Not everyone has a sunny backyard, and that’s an ideal location for low light outdoor plants. A shaded area can be transformed into a lush, green growing oasis if the right plants are selected.
If you have ever walked through a garden center, you know that it can be difficult to find plants that do well in partial to full shade conditions. A general rule is that with larger leaves, plants can tolerate less sunlight. Below are 20 outdoor plants that need little light to thrive.
These low light plants for outdoors will grow beautifully in a shady backyard.
Colorful begonias (semperflorens-cultorum) are a shade garden staple and one of the best plants to grow in a shady backyard. This annual plant has broad leaves that can be glossy green, bronze or red with clusters of flowers in red, pink or white. Begonias will reach a mature height of about 12 inches and about half as wide. Plants are heat tolerant and like moist soil. Can be grown in containers.
2- Bleeding Heart
Bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) is an early blooming perennial that is an ideal shade garden plant. The plant will produce long, arching stems which will have pink or red blooms hanging from them. The blooms are heart-shaped and have an elongated bottom that looks like a tiny drop of blood. Great plant for hanging baskets.
Bleeding heart will bloom from spring until mid-summer. When temperature rise, the plant will die back even when it’s planted in full shade. Plant will reach a mature height and width of two feet.
Hostas are true low light outdoor plants that can survive in full shade. Most varieties of hostas can grow well with small amounts of sun. When plants have variegated leaves, more sunlight will help the colors, but limited sunlight is best.
If leaves look brown or burned, they may be getting too much sun. Hostas do best in well-drained soil. Hostas love water and there is no such thing as too much water for hostas. Hostas are not fussy about temperature or humidity and can grow in a wide range of climates.
Often the best and easiest way to feed hostas is by adding a healthy layer of compost to the soil in the spring. Hostas will do well with a magnesium-rich fertilizer meant for vegetables. Hostas grow best in growing zones 3 to 9.
4- Heuchera (Coral Bells)
One of the easiest perennials to grow, heuchera are an easy to care for outdoor plant. Heuchera are tolerant of a wide range of light conditions, poor soil, heat, cold, humidity and drought. Foliage comes in nearly every color imaginable, from silver to nearly black.
Heuchera flowers occur in hues of coral, red, white, or pink and are attractive to butterflies and hummingbirds and are long-lasting in cut arrangements. Plant coral bells in spring or fall. Space plants 1-2 feet apart. Heuchera foliage color are best when plants receive about four hours of sunlight.
Heuchera does best in rich well-draining soil but is tolerant of clay or rocky soils. Heuchera is somewhat drought-tolerant once established. In spring, spread a thin layer of compost or apply a balanced slow-release granular fertilizer. Best grown in growing zones 4 to 9.
Small plants with big impacts in shady areas, coleus (Plectranthus scutellarioides) have brightly colored foliage that range in color from shades of pale green to deep Burgundy.
Plants are annuals and come in a wide range of mature sizes and leaf size. Coleus are adaptable to most soil conditions and are easy to incorporate into any shade garden theme. Ideal for border plants or filler plants, coleus can also be grown in containers. Keep top pinched off plant so it will produce lateral branches. Coleus will retain their leaf color throughout the summer.
6- Dogwood Tree
Small growing understory tree that thrives in the shade of tall hardwood trees. Dogwood trees (Cornus nuttallii) produce stunning white, pink or red blooms in spring before the tree leafs out in spring. Blooms appear in early spring and last for about one month.
Fall foliage is crimson red, and clusters of small red berries will remain on the tree after leaf drop. The berries attract a birds and squirrels. Slow growing Dogwood trees will reach a mature size of 20 feet tall and 10 feet wide.
7- Dutchman’s Pipe
This unusual plant will produce dense foliage and showy 2 inch long yellowish-green trumpet shaped blooms that have a purple center in the spring. Dutchman’s Pipe (Aristolochia tomentosa) natural habitat is wooded area near a water source and an ideal shade tolerant plant for moist, low-lying areas near a water source.
