Shade Plants

A collage of photos showcasing shade plants at a garden center near me.

Written by Susan B.

When we talk about plants and shrubs for the garden, we always share their light requirements. We realize that sun exposure can vary from place to place and from property to property. We want to be sure that our customers understand the growing requirements of every plant they purchase from us. Today, we’re going to talk about shade plants. But before we get to the plants themselves, we want to clarify the four classes of shade. Our hope is that by doing so, you’ll no longer feel confused or unsure about the label you see on a plant you’re about to purchase.

The Four Classes of Shade

All plants, flowers, trees, and shrubs need light for their survival. It’s important to understand that the direct sun that shade-loving plants get should always be morning sun. And they should never be planted in a site where they’re likely to get light from a direct stream during the hottest part of the day. If your property has large trees in areas where you’d like to have garden beds, you’ll be able to plant plants that need shade. 

Nurseries and greenhouses label plants according to their lighting requirements. The Farmer’s Almanac uses the American Horticultural Society’s definitions for the four classes of shade for plants. 

Light Shade

Light shade occurs when a building, a bush, a tree, or a wall casts a permanent shadow over a planting site that would otherwise capture light from the sky. Some sun-loving plants may be able to survive in light shade. 

Moderate or Partial Shade

Part shade refers to planting sites that get a total of no more than six hours of direct sun exposure. However, the caveat is that four of the six hours must come from the direct morning sunlight. For the rest of the day, the sun is filtered, giving plants indirect light from the shadows that it casts. 

Dappled Light or Filtered Shade  

Dappled light or filtered shade is typical in wooden areas. It is the type of shade that people frequently find in their suburban home’s backyards. If you have an umbrella of tree branches, a pergola, or some type of overhead “shield” that lets light peak throughout the day as it shifts with the sun’s movement, you have dappled or filtered light. 

Deep Shade 

Deep or full shade is the shade that tall evergreen trees provide. It may also occur when closely-planted trees or shrubs blanket a potential planting site, preventing direct light from the sun from filtering through to plants. Deep shade environments prevent plants from getting direct sunlight. Many plants that thrive in full shade have unusual or atypical foliage. It can be challenging to find blooming plants that will thrive in deep shade. But our garden experts can help you find flowering plants that can grow in your deep shade planting site. 

Shade Plants for Southern California

Aquilegia formosa – Western Columbine

As its name suggests, Western Columbine is native to the Western part of North America from Alaska to Baja, California. Columbine is a beautiful shade-loving flowering perennial that blooms during spring. It attracts pollinators, especially hummingbirds. Columbine likes partial or full shade. 

Brazilian Plume Flower – Justicia carnea

Brazilian plume flower is considered a tender tropical perennial. It grows to a height of between 2-and-3-feet tall. It is hardy from zone 8a to 11. Justicia carnea can be grown in containers, too. It likes partial to full shade.

Coral Bells – Heuchera  

Coral Bells are low-growing perennials that thrive in partial shade. Most Heuchera cultivars are hardy between zones 4-and-9, but some varieties can thrive in zone 11, so this is an adaptable plant. Heuchera’s most attractive characteristic is its vibrant and colorful foliage. 

Lenten Rose Helleborus

Helleborus gets its common name (Lenten Rose) from the fact that its flowers are somewhat like a small single rose. It starts blooming in early spring and blooms through Lent. It is hardy in zones 4 through 9. Grow Lenten Roses in light shade, in moist soil that drains well. Avoid overwatering. 

Some additional Shade-Loving Plants and Flowers

  • Dragon Wing Begonia – part to full shade
  • Caladium – hardy in zones 9-11. Plant in part to full shade. 
  • Azaleas – Plant in part shade, although some cultivars thrive in full/deep shade. There are deciduous and evergreen azaleas, and they are also divided into hybrids and species. 
  • California Sweetshrub (Calycanthus occidentalis) Plant in part to full shade. California Sweetshrub is hardy from zones 7 – 10.
  • Camellias – Plant in part shade.  Most camellias are hardy from zone 7 – 10. 
  • Hydrangea macrophylla – Hardy from zones 5-11. Plant in part or full shade. If you add aluminum to the soil (which makes it more acidic), the flowers will be blue, but if you don’t add aluminum, the dirt will be alkaline, and the flowers will be pink.
  • California Holly – Heteromeles arbutifolia or Toyon – Hardy from zones 7 -11.  Plant in partial shade. 
  • Common Bleeding Heart – Dicentra spectabilis. It is hardy from zones 3 to 9. It thrives in full shade. 
  • Balsam – Impatiens balsamina The colorful impatiens you see in trays or groups of six plants at nurseries are really called Impatiens balsamina. They grow in all hardiness zones, but they are perennials in cold climates. Impatiens thrive in the shade. 
  • Japanese Aralia – Fatsia japonica is sometimes grown as a houseplant, but it is hardy from zone 8 to zone10. Plant this shade-lover under trees or in containers that sit in sheltered spots like a covered patio. 
  • Lilytuft – Liriope is a perennial that is hardy from zones 5 – 10. It loves partial or dappled shade. It gets attractive small blue or white flowers in summer and into fall, after which the foliage is its attractive feature. It is useful as a ground cover or as a border plant. 
  • Blue Lobelia – Lobelia is hardy from zones 2 – 11. It blooms prolifically in cooler weather. Mounding lobelia or edging lobelia, as it is called, is useful as a border plant. Cascading lobelia is suitable for hanging baskets, window boxes, or containers where the flowers spill over the sides of the baskets, pots, or window boxes.
  • Coleus is an annual (or houseplant) that is hardy from zones 2 – 11.  There are many cultivars, and they offer different foliage colors and textures. Coleus is often used in containers as part of a container garden that includes other shade-loving plants. Coleus looks lovely when planted with sweet potato vine. 

We hope you find these suggestions helpful. Since our inventory changes every day, you can always call to see if we have something. And we’re confident that when you do come into the store, you’ll find a massive selection of plants for all four shade categories. 

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