What Shade Plants Are Right for Your Hardiness Zone?

What Shade Plants Are Right for Your Hardiness Zone?

Updated February 28, 2023

The following article is part of a series geared toward entry-level gardeners. For deep dives into a variety of perennials that we have sold over the decades, visit our archive of in-depth perennial articles written by Tony Avent, Dr. Patrick McMillan, and other Plant Delights and JLBG experts. We also have transcripts of our Gardening Unplugged videos, recorded during our Open Nursery and Garden Days, that have great information for gardeners of all experience levels.

Many gardeners neglect adding shade plants to their landscaping simply because they believe that all plants and flowers have to have sunshine in order to thrive. The truth is that there are a number of beautiful plants that will thrive in minimal sunlight. These shade plants will allow you to add beauty to all areas of your garden, even those that receive just few hours of sunlight each day. Some shade plants are full shade which means that they will thrive even with no direct sunlight.There are a few factors to consider when choosing the right shade plants for your garden. Begin by identifying your USDA Plant Hardiness Zone. Next, choose the planting site and pay attention to how much sun the area receives through out the day. Also consider the type of sun; Is the sun dappled by a tree canopy? Does the spot recieve morning or afternoon sun? All of these factors can determine the type of shade perennial that will thrive in your particular conditions.

Shade Plants for the First Time Gardener

For the entry level gardener, it's important to choose plants that are easy to grow and maintain. Here are some shade-loving perennials that fit the bill:

  1. Hosta: Hostas are a classic shade-loving perennial that come in a variety of colors and sizes. They require minimal care and can thrive in a range of soil conditions. Hostas range in size from 2" to more than 3' in height and are very hardy in Zone 3 through Zone 8. They can be planted in partially shaded areas and provide beautiful blooms during the heat of summer. At other times during the growing season you will enjoy lovely foliage in a number of beautiful hues.

  2. Astilbe: Astilbes are known for their feathery plumes of flowers in shades of pink, red, and white. They require consistent moisture and thrive in rich, organic soil.

  3. Coral Bells: Coral Bells, or Heuchera, are known for their colorful foliage, which can range from green to purple to silver. They prefer well-drained soil and can tolerate some sun as well as shade.

  4. Lungwort: Lungwort, or Pulmonaria, is a low-growing plant with variegated leaves and pink or blue flowers. They prefer moist soil and can tolerate some sun as well as shade.

  5. Foamflower: Foamflowers, or Tiarella, produce white or pink flowers in the spring and have attractive, lobed foliage. They prefer moist, well-drained soil.

  6. Solomon's Seal: Solomon's Seal, or Polygonatum, is a tall, arching plant with small, bell-shaped flowers and attractive foliage. They prefer moist, well-drained soil and can tolerate some sun as well as shade.

  7. Jack-in-the-pulpit: Some Jack-in-the-pulpits, Arisaema, are hardy as far north as Zone 3 and will grow beautifully in shaded areas as well. Jack-in-the-pulpit plants will range from 1 to 3 feet in height, depending on the species.

These shade-loving perennials are all easy to grow and maintain, making them great choices for entry level gardeners.

Why Garden in the Shade?

Gardening in the shade can provide many benefits, from creating a cool and peaceful retreat to preserving soil moisture and promoting biodiversity. Here are some reasons why you might choose to garden in the shade.

First and foremost, gardening in the shade can be a practical choice for those with limited space or sun exposure. Many gardens, particularly in urban areas, are surrounded by buildings or trees that cast shadows for much of the day. In such cases, gardening in the shade can be a way to make the most of the available space and still enjoy the beauty and benefits of growing plants.

Another advantage of gardening in the shade is that it can help to conserve water and reduce the need for irrigation. Shaded areas tend to retain moisture more effectively than sunny areas, as the soil is shielded from direct sunlight and evaporation rates are lower. This means that shade gardens require less watering than sun-drenched gardens, which can be particularly beneficial in dry or drought-prone regions.

Shade gardening can also be a way to create a cool and inviting outdoor space for relaxing or entertaining. Shade-loving plants, such as ferns, hostas, and bleeding hearts, can create a lush and tranquil atmosphere, with their soft, verdant foliage and delicate blooms. This can be especially appealing during hot summer months, when a shaded garden can offer a welcome respite from the heat.

In addition to these practical and aesthetic benefits, gardening in the shade can also support biodiversity and promote ecological health. Many shade-loving plants, such as coral bells, astilbe, and lungwort, attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, which play a crucial role in the health and vitality of ecosystems. Shade gardens can also provide habitat for a range of wildlife, from birds and squirrels to small mammals and insects, helping to support local biodiversity and promote ecological resilience.

In sum, gardening in the shade offers a range of benefits, from practical and aesthetic advantages to ecological and environmental benefits. Whether you are looking to create a cool and inviting retreat, conserve water and reduce your ecological footprint, or promote biodiversity and ecological health, a shaded garden can be a rewarding and fulfilling endeavor.

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