Shade plants thrive in the shade

Lungwort (pulmonaria) are beautiful shade plants
Lungwort (pulmonaria)

Some shade plants can thrive in spots that get just a little direct sun, while others can do well where there is only indirect light. So the first thing to do before choosing the right plants for specific locations on your yard is to determine exactly how much sun each location gets.

  • Spots that get at least four hours of direct sunlight per day can be described as Light Shade locations.
  • Spots that get less than four hours of direct sunlight per day can be described as Medium Shade locations,
  • Spots that get no direct sunlight but at least four hours of indirect sunlight per day can be described as Deep Shade locations.

The time of day when the sun actually shines on a given location is also important. You should know that one hour of direct sunlight when the sun is high in the sky, let’s say from 10AM to 4PM, is worth more than the same period of time in the early morning or late afternoon.

  • Three hours of direct sunlight from 7AM to 10AM may not provide enough energy for some light shade plants.
  • Three hours of direct sunlight from 11AM to 2PM may actually be too harsh for some medium shade shade plants.

So we suggest that you multiply hours of sunlight between 10AM and 4PM by 1.5. So three hours during that time of day can be counted as four and a half hours.

With a few notable exceptions, such as the well known busy Lizzy (Impatiens walleriana), shade plants are rarely colorful.

Suggestions for Light Shade locations

Light shade locations can accommodate many plants. Even irises, which are sun loving plants, can do quite well in light shade locations. Most conifers are sun loving plants, but some trees, such as yews for instance, do very well in light shade locations. In fact, most plants that are not full sun plants can adapt to light shade locations, granted that the soil and water conditions are right.

Suggestions for Medium Shade locations

The variety of shade plants for medium shade locations is growing every year. Forget-me-nots (bugloss) are a good choice for such locations. Their foliage is nice and their small colorful flowers are eye catching. Spurges (euphorbia) are also to be considered. For taller plants, you may consider leopard plants. Their big leaves can light up a medium shade location. The Ligularia dentata ‘Othello’ is a sturdy plant that grows well where others just survive. Hellebores are also quite sturdy and do very well in medium shade spots.

Suggestions for Deep Shade locations

Deep shade plants are generally plants that don’t grow very tall and that have lots of colorful blooms. For such locations, ferns and ground covers are the best choices. Mixing various ferns, Salomon’s seals (Polygonatum odoratum) and lilies of the valley can create a very handsome shade garden. And so if they spread too much. In a spot where nothing else will thrive, why no let them spread.

For color, why not think of lungworts? Corydalis luteas are another choice. But you should consider full shade locations more as places reserved for plants with light, delicate shades of green.

A picture is worth many words

Below are a few pictures of interesting plants suited for light shade to deep shade locations.

Blue valley monks hood or aconitum napellus
Sweet woodruff or galium odoratum
Periwinkle or vinca minor
Maidenhair fern
Water avens or geum rivale
Siberian bugloss or brunnera macrophylla
Alleghany spurge or pachysandra procumbens buxaceae
Creeping forget me not or omphalodes verna
Grape hyacinth or muscari armeniacum
'Hermans pride' false lamium or lamiastrum galeobdolon
Siberian squill or scilla siberica
Buggleweed black scallop or ajuga reptans

More shade plants

The links below will let you jump to lists of plants that correspond to your specific needs. From these lists, you will be able to go directly to Web pages loaded with information and pictures. All this information will make it easy for you to make up your very own list of shade plants, based on your tastes, but also on your needs.

And don’t forget to design for today and tomorrow. Some trees, for instance, can become extremely large, while others remain very slender. So if you want round trees that completely hide your windows, or columnar trees that simply frame them, be sure to make the right choice.

Once your list is full, it may be a good idea to make a final check, by doing the following:

  • Ask knowledgeable nursery employees about the plants on your list. They may have information not available elsewhere, such as information regarding local weather conditions.
  • You may discuss your plans with people from your local botanical garden. They may give you specific information on new varieties or factors you may not have considered, such as pests.
  • Finally, look around your neighborhood. You may see some of the plants on your list and realize that you don’t like them after all. Plants often change appearance with time. And plants growing in more difficult conditions sometimes don’t look as nice as the same plants growing in optimal conditions.

Have you considered all the options available to you? If not, then have a look at our Landscaping plants page.

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The right plants in the right locations with the right conditions