Iowa State University
Horticulture and Home Pest News
Horticulture & Home Pest News is filled with articles on current horticulture, plant care, pest management, and common household pests written by Iowa State University Extension specialists in the Departments of Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

Perennials for Shady Areas

This article was published originally on 6/17/1994
For many gardeners, shady areas are problem spots in the home landscape. Many plants, however, perform well in shady areas. Selecting and planting shade tolerant plants can turn a shady problem site into an attractively landscaped area.

When selecting plant materials, gardeners should consider the degree of shade at the site. Some plants thrive in partial shade, others tolerate heavy shade. Areas on the north side of buildings or under the canopy of dense shade trees receive little or no direct sunlight. Only plants that grow well in heavy shade should be planted in these sites. Partial shade can be described as areas that receive a few hours of direct sun, but are shaded much of the day.

The following perennials are good choices for partially to heavily shaded sites.

Perennials Adapted to Partial Shade

Common NameScientific NameHeightComments
ColumbineAquilegia spp.1-3 ft.Flowers come in shades of white, yellow, pink, red, blue, purple
Dwarf Goat's Beardaethusifolius12 in.Korean native, plant somewhat runcus resembles a sm. white astilbe
Goat's BeardAruncus dioicus4-6 ft.Much larger species.
AstilbeAstilbe spp.10-24 in.Flowers are fluffy plumes of white, pink,red,or lavender
Tuberous BegoniaBegonia x tuberhybrida12-18 in.Tender, tubers must be dug in fall
BergeniaBergenia cordifolia12 in.Best feature is large, shiny leaves
Siberian BuglossBrunnera macrophylla12-18 in.produces small, blue forget-me-not-like flowers
CaladiumCaladium x hortulanum1-2 ft.Tender,tubers must be dug in fall.
TurtleheadChelone spp.2-3 ft.Flowers resemble the head of ac turtle
BugbaneCimicifuga racemosa3-8 ft.Well suited to background areacs.
Bleeding HeartDicentra spp.1-3 ft.Heart-shaped flowers are produced on arching stems.
Shooting StarDodecatheon meadia12-18 in.Native to eastern Iowa. Flowers petals sweep upward forming "shooting star"
BarrenwortEpimedium spp.12 in.Groundcover, small flowers somewhat resemble columbine
Queen-of-the-MeadowFilipendula ulmaria3-4 ft.Flowers are white
Creeping Lily-TurfLiriope spicata8-12 in.Groundover. Grass-like foliage. Spreads quickly by rhizomes
Gooseneck LoosestrifLysimachia clethroides3 ft.White curving flower stalk
Woodland PhloxPhlox divaricata12-15 inWoodland native, blue flower
Siberian SquillScilla siberica3-6 in.spring blooming blubs, bright blue flowers
Meadow RueThalictrum spp.1-6 ft.Size varies greatly among specaies. Plants have fine-textured foliage.
Foam FlowerTiarella cordifolia6-12 in.White flowers,attractive foliagie

Perennials Adapted to heavy Shade

Common NameScientific NameHeightComments
Madenhair FernAdiantum pedaturm10-18 in.Fine-textured foliage.
BugleweedAjuga reptans6-9 inAgressive groundcover, blue flsowers
Jack-in-the-pulpitArisaema triphyllum1-2 ft.Woodland native. Needs moist soil
Wild GingerAsarum spp.6-10 in.Creeping rootstalks and leaves have ginger-like fragrance
Lady FernAthyrium nipponicum 'Pictum'2-3 ft.An easy to grow fern
Lily-of-the-ValleyConvallaria majalis6-12 in.Groundcover, can become invasive
Shield or Wood FernDryopteris spp.2-3 ft.Large group of ferns
Sweet WoodruffGalium odoraturm6-8 in.Groundcover. Plants produce white fragrant flowers in spring
HostaHosta spp.4-36 in.Dependable perennial. Numerous species and varieties available
Yellow ArchangelLamiastrum galeobdolon12-18 in.Yellow flowers, silver variegated foliage, also known as Galeobdolon luteum
Spotted DeadnettleLamium maculatum6-8 in.Groundcover.
Ostrich FernMatteuccia struthiopteris4 ft.Coarse-textured fern with large fronds.
Virginia BluebellsMertensia virginica1-2 ft.Early spring-blooming perennial. Plants produce nodding clusters of blue flowers.
Cinnamon FernOsmunda cinnamomea2-4 ft.Fertile fronds resemble cinnamon sticks
Japanese PachysandraPachysandra terminalis6-8 in.Groundcover. Often winterburns in exposed sites.
MayapplePodophyllum peltatum12-18 in.Woodland native. Spreads by rhizomes forming colonies
Solomon's SealPolygonatum spp.2-5 ft.Woodland native. Long, arching stems bear greenish white flowers.
False Solomon's SealSmilacina racemosa3 ft.Woodland native
Celandine PoppyStylophorum spp.18 in.Produces bright yellow flowers and deeply cut, oak-like leaves
MerrybellsUvularia spp.1-2 ft.Woodland native. Produces nodding, yellow flowers
Many of the shade tolerant perennials are native to woodland sites. Add organic matter, such as compost or peat, and incorporate to a depth of 6 to 8 inches prior to planting. The organic matter improves soil drainage and helps to conserve soil moisture.

This article originally appeared in the June 17, 1994 issue, pp. 1994 issue, pp. 94-95.

Year of Publication: 
IC-467(15) -- June 17, 1994