Shade-Loving Plants to Brighten Up Your Garden’s Darkest Spots
Your garden is supposed to be a bright, happy place where you can relax after a long day’s work. For some, the garden is an ideal location to hang out when the sun is high in the sky and you need some fresh air. Whatever your garden means to you, we all have one thing in common- we hate dark spots.
So how can you brighten up those dark spots in your garden without spending too much? Easy – use plants!
But you may be wondering whether adding plants to a shady area is the best idea. After all, plants need lots of sunshine, right? Not all plants thrive in direct sunlight, and there are a few special ones that love the shade.
But before we get into the list of shade-loving plants, let’s debunk a few myths about shade.
Not all Shade is Equal
Unlike direct sunlight, which is straightforward enough, shady areas come in all sorts of different “shade levels.” A fully shaded area never receives direct sunlight. Partial shade, on the other hand, means that the area only gets about three to four hours of direct sunlight daily.
So how can you figure out which category your dark garden spot belongs in? Well, that’s easy – just have a look throughout the day. From morning until the sun sets, occasionally check in on your shady spots to see how the lighting changes.
Understanding the kind of shade you have is critical to selecting the right plants to brighten the area up. Because who would want to witness their gorgeous Impatiens turn brown because they’re getting too much sun exposure?
So now that you have a clear idea of the different types of shade, it’s time to go ahead and pick out a few beauties that you’ll use to spruce up these darker corners of your garden.
Impatiens are impressive. Not only are they annual plants, but they are one of the few plants that will put on a full floral display in full shade! Another great thing about impatiens is that they can be trained to handle harsher sunlight by slowly exposing them to more sunlight throughout the week. With a little tender loving care, these flowers will be able to brighten up those dark spots in no time.
Impatiens can be propagated from seeds or cuttings but are often purchased as seedlings from garden centers. It is essential to keep the seedlings well-watered before you plant them in the ground. And once planted, they’ll need at least two inches of water on a weekly basis. The best results are achieved with regular fertilization, for which you can use a water-soluble fertilizer that should be applied every two weeks or so.
Also known as coral bells, heucheras are perennial plants that put on a spectacular display of burgundy leaves and tiny pink flowers. Coral bells are very versatile and can do well in both sun and shade. However, they prefer shady areas, which actually enrich their already unique color.
Depending on the type of coral bells you’re planning on growing, these plants may not need a lot of water, and some species can go for weeks without a drop of H2O while still looking amazing. Since the roots of the heuchera are shallow and fibrous, you won’t need to plant them too deep either. During the wintertime, these plants tend to ‘heave,’ and a simple solution to this problem is to dig a new hole and get the plant back into its place.
Hostas are a tricky breed, with some flourishing in the shade, while others need proper sunlight exposure. But there is an easy way to figure out where each type belongs – the darker the leaf, the less sun it needs. Their leaves range from white to dark green, which acts as a pretty nice gradient that you could correlate nicely to how shady your spot is.
For hostas to flourish, it is best to plant them in fertile organic soil that has a slightly acidic pH. When planting, make sure the hole is about a foot deep and can accommodate the spread of a full-sized plant. Fertilizers can also be used every spring to ensure healthy growth.
Hostas are also among the few disease-free plants you can find. Slugs could pose a potential problem, but scattering a little bit of sand around your plants will keep them away.
Identified by their coarse leaves and dense flower clusters, oakleaf hydrangeas are among the few plants that prefer as little sun as possible. Although you can put them in locations where some morning sun is present, it is best to keep them in the darkest spots you have. In terms of size, they can range from a few feet tall to up to seven or eight feet in height. If you want something on the smaller side, consider yourself in luck, as the oakleaf variant happens to be one of the smallest types of hydrangeas.
For oakleaves to thrive, they require well-draining soil. Besides that, if planted correctly, growing oakleaf hydrangeas is very straightforward. Not only are these shrubs disease and pest free, but they are also very tolerant to dry weather. One thing to remember is that these shrubs can grow tremendously and will easily fill up a space ten feet tall by eight feet wide. If you don’t have such an area for them to grow freely, you will need to prune the hydrangeas to keep them small and manageable.
This is another pretty perennial that can add an assortment of beautiful colors to your shaded garden areas. One of the only disadvantages is dead-nettles are runners. Their roots will spread and start running all over your plot, so if you don’t want something like this, then you may want to choose a more ‘controlled’ option.
