known shade perennials.  These plants have lovely large leaves and stems that often have fragrant flowers.  They bloom mid- or late-summer.

Needs:  Rich, well-drained soil, with moderate to plentiful moisture. Mulch with hummus in the spring.  Fertilize occasionally (about every six weeks or so).  Hostas are susceptible to slugs and snails but the thicker leaved varieties are more resistant.  Tolerance for the sun varies with the cultivar grown but yellow-leaved specimens will tolerate more sun than the other cultivars.

Varieties: There are a wide selection of hostas available. Some of the most attractive include the ‘Halcyon’ Hosta, the ‘June’ Hosta, the ‘White Feather’ Hosta, the ‘Stained Glass’ Hosta, and the ‘Big Blue’ Hosta.

Ligularia; Leopard Plant

Best Low Light Perennial Plants for a Shady Garden

Ligularia; Leopard Plant

Hardiness: Zones 5-8

Size: 3′ – 4′ tall, 3′ – 5′ wide

Features:  The Ligularia has bright yellow flowers and large leaves and is a very popular plant for shady beds.  One variety grows flowers on tall spikes while the other grows daisy-like clusters (see picture).  It looks particularly nice when massed in groups of 4 or 5.  Ligularia blooms in mid- to late-summer.

Needs:  Afternoon shade is important.  The soil must be rich and moist to wet and never allowed to dry out. Mulching will help to conserve moisture.  Fertilize every 6 weeks or so. Remove spent flowers after blooming.  Ligularia should be protected from slugs and snails as it is susceptible to damage.

Varieties:  You have spiky varieties and daisy-like varieties to choose from.  Some spiky option include the ‘Siberian Rocket‘, and ‘The Rocket‘. Daisy-like versions include the ‘Midnight Lady Rocket, the ‘Britt-Marie Crafford, and the ‘Orange Queen.

Pigsqueak; Heart-Leafed Bergenia

Best Low Light Perennials for a Shady Garden

Pigsqueak; Heart-Leaf Bergenia

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: 8″ – 12″ tall, 12″ – 18″ wide

Features:  The pigsqueak is a plant that adds interest to any garden throughout the seasons; from bell-shaped flowers in the spring, to bright green foliage in the summer, and then to rich bronzy-red leaves in the fall and winter. Adding compost to the soil at planting time helps to retain moisture

Needs:  The pigsqueak needs moist, well-drained soil in full sun or partial shade.  These plants can tolerate more sun when in cooler climates.  Remove dead leaves before new growth emerges.

Varieties: Two varieties to consider are ‘Bressingham White and the ‘Red Beauty’ Bergenia.

Pulmonaria; Lungwort

Best Low Light Perennials for a Shady Garden

Pulmonaria; Lungwort

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: Grows 12″ – 18″ tall, up to 2′  wide

Features: The flowers can be blue or purple and are funnel-shaped.  Blooms appear in the late spring and form in clusters.  The Pulmonaria is excellent for moist, shady gardens.  It is an evergreen except in the most extreme winter conditions.

Needs:  The Pulmonaria does best in light to full shade.  It needs well-drained soil that is rich and moist.  Adding compost in the spring will help to keep the soil moist.  Remove spent blooms to encourage new growth.  Powdery mildew can be a problem, so keep the soil moist at all times to prevent problems.

Varieties: Two of the more popular varieties are ‘Diana Clare‘ which produces violet blue flowers and the ‘Raspberry Splash’, which, of course, produces raspberry coloured flowers.  

Sweet Woodruff

Best Low Light Perennials for a Shady Garden

Sweet Woodruff

Hardiness: Zones 4-8

Size: Grows 4″ – 1′ tall, 1′ wide

Features: Sweet Woodruff is good for filling in shady bare patches in your lawn as it grows quickly in rich soil. It makes a good groundcover that will blossoms with pretty little white flowers in the spring.

Needs:  It needs well-drained, hummus-rich, acidic soil. You can easily increase the acidity of your soil by adding peat moss, oak leaves, or pine straw mulch to it.  It grows well in full sun or part shade.  The hotter the climate, the more shade that is required.

Varieties:  Sweet Woodruff flowers come in white and  blue varieties.

 Virginia Bluebells

Best Low Light Perennials for a Shady Garden

Virginia Bluebells

Hardiness: Zones 3-8

Size: 12″ – 18″ tall, 8″ – 10″ wide

Features:  These plants have flowers that are shaped like, well … blue bells.  These flowers get a pink cast to them in early to midspring.  The flowers disappear by midsummer.  In the wild, they can spread into huge stands.

Needs: In cooler areas (zones 3-6), this plant needs full sun to light shade.  In warmer areas (zones 7-8), it will need light to full shade to protect it from the hot sun.  It requires rich, moist, neutral to acidic soil.  Lots of moisture in the spring, moderate moisture onwards.  Mulching the soil will help to keep it cool and moist.  Plants go dormant after blooming and are self-seeding.

Varieties:  VIrginia Bluebells come in blue, pink, purple, and white.

In Summary, there is a lot more to shady perennial gardening than hostas.  It is amazing how many beautiful flowering plants actually do very well in shady conditions.  If you live in a shady area, you might also be interested in my post about the best low light house plants.

Discover my Top Rated Garden Products HERE

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Author: Jason Milburn Google

Frugal dad – focusing my money and energy towards happiness and the things that matter most since around 1985.

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