Updated: Apr 4
Many of us have shady areas, or perhaps an entire yard of shade. If you're used to gardening in sun, it can initially feel limiting to work with mostly shade... however some of our favorite spaces at home are our shade gardens! There are many species of plants including an array of beautiful natives that thrive in shade, and we've highlighted 30 varieties of trees, shrubs, flowering perennials, groundcovers, and grasses!
A stunning array of native wildflowers grow and thrive under trees, in part shade to almost full shade. Combine native flowers, ferns, and grasses to create a tranquil shade garden, or restore a wooded area in your landscape with native woodland plants.
1. Oakleaf Hydrangea, Hydrangea quercifolia
Can grow in part shade/dappled light and features beautiful, large blooms that often persist from late spring through fall.
2. Carolina Allspice, Calycanthus floridus
Featuring lovely blooms that smell like strawberries & attractive foliage on a nicely shaped larger shrub.
3. Fothergilla, Fothergilla major
Beautiful bottlebrush blooms are great pollinator food in early spring and fall leaves provide rich orange color.
4. Summersweet, Clethra alnifolia
Excellent pollinator support and beautiful and prolific bloom spikes. Some sun is ideal.
5. Blackhaw Viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium
Tolerates shade better than most other viburnum and provides attractive foliage, lovely white blooms for pollinators, and berries in fall for the birds. (Arrowwood Viburnum, Viburnum dentatum, is another native variety that does well in shade).
6. Flame Azalea, Rhododendron calendulaceum
You can't beat the brilliant orange of these native blooms!
7. Catawba Rhododendron, Rhododendron catawbiense
Always a beautiful option, with stunning blooms of many colors and evergreen foliage, but they do take a bit more finesse (plant shallowly and avoid smothering the crown) and can take a while to settle in.
8. Mountain Laurel, Kalmia latifolia
Similar to Rhododendron, these plants offer stunning blooms, evergreen foliage, and require a bit of finesse. Plant shallowly and avoid smothering the crown, and know that these plants can take a while to settle in.
9. Annabelle Hydrangea, Hydrangea arborescens
Often seen in our woods, this lovely native will bloom and grow in a more open habit when in dappled shade, but can also be grown in full sun.
10. Red Buckeye, Aesculus pavia
Truly stunning giant bloom spikes are unique, showy, and beloved by hummingbirds. In shadier conditions, they grow to large shrub size, whereas they reach tree height in sun.
11. American Holly, Ilex opaca
A beautiful native tree found throughout the woods of WNC, this holly provides glossy evergreen foliage and bright red berries appreciated by winter birds.
12. Partridgeberry, Mitchella reptans
A lovely evergreen ground cover closely resembling native wintergreen. Prefers good drainage, so often seen growing on rocky areas or slopes in the woods.
13. Winterberry, Ilex verticillata
Winterberry is known for its massive show of red berries in winter and produces large quantities in part shade as well as full sun. Great food for wintering birds!
For Beautiful Color
Lady Fern, Athyrium filix-femina var. angustum
For Unique Textures
Maidenhair, Adiantum x. mairisii
Sensitive Fern, Onoclea sensibilis
For Height & Showy Fronds
Ostrich, Matteuccia struthiopteris
American Royal, Osmunda regalis var. spectabilis
Cinnamon, Osmundastrum cinnamomea
15. Autumn Bride Heuchera, Heuchera villosa 'Autumn Bride'
Grown primarily for its pretty ruffled foliage, this perennial's mounding habit shoots up small flower spikes with teeny flowers in spring to mid-summer. It will tolerate some sun, but its best color typically occurs in shade.
16. Dwarf Crested Iris, Iris cristata
A native species in the Iridaceae (iris) family that grows in North Carolina, this beautiful spring bloomer reaches only 4-9 inches tall and spreads to form a ground cover in its native peaty woodland habitat. It offers an early perennial spring bloom in partly shady areas and grows well in rock gardens and woodland sites.
17. Trillium: Trillium erectum, Trillium luteum, Trillium cuneatum
We simply couldn't choose a single variety of Trillium! This low-growing woodland native comes in many different shapes, colors and patterns, and some species are endangered. One thing all varieties have in common is they are made up of three leaves, three petals, and three sepals!
