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9 Best Perennial Shade Plants

There are plenty of beautiful plants that don’t need direct sunlight to thrive. The best perennial shade plants for your yard fit not only the climate but also the look and feel that you want for your yard or garden.

A pink and purple hydrangea plant in a garden next to a bench and green shrubs. Adobe

We’ve already covered some great perennials for your garden, but what if your yard doesn’t get much sun? Some plants need only partial shade, which usually refers to a little bit of direct sunlight in the morning or evening. However, these plants need cover from the harsh afternoon sun. Full-shade plants need no direct sunlight at all. They get sufficient ambient light and grow just fine under trees or in the shadow of your home.

If you want the longevity of a perennial plant but have full or partial shade conditions in your yard, there are many beautiful flowers, shrubs, and vines to choose from. Here’s our list of the best perennial shade plants for your garden or yard.

Endless Summer Hydrangea

Hydrangeas are beautiful and versatile shrubs that produce clumps of blooms in large flowerheads. These flowers are most commonly white, but they’ve been bred in colors from blue to pink to purple to red. Additionally, hydrangeas can tolerate a wide range of conditions from partial shade to full sun, making them ideal for many yards.

The Endless Summer hydrangea is one of the most popular versions, and its large flowerheads can vary from blue to pink depending on the acidity of the soil. More acidic (lower pH soil) will produce pastel blue blooms, and less acidic (higher pH) soil will produce bright pink flowers. These hardy plants can grow throughout most of the United States and in temperatures down to -20F, and they tend to bloom from early summer through Thanksgiving.

Vanilla Strawberry Hydrangea

With cone-shaped blooms that change color over time, the Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea has been extremely popular since its introduction in 2009. Around the middle of summer, these plants will sprout white flowers with light pink centers that darken as the days wear on. These will become bright pink flowers, and then finally transition to a deep, bold red for the last few weeks of the fall.

Like its Endless Summer cousin, the Vanilla Strawberry hydrangea can withstand temperatures down to -20F, though it’s a little less tolerant of the heat. Otherwise, this hydrangea is extremely low maintenance and requires little more than water and part shade. This perennial was even named a Top Plant by the American Nursery and Landscape Association in 2010.

Everlasting Amethyst Hydrangea

To round out our hydrangea recommendations is the Everlasting Amethyst hydrangea. It gets its name from the variety of purple colors it displays throughout the season, starting with fuchsia and ending with periwinkle. However, soil acidity will play a part in the color of the blooms. If you prefer a blue-purple, try lowering the pH of the soil below 5.0 with a low-phosphorus fertilizer.

The Everlasting Amethyst hydrangea is a little less tolerant of the cold than the other two hydrangeas on our list, but it will still remain hardy at below-freezing temperatures down to -10F. It does a little better in the heat than the others, as long as you remember to keep the soil around it moist.

Stained Glass Hosta

As beautiful as hydrangeas are, they do require some sun to thrive. For full shade conditions that receive no direct sunlight, hosta plants—also known as plantain lilies—are a popular option. These plants have broad, vibrant green leaves, and although they’re primarily known as a foliage plant, they do flower with white or purple blooms.

The Stained Glass hosta is named for its variegated leaves which are gold in the center and dark green around the borders. It can flourish in all but the very coldest and hottest climates and is hardy down to -10F. Its lavender-colored flowers will appear in late summer and may last into winter. This variety can tolerate a bit more sun than other hostas, but it still needs at least partial shade.

Patriot Hosta

The Patriot hosta also does equally well in full or part shade. Unlike the Stained Glass variety, the Patriot sports leaves that are emerald green in the center and white around the edges. It’s a little less adaptable to high heat, but it’s every bit as cold-tolerant as the Stained Glass. Even better, its flowers attract both hummingbirds and songbirds to enliven your garden.

Brilliance Autumn Fern

Ferns are unusual in the plant kingdom for having neither seeds nor flowers, but they make excellent, shade-tolerant ground cover and require very little maintenance. Ferns can thrive in conditions where other plants can’t, including low-sun conditions, particularly where the soil is moist.

The Brilliance autumn fern is a semi-evergreen plant whose leaves sprout with a coppery orange-red tint and mature into a dark green color. Although it can grow in drier conditions than some other ferns, it still prefers moist soil. However, other than watering, the Brilliance autumn fern needs little to thrive. It will grow beautifully for even novice gardeners, and it’s deer-resistant to boot.

Holly Fern

Ferns are a broad category of plant, and the holly fern provides a substantially different look than the autumn fern. Its fronds are a bright, shiny green, making it popular as both an indoor and an outdoor plant. In colder areas, it’s better as a patio plant, but it can grow well outdoors in warmer gardens. Either way, it must be kept out of direct sunlight to thrive. If you don’t live in humid conditions, make sure to mist this fern at least twice a week.

Chocolate Chip Ajuga

Ajuga plants are also known as bugle plants because of the trumpet-like shape of their blue flowers that bloom in early spring. The Valfredda variety, better known as the chocolate chip ajuga, grows quickly and provides evergreen foliage in nearly any growing conditions. It can grow in full or partial shade, but it also tolerates full sun.

While most of its leaves are green, the interspersed leaves of brown, maroon, or bronze serve as the “chocolate chips” that give this ajuga its name. Traditional folk medicine even recommended the ajuga to stanch bleeding. Nowadays, you’re better off with a Band-aid, but the chocolate chip ajuga will do its job as an all-purpose shade perennial just fine.

Umbrella Papyrus

Finally, the umbrella papyrus, sometimes known separately as the umbrella plant or papyrus plant, is best grown in hotter areas. Although it can thrive on a patio in most of the country, it does best outdoors in the southeast, as it also requires a lot of water. Because of this, it’s a good choice for areas around shady ponds. It also can’t be over-watered. Although this grass-like sedge doesn’t flower, it provides a unique look and will grow very fast.

Partial or even full shade doesn’t mean you need to have a bare spot in your yard or garden. Just pick one of the above best perennial shade plants according to your area’s climate. In no time at all, you’ll have a beautiful new plant that lasts you year after year.

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