What to plant in shady gardens: Annuals and perennials

What to plant in shady gardens: Annuals and perennials

Photography, Robin Jonathan Deutsch,


What to plant in shady gardens: Annuals and perennials

Gardening in shady areas can be a challenge, especially if you’re looking for bright, colourful blooms.

These are the best annuals and perennials that will thrive in the shady spots in your garden.

Understanding annuals and perennials

Annuals complete their life cycle in one growing season. They sprout, bloom, produce seeds and die within the same year. Gardeners often choose annuals for their bright and continuous blooms, adding instant colour to the garden.

Perennials live for more than two years. They may die in the winter but return in the spring from the same root system. Perennials have a long-term presence and lower maintenance requirements once established.

Annuals for the Shade


1. Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana):

  • Description: Known for their vibrant colours and long blooming period, impatiens are a go-to for a flowing shade garden. 
  • Care: Require consistently moist soil and benefit from regular feeding with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Varieties: Available in a wide range of colours including red, pink, white and purple.

2. Begonias (Begonia spp.):

  • Description: Begonias are versatile plants with beautiful foliage and flowers, ideal for adding texture and colour to shaded areas.
  • Care: Prefer well-drained soil and partial to full shade. Regular watering is essential but avoid waterlogged conditions.
  • Varieties: Wax begonias, tuberous begonias and rex begonias are popular choices for shade gardens.

3. Coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides):

  • Description: Grown primarily for their stunning foliage, coleus plants come in a variety of colours and patterns.
  • Care: Thrive in rich, well-drained soil and require regular watering. Pinch back growing tips to encourage bushier growth.
  • Varieties: Numerous cultivars offer a range of colours from lime green to deep burgundy.

4. Lobelia (Lobelia erinus):

  • Description: Lobelia produces masses of small, blue, white or purple flowers, making it perfect for adding a splash of colour.
  • Care: Prefers moist, well-drained soil and partial shade. Regular deadheading will promote continuous blooming.
  • Varieties: Trailing and upright varieties are available; suitable for containers and garden beds.

Perennials for the Shade


1. Hostas (Hosta spp.):

  • Description: Known for their lush, attractive foliage, hostas are a staple in shade gardens.
  • Care: Thrive in rich, well-drained soil with consistent moisture. They benefit from mulching to retain soil moisture and reduce weeds.
  • Varieties: Countless varieties range in size, leaf colour, and texture, from the small ‘Mouse Ears’ to the large ‘Sum and Substance.’

2. Astilbe (Astilbe spp.):

  • Description: Astilbes produce feathery plumes of flowers in shades of pink, red, white and purple above fern-like foliage.
  • Care: Prefer moist, well-drained soil and partial to full shade. Regular watering is crucial, especially in dry periods.
  • Varieties: Numerous cultivars with varying heights and flower colours, such as ‘Fanal’ (red) and ‘Bridal Veil’ (white).

3. Ferns (Various genera):

  • Description: Ferns are perfect for adding a touch of elegance with their intricate fronds and varying shades of green.
  • Care: Thrive in consistently moist, well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Most ferns prefer partial to full shade.
  • Varieties: Popular choices include the Maidenhair Fern (Adiantum), Lady Fern (Athyrium), and Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum).

4. Heuchera (Heuchera spp.):

  • Description: Also known as coral bells, Heucheras are admired for their colourful foliage and delicate flowers.
  • Care: Require well-drained soil and benefit from partial shade. Regular watering helps maintain vibrant foliage.
  • Varieties: A wide array of cultivars offer foliage colours from lime green to deep purple, such as ‘Palace Purple’ and ‘Lime Rickey.’

Tips for Gardening in the Shade

  1. Soil Preparation: Ensure soil is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Adding compost or leaf mould can improve soil structure and fertility.
  2. Watering: Shaded areas often retain moisture longer than sunny spots, but it's still important to monitor soil moisture levels. Water deeply and less frequently to encourage strong root growth.
  3. Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch to help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds and regulate soil temperature. Organic mulches like bark chips or leaf mould work well.
  4. Fertilization: Shade-loving plants generally require less fertilization than sun-loving varieties. Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring and mid-summer.
  5. Pest and Disease Management: Keep an eye out for slugs and snails, which are common pests in shady areas. Use organic methods like beer traps or diatomaceous earth to control them.
  6. Design Considerations: Use a variety of plants with different textures, heights and colours to create visual interest. Incorporate pathways and focal points like garden ornaments or seating areas to enhance the shady space.





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What to plant in shady gardens: Annuals and perennials