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While shade may feel like a limiting factor when it comes to colorful garden plants, it simply isn’t. Yes, your plant palette may not be quite as full as it is in a sunny garden, but there are scores of excellent shade-loving perennial flowers that produce bright blooms all season long. Shade gardeners are often told they need to focus on variegated or colorful foliage plants if they really want to have a lot of color in their gardens. But, while having various textures and hues of foliage can certainly add a lot of pizzazz to a shady garden, foliage plants aren’t the only option. Case in point: the 15 blooming shade perennials featured below.
What does “shade” really mean?
Before introducing you to the best shade-loving perennial flowers for your garden, it’s important to explain what “shade” really means when it comes to a garden.
Typically, shade conditions are divided into two categories: partial shade and full shade.
- Partial shade flowering perennials are happiest where they’re protected from the sun during the mid-day hours when the sun is at its strongest, or else they’re planted in a spot where the sunlight is dappled, perhaps under the shelter of a small shade tree or beneath a pergola or trellis.
- Full shade flowering perennials thrive in areas that receive no direct sunlight, even though they often do receive some sunlight, largely in the form of reflected or heavily filtered light. Full shade areas are often found under large trees or on the north side of structures.
When choosing shade-loving perennial flowers for your garden, it’s important to note how much shade each specific plant prefers. If a full shade flowering plant receives more light than it can handle, foliage burn, leaf curl, or wilting could be the result. To make your decision easier, I’ve separated the 15 best blooming shade perennials on this list into two categories – those that prefer full shade and those that prefer partial shade.
The best shade-loving perennial flowers for your garden
Group 1: Full shade flowering perennials
1. Indian Pink (Spigelia marilandica): This lovely flowering shade perennial grows between 1 and 2 feet in height and produces attention-grabbing elongated red flowers that open into a yellow star. Bloom time occurs in June and lasts for several weeks. Hummingbirds are quite fond of this tough native plant that’s hardy from USDA growing zones 5 to 9. (Source for Indian pinks).
2. Yellow Bleeding Heart (Corydalis lutea): If you’re looking for a blooming shade perennial that produces flowers for months, instead of weeks, this is the plant for you! Hardy in zones 5 to 7, yellow bleeding heart thrives even in dense shade. The bluish green, 12 inch tall, ferny foliage forms neat mounds that are constantly covered with clusters of yellow, tubular flowers. No deadheading required. This is one of the longest blooming of all the shade-loving perennial flowers out there. It self-sows in the garden, too, spreading nicely into a colony if you don’t weed out the unwanted seedlings. (Source for yellow bleeding hearts).
3. Dwarf Chinese Astilbe (Astilbe chinensis var. pumila): Native to the high mountains of Asia and hardy in zones 4 to 8, this shade perennial flower is in bloom from mid-spring through late summer. The purple-pink flower spikes stand 10-12 inches tall, above serrated green foliage. Dwarf Chinese astilbe makes a great flowering groundcover for the shade and is more tolerant of dry soils than most other astilbes. (Source for dwarf Chinese astilbe).
4. Fern-leaf Bleeding Heart (Dicentra exima): This trouble-free, North American native shade perennial has every trait you could ever want in a flowering perennial for the shade. Its soft blue foliage isn’t bothered by pests, its growth habit is compact, and it produces pink, white, or red blooms from April straight through to fall’s first frost with no care required. With a height of 12-18 inches and an equal spread, there are many hybrids and cultivars of this plant so there’s many to choose from! Hardy in zones 3 to 9. (Source for fern-leaf bleeding hearts).
5. Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis): Yes, there is such a thing as a hardy begonia, and when it comes to shade-loving perennial flowers, it’s one worth seeking out. Winter hardy down to zone 6, this shade perennial flower stands tall at 18-24 inches and produces clusters of pink or red flowers from summer through fall. It tolerates heavy shade quite well and will even survive under a black walnut tree where little else will grow. There are many cultivars available, including ‘Heron’s Pirouette’ and ‘Pink Teardrop’. The large heart-shaped leaves and thick stems add interest to the shade garden, too. (Source for hardy begonia).
6. Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.): Though barrenwort is only in bloom for a week to ten days, it’s a plant worth growing because it tolerates both dense shade and very dry soil, making it a good fit for under pine trees and dense shade cover. There are many different species that produce varying bloom colors, but all have elongated, heart-shaped leaves and spread nicely throughout the garden. Standing around 12 inches tall and hardy from zones 5 to 9, barrenwort is a great full shade flowering perennial.
7. Berry Exciting Corydalis (Corydalis anthriscifolia ‘Berry Exciting’): Similar to the yellow bleeding heart described above, ‘Berry Exciting’ also has lovely, soft, lace-like foliage, but instead of being bluish green, it’s bright chartreuse. And then to add icing to the cake of this blooming shade perennial, it’s topped with clusters of grape-purple, tubular flowers almost all summer long. Hardy in zones 5 to 9, this plant doesn’t tolerate drought and may shift into summer dormancy if it’s grown in very hot climates.