The vine is a fast growing perennial that will reach a mature length of 30 feet. After flowers fade, the vine will produce long seed pods that turn grayish brown in fall. This shade loving vine is a favorite source of nectar for butterflies and is often grown to cover a pergola.
8- Flowering Quince
This is a hardy flowering shrub that will grow to reach a mature size of around 10 feet tall and wide, but can be pruned to desired size. It’s a drought tolerant shrub that will adapt to most soil types.
Flowering quince (Chaenomeles speciosa) is a deciduous shrub that produces showy flowers in the late winter and early spring when little else is blooming. Bloom colors include red, pink and white, and blooms are followed by fragrant yellow fruit. The quince fruit is edible and typically used to make jam.
9- Foam Flower
Spikes of two feet tall white blooms emerge from attractive three-pronged foliage and give the appearance of the plant being covered with foam. Foam flower (Tiarella cordifolia) is a hardy perennial that will thrive in a shady backyard, producing both floral beauty and fragrance during the spring.
The plant will reach a mature height of around 6 inches and is often used as a ground cover for shady areas. It’s fast growing and will quickly fill in bare spots in a shade garden if the soil remains moist.
Hydrangeas (Saxifragaceae) grow into large shrubs that produce huge blooms that are the size of diner plate. The large, round blooms are made up of many small blooms and are ideal for use as cut flowers and dried flowers. Blooms appear in mid-summer and colors range from pink, blue, purple, and white. Shrub can be prune to desired size and will grow to around 8 feet tall and wide if left unpruned.
Hydrangeas enjoy semi-shaded areas where the soil remains moist. The shrub grows best in acidic soil and bloom color will vary depending on the pH level of the soil. This shade loving plant also produces large, attractive leaves and comes in evergreen or deciduous varieties.
Also known as Jewelweed, Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana) is one of the best plants for shade. Hardy in most growing areas and adaptable to most soil conditions, impatiens are low growing plants that will create mounds of colorful flowers during the later winter and early spring.
These plants will provide bright color in shady areas and require no maintenance. Ideal for borders or baskets.
12- Lady Fern
Low growing plant that has light green foliage and fiddle-heads in shade of red. One of the most prized low light plants, Lady ferns (Athyrium filix-femina) are often found growing in-between taller shrubs and trees in shady woodland areas.
Lady fern will quickly reach its mature size of 2 feet tall and equally as wide. This shade lover enjoys loamy soil and moisture. Easy to grow in containers or hanging baskets. Some fern fronds will grow straight up, and others will grow sideways and spill over the side of a container.
Brunnera is an outdoor plant that does not need sunlight to grow. Plants have leaves that are glossy green or variegated. Brunnera can be grown in partial shade to even full shade. If you have a full shade location, brunnera is a great option.
Brunnera blooms in early to mid-spring with blue flowers and does best in well-drained soil that can be kept consistently and lightly moist. If opting for containers, make sure that brunnera cannot dry out. Plant care for brunnera will include watering to maintain soil moisture and providing good drainage to assure that roots of brunnera plants do not sit in soggy soil.
Growing brunnera reaches 1.5 feet in height and 2 feet wide, growing in a small mound. Brunnera is best grown in growing zones 3 to 8.
Caladiums are another great option for low light outdoor plants. Caladiums are best to bring color to full shade locations. Caladium do not do well in full sun, which burns the leaves. When potting, start them in a damp peat mix soil.
Caladiums like a slightly acid soil pH. Once they start coming out of the ground, move into their shaded areas. When growing Caladiums as houseplants, water whenever the soil feels dry.
Begin watering less in autumn, as plants naturally go dormant and stop growing. If grown outdoors in a cold climate, they can either be considered annuals or you will need to dig and store the tubers over winter.
