Got shade? These plants don’t mind |
Jessica Walliser

Got shade? These plants don’t mind

Jessica Walliser
Jessica Walliser
Ferns, such as this Victoria fern (Athyrium filix-femina ‘Victoriae’), are excellent plant choices for densely shaded areas, including the northern side of a home.

While no plants will survive with a total lack of sunlight, there are some plant groups that have evolved to thrive in even low-light areas of the outdoor landscape. If you’re looking to add plants to an area on the north side of a house or in another densely shaded site, you do have some good options.

Start your search by looking for plants that are under-story species. These plants have evolved in forested environments where they survive beneath the canopy of larger trees. Those plants able to thrive in the densest levels of shade are the best choices for landscape areas that receive no filtered light and are exposed to only indirect, reflected light.

Here are some good plant choices for the north side of your home and other areas of dense shade.


There are many shade-loving perennials, but the majority of them do best in the filtered sunlight beneath a deciduous tree. Or, they’re spring ephemerals that bloom very early in the spring, well before the leaves have even emerged from the trees.

The best perennials for dense shade are those that are prized for their foliage, rather than for their bloom.

One of the finest plant groups for densely shaded areas are the ferns. There are hundreds of different fern species and varieties, many of which are quite decorative and colorful. The texture of ferns is prized by many gardeners, and these plants add an element of grace to garden areas. Some of my favorite outdoor perennial ferns include maidenhair, Japanese-painted, lady, ostrich, hay-scented, cinnamon and sword ferns.

Another prime perennial choice for dense shade are hostas. Though they’re quite commonplace, there’s a reason for it. They’re stalwart plants that require little care other than protection from hungry deer.

Two lower-growing choices for dense shade are bugleweed (Ajuga) and European ginger (Asarum europaeum). Both make excellent groundcovers, though bugleweed is much faster spreading than European ginger. However, the glossy, heart-shaped leaves of European ginger are real stand-outs.

Other perennials that thrive on the north side of homes include the graceful, arching leaves Japanese sedge (Carex morrowii ‘Variegata’), semi-evergreen barrenwort (Epimedium), astilbes and Helleborus.


In addition to the above perennials, there are several shrubs that perform well in deeply shaded sites. Woodland shrubs like rhododendrons and mountain laurels (Kalmia) are beautiful flowering selections, though both are preferred by the deer.

Other good shrub selections include a personal favorite, Japanese andromeda/pieris (also called the lily of the valley bush), with its arching panicles of white spring blooms and a low-growing evergreen called Siberian cypress (Microbiota decussata).

One final option in the shrub department is Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica). The bright yellow, summer blooms of this arching shrub stand out in the shade, though it tends to produce more flowers in areas that receive a bit more sun.


In addition, there are many different annual flowers for heavy shade, though you’ll have to replant them every season. Long-standing favorites like coleus, begonias and caladiums are tough enough to survive with limited sunlight as long as they receive enough water. Browalia, Rex begonias and fuchsias offer even more options.

One thing to keep in mind when planting close to the side of a home or another structure: You’ll probably have to provide the plants with supplemental irrigation, especially if you have a roof overhang. Plantings close to the house often don’t receive enough natural rainfall for the plants to survive. You’ll have to keep them regularly watered.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio with Doug Oster. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Attracting Beneficial Bugs to Your Garden,” “Good Bug, Bad Bug,” and her newest title, “Container Gardening Complete.” Her website is Send your gardening or landscaping questions to [email protected] or The Good Earth, 622 Cabin Hill Drive, Greensburg, PA 15601.