18. Jack-in-the-Pulpit, Arisaema triphyllum
Fascinating and fairy-like, many gardeners are drawn to this stunning and unusual flower. Finding one in nature is a real treat, and watching them bloom in your shade garden is sure to bring joy!
19. Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica
This spring ephemeral will greet you with beautiful blue blooms between March-May. The blooms last for about 3 weeks and will certainly attract some of the earlier butterflies, birds, and bees to your shade garden.
20. Solomon's Seal, Polygonatum biflorum
Native to woodlands and a shade garden favorite, this native plant features pairs of small, white, tubular flowers along long arching stems accompanied by beautiful foliage. Birds will flock to the berries that remain once the flowers fade. This plant spreads slowly but will eventually blanket the ground.
21. Spiderwort, Tradescantia x
This plant prefers part shade. It bears coin-sized three-petaled flowers that open every morning and last through early afternoon. The prolific blooms occur throughout the warm season and support pollinators.
22. Columbine - Aquilegia canadensis
A lovely perennial with unique flowers, this plant is easy to grow and will self-seed in the garden if allowed. It does well in the shade in warmer zones but will need a few hours of sun in cooler zones.
23. Hot Lips Turtlehead, Chelone lyonii 'Hot Lips'
This plant is named for its weeks-long blooms, which are shaped like turtles' heads. Another great shade-loving native plant that blooms late summer into fall. Originally found in wet woodlands and along streams, Turtlehead is a great addition to a damp area in your garden or in a rain garden!
24. Obedient Plant, Physostegia virginiana
Blooming in late summer, this plant is easy to care for and a true magnet for bees and hummingbirds! Part shade is ideal for this native. Kids love playing with the blooms as they will 'obediently' stay in place when moved, but keep the disruption to a minimum so the plant isn't damaged.
25. Boneset, Eupatorium perfoliatum
Thriving in soggy clay soil, this plant is perfect for our native woodlands. Its small white flowers present as one large fluffy cluster, and it makes for great additions to bouquets. Blooms occur in late summer/early fall.
26. Cardinal Flower, Lobelia cardinalis
This native is normally found along streams, swamps, and in moist wooded areas. Its tall flower stalks burst into bloom from July to early fall with bright scarlet flowers, attracting hummingbirds, butterflies and humans alike!
GROUNDCOVERS & GRASSES:
27. Woodland Phlox, Phlox divaricata
These lovely natives produce abundant, fragrant blooms in early spring, supporting pollinators and adding color at a time when you don't see much. The semi-evergreen slowly spreads in a dense mat.
28. 'Home Fires' Creeping Woodland Phlox, Phlox stolonifera 'Home Fires'
Another lovely native phlox, this variety is also scented and sports incredibly showy pink blooms beloved by pollinators. Also spreading in a mat, the foliage is slightly less cold-tolerant and may die back in winter.
29. Green and Gold, Chrysogonum virginianum
Rich green semi-evergreen foliage is very low to the ground and topped by small bright yellow blooms in spring. While not exceptionally fast to spread, this native is popular for covering areas where few other plants can grow (aka deep shade).
30. Northern Sea Oats, Chasmanthium latifolium
This native grass is a vigorous spreader and should be planted cautiously (use in areas where you need to fill a space quickly). A great plant for adding fall/winter interest to your garden, and also a unique addition to cut flower bouquets - the seedheads are simply beautiful.
Non-Native Shade-Loving Plants
TREES AND SHRUBS
Japanese Holly Fern (evergreen)
Autumn Fern (evergreen, lovely color)
Japanese Painted Ferm (beautiful color)
+ many others
Abiqua Drinking Gourd (unique dimples/cupped shape)
Guacamole (big, beautiful leaves)
Blue Mouse Ears (adorable miniature size)
+ many others
Bugbane (or native Black Cohosh)
GROUNDCOVERS & GRASSES
Feather Reed Grass
Japanese Forest Grass
Japanese Pachysandra (or the native Allegheny Spurge)
Vinca (we only grow 'Ralph Shugert' as it is less likely to behave invasively)