Gardens provide a great opportunity for outdoor exercise while simultaneously protecting the environment. Trees and gazebos will instantly infuse some personality into your garden and provide some extra shade for the summer. However, many garden enthusiasts often steer clear from these additions, as they believe direct sunlight is essential for their flowerbeds.
This is a shame, as nature hides many species that can offer the same bright colors without direct sunlight.
So what flowers grow well in the shade? The answer includes the ever-present coral bells, a bleeding heart shrub, foxgloves, dead nettles, and lily of the valley. If you live in a warm region, you can also add other exotic plants like wild ginger or begonia to the list.
But before you run off to the nearest greenhouse, make sure you find out which of these options would work best in your garden. Take a good look at the spot where you want to place them and how many actual hours of sun does it get. After all, not all shade was created equal, and neither are all shade-loving plants the same.
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What Type of Shade do You Have?
One of the most important things to determine before selecting the right flower species is exactly how shade-friendly do you need to be. Often, garden flowers get labelled as either “shade-loving” or “shade tolerant”. Landscaping professionals and botanists prefer to use the terms “full shade” and “partial shade” instead.
These terms are not interchangeable. When a horticulturist says a plant is “shade tolerant”, they often mean plants that can grow well when covered. On the other hand, “shade loving” species are those that truly thrive when hidden from the sun.
You should also take note of the difference between full and partial shade. Most plants on this list prefer partial shade. This means that they should still be getting around 2 to 4 hours of sunshine every day.
There are relatively few species that grow well under full, round-the-clock shade. Most of these fall under the category of ground cover rather than flowers – although a couple can still bloom brightly.
Picking the Right Flowers for your Zone and Climate
A plant’s ability to withstand extreme temperatures is usually indicated by its “hardiness”. The USDA has classified different climates into 12 different hardiness zones, according to their average minimum temperature.
Before buying anything, make sure that its hardiness zone matches the one where you live: plants with a hardiness rating of 7, for example, will die if temperatures fall below 0° F – so if you live in any of the Northern States, look for a different species.
Flowers for colder climates
According to the USDA, any plants with a hardiness rating of 6 or below are classified as hardy. This includes the following shade-tolerant flowers:
Coral Bells (Heuchera species):
These hardy perennials often bloom in late spring or late summer. Their tiny flowers can be bronze, purple, pink, or coral.
Bleeding Hearts (Dicentra spectabilis):
These Siberian natives have delicate bell shaped flowers, in colors ranging from pink to solid white. They flower in early spring.
Coleus (Coleus species):
Although not technically flowers, coleus are still a great way to add a splash of color to shade gardens in cold regions. Their characteristic heart shaped leaves can range from lime green to deep purple. They grow well under full shade.
Dead nettles (Lamium species):
This spreading plant doesn’t look dead at all. It offers a lot of coverage and foliage in exchange for relatively little work. In late May, dead nettle will sprinkle its white, pink or purple flowers all around fully shaded areas
Foxgloves (Digitalis purpurea):
Long-loved because of their medicinal properties, foxgloves grow just as strongly under partial shade or full sun. However, they need to stay relatively dry, as the roots will rot easily.
Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis):
These controversial shrubs grow equally well under full or partial shade, in a variety of climates. Their delicate white flowers also have a pleasant aroma. However, the lily of the valley can easily become invasive and their berries are highly poisonous.
For warmer climates
If you live somewhere where winters don’t go below 10° or 15°F, you can intersperse some of the plants above with the following options:
Flowering maple (Abutilon species):
Although unrelated to the Canadian tree, flowering maples offer big, bell shaped flowers the same color as maple syrup. They are sometimes also known as Indian mallow. When water is plentiful, it can grow up to 8 feet tall.
Wild ginger (Asarum species):
Wild ginger is a great option for anyone living in a drought-prone area. It has wide, bright green leaves with silvery gray markings. It tolerates full shade, but its brown flowers are brighter when it gets some morning sun.
Begonias (Begonia species):
Originally hailing from Bolivia, begonias are now considered their own family of shade tolerant flowers. They won’t resist any temperatures below 20° F but offer an immense variety in return. Depending on the variety, you can find blue, purple, pink, and even bright red flowers. Leaf colors range from green to burgundy.
A garden is a small ecosystem under your care. However, it will be up to you to find different species that can thrive in every nook and cranny within it. Many different flower species can turn those shaded, secluded spots into patches of life and color.
Does gardening still feel new and daunting to you? Then try learning about the tools you need, and pick up a good no-kink garden hose!