Group 2: Partial shade flowering perennials
1. Mourning Widow Perennial Geranium (Geranium phaeum): Of all the hardy geraniums, this variety is the best one to include on a list of shade-loving perennial flowers because it tolerates more shade than most other species. The green leaves are splotched with a central chocolate-brown marking and the dark maroon-purple (almost black) blooms pop up above the foliage from early spring through late summer. Winter hardy down to zone 5, mourning widow grows up to 2 feet tall and is very low maintenance.
2. Toadlily (Tricyrtis spp.): Toadlilies are among the most unique shade-loving perennial flowers. Almost orchid-like in appearance, both the plant and the late-season blooms are capable of stopping the neighbors in their tracks. There are many different varieties of toadlilies, but most have white blooms splotched with speckles of pink, rose, or burgundy. The leaves wrap around the stems, and they come in a wide range of plant heights, depending on the specific variety you choose. Toadlilies are hardy in zones 5 to 8 and spread very nicely (but not invasively!). (Source for toadlilies).
3. Creeping Veronica (Veronica umbrosa ‘Georgia’): Zones 4 to 8 hardy, creeping veronica is a wonderful perennial groundcover for shade. There are other cultivars of this plant, but ‘Georgia Blue’ is a personal favorite as is ‘Waterperry Blue’ (see photo below). The bright blue flowers in late spring have a white central eye and the trailing foliage is a glossy green that turns burgundy in the autumn. If you don’t want to use it as a groundcover, it also makes a great addition to the front of a woodland perennial garden. This shade perennial reaches just 6 inches in height.
4. Siberian Bugloss (Brunnera macrophylla): The heart-shaped leaves of this blooming shade perennial are covered in small hairs, making them unpalatable to deer and rabbits. Plus, the self-sowing nature of this perennial means it naturalizes into a nice colony within a few years. Clusters of tiny blue flowers smother the plants every spring. Reaching a height of about 18 inches and hardy in zones 3 to 8, Siberian bugloss is a must for any shade garden. (Source for bugloss).
5. Leopard plant (Ligularia spp.) : Probably the most striking of all the shade-loving perennial flowers, this bold and beautiful plant is tough to miss. Depending on the species, tall spikes or clusters of bright yellow flowers shoot out above the heart-shaped or serrated leaves in mid-summer. Reaching an imposing height of up to 4 feet, Ligularia tolerates wet soils but wilts readily if allowed to dry out. Hardy in zones 4 to 8, you can’t beat this big, bold shade perennial’s flowers. There are several different varieties, including spiky ‘The Rocket’ and red-leaved ‘Brit Marie Crawford.’ (Source for leopard plant).
6. Bear’s Breeches (Acanthus mollis): Another big shade perennial with bold flowers and foliage, bear’s breeches is an absolute knock-out. The long, serrated leaves and thorn-covered stems are imposing, but the tall spikes of hooded flowers make it all worth it. The bumblebees adore this plant, and with a height of 3 to 5 feet, it requires a large growing space. Hardy down to zone 6, these shade-loving perennial flowers will not be easily forgotten. (Source for bear’s breeches).
7. Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum): Another excellent shade perennial groundcover or for the front of the border, the low, medium green leaves of this beauty are covered in canary yellow, daisy-like blooms in the early spring. A fast spreader (but not invasive) that forms a dense mat, this North American native plant is a must for any shade garden with a lot of ground to cover. Topping out at just 6 inches tall, the plants are hardy in zones 5 to 9. (Source for Chrysogonum).
8. Celandine poppy (Stylophorum diphyllum): Though the main flowering show of this shade perennial is in the early spring, if you cut the plants back hard soon after flowering a second flush of foliage and flowers quickly pops up out of the ground. A word of warning about this one, though: it readily self-sows, sometimes to the point of becoming obnoxious, so I don’t recommend it for small gardens or places that aren’t regularly weeded. The yellow, cup-shaped flowers are borne in clusters above the foot-tall foliage and the plant is hardy from zones 4 to 9. (Source for celandine poppy).
As you can see, there are many colorful choices of shade-loving perennial flowers available for your garden. We hope you’ll give some of them a try and bring a touch of brilliance to your shady landscape areas. Oh, and if their beauty isn’t enough, all of the plants mentioned here are also deer resistant. (And here’s another post on more deer-resistant plants for your garden, if you want even more to choose from.)
For more information on perennial gardening, check out the following posts:
- 24 Purple perennials to brighten your garden
- The ultimate list of cottage garden plants
- Pint-sized plants for a miniature plant garden
- 10 of the longest flowering perennials
- Early blooming perennials: 10 favorites
- Beautiful annual flowers for the shade
Do you garden in the shade? Tell us about some of your favorite shade perennials in the comment section below.