One of the good things about the dead nettle is that it isn’t picky in terms of soil type. The plants can thrive in loamy, clay, or even sandy soils. Although they prefer moist soil, they can fare just as well in dry areas. Planting these flowers is often done from stem cuttings or grown division, which are both cheap and easy ways to go about it.
Caring for dead-nettles involves pinching the plant back to create a fuller, bushier look. However, even without pinching, the long stems remain attractive. Slugs and snails are the only enemies of the dead nettles, and the absence of any other points of difficulty makes them a relatively manageable and low maintenance option.
If you are not a green thumb or simply don’t have time to baby-sit demanding plants, begonias are for you. Aside from being low-maintenance, they bloom throughout the year, showcasing their splashes of rose, red, white, orange, or salmon-colored blooms. The foliage of begonias is also gorgeous, with uniquely shaped leaves that come in white and green shades. And these flowers can be both pot-grown and plot-grown just as well.
Begonias can become a focal point when planted en masse and are ideal for container combinations, as long as you care for them properly. Soil-wise, begonias love moist soil that is not too wet, so using well-draining soil or a good potting mix is a good idea. To create compact designs, deadheading and pinching back is a necessary maintenance routine.
Spireas are dense, rounded shrubs that offer a burst of color for your darker areas. Their leaves are yellowish-green to red, and they bloom pink, berry-like flowers. If you live in a cold area, these plants are ideal and won’t need much care during winter. In terms of appearance, their compact size stays neat and makes them suitable for use as borders or even as center-pieces for mass planting.
Spireas grow best when planted in light shade. However, you should avoid planting these shrubs in full shade, as it can result in stunted growth and a reduced number of blooms. Ideally, they should be planted in an area with well-draining soil. Adding mulch around the plant can reduce the amount of attention it needs throughout the season and promote healthy blooms during summer months. Aphids could be a bit of a problem for these shrubs, but they seldom reach a point where treatment is necessary.
Known for their heart-shaped leaves and splashy vibrant colors, caladiums can add a lot of drama to those darker areas in your garden. Although caladiums love the heat, they are also tolerant of areas that don’t get direct sunlight throughout the day. The thing to remember about caladiums is that they will not survive the wintertime on their own, so it’s best to plant them in pots and move them indoors once the season’s over.
Coleus plants are very versatile, low maintenance, and thrive equally as well in both sun and shade. Ideal for landscaping, they come in a variety of shades and colors from deep burgundy to lime green. The height of the plants also varies, so you can create an ideal landscape with a mix of different versions of these flowers.
There is a reason why you often see ferns underneath huge trees in a dense forest – they love the shade. The favorite spot for any type of greenery is underneath a tree where it can get a bit of protection from the sun and some moisture from the ground. Although ferns can handle direct sunlight, be more cautious, as you will need to add more water for them to thrive in a sunny spot.
Lungworts have an exciting story that any plant-lover would admire. They get their name from their appearance, which people thought looked like a lung. And they even have a valuable medicinal benefit too – the parts that grow above the ground are used, even today, to treat respiratory conditions and lung diseases.
This perennial plant is another runner that grows in batches and is usually planted around trees. In fact, it’s one of the only plants that can withstand the toxic effects of the black walnut tree. However, if the ground cover isn’t your thing, then this plant is probably not the best choice.
Unique doesn’t even begin to describe astilbe. From its plants to its attractive flowers, the astilbe is an excellent addition to any garden. If you are having any doubts as to the beauty of this plant, just ask butterflies – they love astilbe. And if butterflies are welcome guests in your garden, then you should definitely plant a few of these beauties to brighten up your shady areas.
Once you see the gorgeous white flowers that bloom close to winter, you will absolutely fall in love with these wonderful flowers. A primrose can either be an annual or perennial flower, so if things don’t work out in your shady areas, you can always move them to a different spot.
You can grow primroses from seeds by using a mixture of soil, sand, and peat moss. When seedlings have gained their third leaf, it’s safe to transplant them into the garden.
Among the few problems with primrose perennials is that slugs, snails, spider mites, and aphids also love the plant. You can address this problem by using a non-toxic slug bait or spraying the plants with soapy water. The primrose is also prone to crown and root rot if it isn’t getting enough drainage. This is easily fixed by relocating your plant to a properly drained area or adding compost to your soil. If necessary, use perlite to improve drainage, as its surface will allow the excess water to drain.
Often used to decorate wreaths and create other decorations, the lady’s mantle is versatile. While it is naturally a ground cover type plant, it can be used as an edging if you are willing to maintain it regularly. The vine is simple yet elegant, with dull green leaves and lighter green flowers. Its simple understated elegance is definitely eye-catching and will help you brighten up the darker areas of your garden.
