How to Master Gardening in a Shady Yard

Shady garden, circa 2011

My north-facing front yard garden soaks up about 4 hours of sun in the morning, followed by 9 hours of shade in the afternoon. The backyard’s not much better, fully shaded at least 8 hours of the day. For a girl who wants lush, radiant, sun-loving gardens, I’m living in the wrong spot. In trying to work with this, I’ve been doing some research and learning more about what sun/shade and shading-loving plants I need to embrace to populate our landscape. Because I can only plant so much pachysandra  …

I know, though, that before planting anything, it’s important to have a plan. This photo gallery offers an understanding of the essentials, and there’s a ton more info in the Landscape Design section of, including a handy article on Creating a Shade-Loving Landscape.

Among my favorite shade or sun/shade plants are the Lenten rose, nasturtiums (which I have grown in the past very successfully), lungwort, begonia, woodruff, and the trusty hosta. Of course there are many other options out there that will work with a varying level of sunshine and your landscape needs. I always liked moss planted between bricks and stones, and ferns are both easy to transplant and maintain in shadier scenarios. And if you find yourself really stuck, head for some larger plants, like rhododendrons, holly, boxwood, and mountain laurel.

Choose Begonias for your shady garden.

Choose Lungwort flowers for a shady-filled yard.

Choose Hostas for your shady backyard garden.

Woodruff for a shady garden bed.

Plant Nasturtium Seeds for a flowery garden in a partially sunny yard.

Lenten Roses for your shaded garden landscape.

You can find details about all these plants in the Plant Finder at And if you have other trusty go-to plants for a shady yard, share them with me here in the comments!

20 Responses

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  4. I always liked moss planted between bricks and stones, and ferns are both easy to transplant and maintain in shadier scenarios.

  5. I'm really just now learning about plants & planting and fortunately I get to start by practicing on some really tough shady areas (that was a weed of sarcasm back there). I have written a little bit about the vinca I planted under a large maple … with moderate success (and okay, maybe that doesn't count 'cause it's a groundcover). Lately I too have been on a little bit of a moss (with or without rocks) kick and ferns too (if I could talk Mrs Moxie into it). Some nice picks here and I'm looking forward to hopping over for a check out of the Plant Finder. Thanks for that tip.

  6. Sally says:

    I, too, have sandy soil and shade, with low moisture- north central TX. One year I threw some broken-off airplane plant babies over by the porch. They grew well, then, to my surprise, came back after a winter with cold days in the teens. They're aggressive, though, so watch where you put them.

  7. Donna says:

    I've had great luck here in the mountains of AZ with growing plants under a huge shady queen maple. Arizona Golden Columbine, hardy geranium (especially Rozanne which has bright blue-periwinkle colored flowers), sweet woodruff, lamb's ear, and jupiter's beard and all taking over the space.

  8. quiltqueen07 says:

    GeminiGirl47, I recommend sun loving perennials such as day lilies, catmint (has pretty purple flowers that last all summer) and succulents (like hens & chicks). Take a look at gardening catalogs or magazines for sun-loving plants or you can search for plants on-line. I live in western Oklahoma — we have hot weather and sandy soil. I know how difficult gardening is with those circumstances. I'm also a senior. Remember to water your potted plants often in high temps. Potted plants dry out quickly and can require water daily. Good luck!

    • StephL says:

      You can't go wrong with lilies! I live in Georgia, humid hot blazing sun covers my entire property. I have had great success with several lilies…
      Canna, Tiger, Asiatic, Calla and Daylily as well as Strawberries which are also perennial and evergreen and I get to enjoy the occasional strawberry the birds leave me :) I also have a nice Blueberry bush, Pear trees, Butterfly bushes, Daisy, Iris, Purple Coneflower (Hummingbirds and Yellow Finches love these) Rose bushes, Rose of Sharon (tree/shrub with hibiscus type flowers also draws Hummers), Clematis, Wisteria, Foxglove, Primrose and my husband’s favorite Sedum. Snapdragons, even though they are supposed to be annual, mine come back every year..

      My favorite annual flower for full sun is the Petunia.. buy hanging baskets to plant in your flower beds for instant full color. Also raised beds are easier to maintain and produce better plants and more flowers too.

  9. Barby says:

    Lilies of the Valley

  10. GeminiGirl47 says:

    I live in the Central Valley in California where the summer temps are in the triple digits for long periods. I have problems with plants that will survive the intense summer sun. I usually gravitate to drought resistant plants which are low-maintenance. For some color, I have a fuchsia oleander, purple potato bush, rose of sharon in a pot & my white & pink camellias that are sometimes confused about the weather–they bloom anywhere form Oct -Mar depending on cold streaks or heat waves. I have a lot of evergreens which are doing well & a yellow jasmine as well but my backyard is desolate because I no longer have my beloved mulberry or my elm which both fell victim to disease–had to cut down years ago leaving my large back yard in full sun. I have lantana which does quite well plus a grapefruit tree (which I do not water as much as I should) & some sort of fir/pine which I have forgotten the name of. I would like to move on to container planting because soil is extremely sandy/porous & I am very tired of prepping for in ground planting + I am a senior citizen w/handicap. I want more color & would welcome any suggestions as to types of plants that might due well in full sun. Thanks

    • seaston says:

      I live in same area. I've had good luck with purple flowering potato plants and butterfly bushes. In 3 years mine have grown to over 5 feet and are lush with leaves and flowers (just starting to bloom). Water well and frequently the first few years after planting. Pomegranite trees have done well without a lot of fuss. Dormant in winter, but lovely green leaves with bright orange flowers in spring and lovely deeply red fruit in fall. They're not large trees, about 6 to 10 ft. Good luck, on growing some new shade trees now that your large shade trees are gone. Try Modesto Ash to replace large shade trees. These are all specific to Central Valley of CA.

      • GeminiGirl47 says:

        thanks…I think I will try the pomegranate as well as Modesto ash for variety,,,I also want to plant a lemon tree but as I said in containers…I like the idea of the butterfly bushes. I think that will give me quite a bit of variety. Thanks, again

  11. Toni says:

    Caladiums love to grow in the shade!

  12. walt says:

    goats beard and ferns and astilbe are great

  13. adrianne Moore says:

    I want to grow something in my shady yard to cover m neighbor's unsightly vinyl fence . Any suggestions for a vining plant that will grow and than spend winter in a pot? There is cement along this fence. No soil

    • Stephanie says:

      Could you put in a raised flower bed? Then maybe try Jasmine-.- it's fragrant, evergreen and mine does well in part shade and its very fast growing.

  14. Jane says:

    There is also astilbe, heuchera, columbine, campanula, variegated dogwood and other ground covers such as bugleweed (adjuga), periwinkle (vinca minor) and woodland violets as perennial plants for partial sun/shade.

  15. Julie says:

    Great ideas. Don't forget about Hydrangea, impatiens, brunsfelsia and bleeding heart. Here in New Orleans I have a gorgeous Live Oak over my front and much of my side yard, so I have plenty of shady area to fill. I use these and some of the ones you mention in my garden. Also, Japanese Maples are a great under a big tree.

    • pat says:

      I just moved here from Kansas city and finding it very difficult to plant anything around an oak tree which provides part/sun and shade. I do not know the names of plants here, different plants grow here then in the mid west.


About Emily Fazio 


I caught the home improvement bug at an early age, and now I'm a full-time DIYer living in Rochester, NY. The projects I cover on my blog Merrypad range ...

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