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Flowers for Full & Partial Shade Gardens

  • 4 min read

My small yard is full of trees – ancient pine trees, huge oaks, a beautiful hickory, and many other understory trees like dogwood, black cherry, redbud, and more. It was a challenge to find the right plants that would grow in the variable shady conditions throughout my yard. I used the idea of “right plant, right place” to figure out what worked for my space. Instead of wasting time planting things that wither and die from lack of light, I did a little bit of research. I’m excited and proud to say that I’m beginning to see a lot more color in my garden this year.

If you’ve got some shady spots that you can’t find anything to grow in, don’t lose heart! Growing from seed gives you far more options than your local big box store. Here are some beautiful plants that will flourish in full or partial shade.

Plants for Full Shade

You may consider these spaces impossible to grow in, but they’re not! A fully shaded space is a perfect chance to showcase your creativity and skills.

Coleus

Although this colorful plant does produce flowers, coleus leaves are really the main attraction. The stunning leaves in reds, greens, and yellows can add color and beauty in unexpected places. It grows well in containers, which makes it good for those who are also limited on space.

Forget-Me-Not

These delicate blue flowers are charming and easy to grow! Forget-Me-Nots can provide a soft, romantic look to your garden, and are especially good for the moist conditions that often exist in shady spots. They’re great for woodland areas and borders.

Lamb's Ear

Although it truly prefers sunny spots, this highly adaptable plant can tolerate full shade. Lamb’s Ear has soft, fuzzy leaves that help brighten up darker areas of your garden. This versatile plant can serve as ground cover in places where you have difficulty growing other plants.

Partial Shade Tolerant Plants

Tussock Bellflower

Tussock Bellflower Seeds

These lovely bell-shaped flowers are charming, ideal for a cottage garden look. Tussock Bellflowers adapt well to areas with morning sun and afternoon shade.

Bergamot (Bee Balm)

Bergamot's showy flowers are great for attracting pollinators like bees and butterflies, which is why some people call it Bee Balm. Bergamot thrives all in all sorts of light conditions in my yard. Since it’s a mint, it is fairly vigorous. I’m currently taking advantage of its ability to spread to try to outcompete some persistent weeds. This North American native plant brings beauty and a ton of beneficial insects to your garden.

Lemon Mint

Closely related to Bergamot, Lemon Mint (sometimes called Horsemint) is fragrant and colorful. Another pollinator magnet, I’ve found this one to be super easy to grow, as well. This low-maintenance native wildflower is buzzing with bees as long as it’s blooming.

Blue Columbine

Blue columbines bring charm to shaded areas with their unique, spurred flowers. Known for their distinctive, intricate blooms, Columbines attract hummingbirds and add an elegant touch to the garden.

Lunaria (Money Plant)

Lunaria, aka Money Plant or Honesty, is known for its distinctive seed pods and shade tolerance. The purple flowers are charming, and will develop into round, silvery seed pods that add a decorative touch to the garden.

Pansy

Cheerful pansies will brighten up any garden. These reliable flowers are especially popular because they come in a wide range of colors and will bloom in cooler temperatures. Pansies will be some of the first flowers of Spring. (I had to be reminded of this fact. In my warm Alabama weather, these cold-tolerant plants usually bloom continuously from October until May.)

Snapdragon

Snapdragons bring vertical interest to garden beds with their colorful spikes and are partial shade-friendly. They are versatile and long-blooming, providing continuous color throughout the growing season.

Rose Mallow

Rose Mallow
Rose Mallow, a.k.a. Swamp Mallow, produces large, showy flowers that tolerate partial shade. These stunning, hibiscus-like blooms can reach up to 12 inches in diameter, adding a tropical feel to your garden and delighting visiting hummingbirds!

Marsh Mallow

Marsh Mallow thrives in moist, shaded areas and has lovely pink flowers. Marsh mallow is an interesting medicinal herb as well, and its roots were once used to make a sweet treat that eventually inspired modern-day marshmallows.

Rose Milkweed

If you want to attract monarchs but don’t have a sunny spot, you can still grow milkweed, but you’ve got to make the right choice. Try Rose Milkweed, which is a delight with its lovely pink flowers. Also called Swamp Milkweed, this plant thrives in moist, partially shaded areas, but can also adapt to drier growing conditions.

Honorary Mentions: Full Sun, But Adaptable

Some plants can have surprising versatility. Wildflowers, especially, have often adapted to changing forest conditions. The last two plants on my list are native North American wildflowers that fit that description. These plants greatly prefer spending their days in the sun, but they can survive in partial shade too. These are good for areas that are in transition and may have different lighting conditions in the future as your garden grows.

Black-Eyed Susan

Black-eyed Susan

People associate Black-Eyed Susan with full sun, and rightly so. I know from personal experience that these tough, versatile plants can also tolerate some shade. They are well-adapted to the changing conditions of a woodland edge setting like my yard. Plus, they’re so pretty! I like to put them in challenging spaces with cooler mornings in the shade followed by afternoon sun.

Blue Flax

Lewis Blue Flax (also called “Prairie Flax”) is another wildflower that prefers full sun. However, you might want to try it, especially if you live in its native range in western North America. It’s very low maintenance and it can tolerate partial shade. Plus, its sweet blue flowers and fern-like foliage can add a soft, natural look to your garden.

If you’ve got a shady yard, don’t give up on enjoying flowers or attracting pollinators! Shade gardens can have just as much vibrant life as sunny ones, supporting a wide variety of plants and flowers in all sorts of colors, textures, heights, and even bloom times! Embrace the challenge and see what beauty you can grow in your garden.

Written by Teresa C., Zone 8a, Alabama

Monarch butterfly on rose milkweed plant

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