If you are after a flower that you can plant and forget about, the browallia hybrid is for you. Along with its low-maintenance nature, the browallia is also quite diverse. Once planted, its creamy eyes, green foliage, and tidy mound look stunning on their own and can add dimension with the other plants in your garden. But if you don’t want them in the garden, you can also grow them in a flower box or vase indoors. The beautiful thing about this flower is the fact that it does well in both sun and the shade, so it’s indeed a stress-free option, especially for beginner gardeners.
Any plant lover that has the time to baby-sit their greenlings will love this beautiful copper-colored plant. Its foliage is stunning, producing different shades and colors depending on its variety. Its leaves are a heart or oval in shape, and the plant itself can grow up to six to ten feet high and four tot eight feet wide. Although it grows well in the shade, you still need to give it some sunlight exposure to draw out its full potential. The only issue with this plant is that many pets also love it just as much as we do, so you will need to take a little more care to keep them away for it to flourish.
With the copper plant, location is everything. Direct sunlight produces brighter colored leaves, while shaded areas can have less glossy leaves with a slightly deeper color. The best soil for this plant is a fast-draining soil with a pH of around 9.1. If you are growing the plant in a pot, make sure that it’s roughly twice the size of the plant’s root ball. And lastly, another important tip for cultivating and maintaining the copper plant is making sure that it has proper drainage.
This perennial plant can stay green all year round, depending on where you live. As its name suggests, it is a ground cover plant that could very well take over the entirety of your shady area. If this is what you want, then the creeping jenny is the right choice. But if covering your shaded area isn’t something you are after, you could try planting it in pots instead.
When planting creeping jenny, space the plants two feet apart to allow for some breathing room. Once they are established, these runners require very little upkeep. If you want to control its horizontal growth, you’ll need to prune or divide it once every so often. Regular watering is the only maintenance these creepers require, so once they are in the ground, you can sit back, relax, and watch them set out on a conquest to take over your entire garden.
This perennial loves wooded swampy areas that receive very little sunlight. The flowers of the meadow rue come in pastel colors, making them a good option for giving a year-round decorative appearance to your garden.
These plants prefer soil that is fertile, moist, and well-drained. If cared for, they can grow to a modest height of anywhere between two to six feet. Although these plants prefer shaded areas, they can also thrive in full sun. During winter months, mulch can be used to insulate them from the cold. Although there are very few insects and pest problems related to the flower, you may face some issues with keeping it alive if the soil is not well-drained.
For the Persian shield, finding a proper planting zone is essential for it to be perennial. It prefers warm temperatures and humid air. Ideally, you want it to live in zones 8 – 11 for optimal outside growth. However, if you don’t live in those zones, it is a great house plant as well. During the warmer months, you can move it outdoors to let it enjoy the warmer temperatures and give it some fresh air, and then move it inside as it starts to get colder. Once it begins to bloom, it can become slightly sticky, so keep that in mind if you have children running around and don’t want a sap-covered house at the end of the day.
This gorgeous plant is known for its unusual intricate foliage that can reach up to four to seven inches long. Its leaves are slender and slightly serrated with green veins and purple on the surface, making for a beautiful design that stands out and offers a great deal of aesthetic value for the darker spots of your property.
The best way to plant a persian shield is inside a container in partial shade. Even moisture and high humidly is what you should aim for to give this plant ideal conditions for growth. If you live in a warm climate, you can also plant them in the ground as part of a border display. Propagation is as simple as taking two to three inch sections from the tip of the plant below the growth node and transplanting it in a non-soil medium.
Caring for this stunning bush is straightforward, it only needs fertilization every two weeks during warmer months. Pest-wise, mites and soil gnats are the creatures to look out for.
Yesterday Today and Tomorrow
If the name doesn’t attract you, its purple to white flowers will surely steal your heart. The shrub earned its name because it produces an impressive display of flowers from spring to summer. Unlike most shrub flowers that are generally all beauty and no fragrance, these flowers are delightfully fragrant!
Although the shrub grows best in zones 9 – 12, you could easily plant it in a container and keep it indoors during colder months. Yesterday today and tomorrow shrubs can grow in a variety of light exposure areas from full sun to partial shade. Although they are not picky about soil type, the soil needs to be well-draining. Besides these few initial requirements, there’s not much to watch out for. Just plant and wait for them to explode in a beautiful blooming bouquet of gorgeous and fragrant flowers.