Astilbes are easy-to-grow plants, but they also need plenty of water. Astilbe like consistently moist soils, and they will suffer without it. Make sure to grow astilbe in soil that is well-drained and has a lot of organic matter or compost.
Amending the soil with compost and peat moss can help the soil retain water and keep astilbe plants happy. When it comes to light, astilbe is versatile. Astilbes can take anything from full sun to almost full shade.
More sun exposure brings dry soil and possibly burnt leaves. Planting astilbe in a location that only gets some morning light will ensure their livelihood. Astilbe do best when grown in growing zones 3 to 8.
16- Lily of the Valley
Plant lily of the valley in partial sun to full shade. Lily of the valley needs protection from the hot afternoon sun. For warmer growing zones, full shade is optimal for lily of the valley. With aromatic, white bell flowers, this is a beautiful cut flower for arrangements.
Lily of the valley prefers soil with good drainage. The plants can grow in a range of soil types, including clay soil. It likes an acidic to neutral soil pH but can tolerate slightly alkaline soil, too. This plant prefers consistently moist but not soggy soil.
Lily of the valley prefers mild conditions with average humidity. Temperatures between 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit are best. The plant doesn’t do well in dry, hot climates. In the right growing conditions, lily of the valley can grow quite quickly. The plant roots grow as rhizomes and can multiply each year. Lily of the valley do best in growing zones 3 to 8.
17- Japanese Painted Fern
While Japanese painted fern is listed as being a plant for partial shade or full shade. The plant achieves its best color if grown in partial shade. It is important to keep the Japanese painted fern from the hot afternoon sunlight in any growing zone.
An essential requirement in growing Japanese painted fern is a soil with adequate drainage. Planting in more clay soils can lead to root rot and fungal disease. Keep the soil evenly moist.
Heat from the sun and more hot, humid days in the middle of summer can cause the delicate leaves to brown and burn. With a good organic soil, fertilizing should not be needed. Japanese painted ferns thrive in growing zones 3 to 8.
Found in forests under thick tree growth, trillium do best in partial to full shade. Direct sunlight can burn the foliage, so these are great outdoor plants that need little light. Trillium plants prefer a neutral soil pH.
Typically, Trillium in forests blooms white but colors can also be red. Trillium need a soil that is rich in organic matter and holds moisture, similar to what they find in forests. Maintain lightly moist soil, sitting in soggy soil for too long can result in root rot and other diseases.
During hot, dry conditions, trillium will likely need more water than normal, or they will wilt. Humidity typically is not an issue if their water needs are being met. Fertilizer usually is not necessary but organic compost is beneficial as it mirrors the forest soil. Trillium can do best in growing zones 4 to 7.
Foxglove can grow in full sun, partial sun, or partial shade. Mature plants tolerate shade but not full shade. Foxgloves will do best when exposed to partial sun. Foxgloves like rich, well-draining soil that’s acidic, with a pH under 6.0.
Keep the soil moist, but not soaked as foxgloves can get crown rot. Foxgloves do better in cooler temperatures and may wilt in temperatures over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Foxgloves do not need any special conditions for humidity.
For growing these biennial plants in colder zones, apply mulch for winter protection. Apply a 1-inch layer of compost around the plant in early spring to encourage growth. Fertilizer is not necessary and excess nitrogen can harm the growth. Foxglove thrives best in growing zones 4 to 10.
20- Japanese Maples
Japanese maples can be grown in sun and shade depending on the variety. Japanese maples in nature typically grow under the canopy of other trees. Green leaved varieties are better suited for shade conditions.
Caring for Japanese maples in summer is mainly a matter of providing enough water to prevent stress. Apply the water to the root zone slowly so that the soil can absorb as much water as possible. Cut back on the amount of water in late summer to intensify the fall color.
If using mulch for moisture, keep a few inches from the trunk to prevent rot. Pruning should be done in late winter when the tree is dormant. Japanese maples do best in growing zones 6 to 8 but can be potted and brought indoors or covered for winter protection.