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14 low maintenance perennials for shade

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Incorporating perennials is an excellent way to add color to the shady areas of your yard. Many are low-maintenance and don’t require much more than removing old foliage as new growth appears. Perennials are plants that live longer than two years (some much longer), giving you a lot of value in terms of longevity. Plus, because they’re perennial (meaning they can survive over winter), you won’t have to worry about them dying over the winter months.

Shade garden pathway

Introduction to low maintenance perennials for shade

Shady areas are often tricky to garden due to the lack of direct sunlight, but they have their benefits. The amount of sun reaching the ground can significantly decrease if trees and buildings block the light. However, the soil retains moisture well and stays cooler than in sunnier locations. This makes it easier for your plants to survive during hot summer days when they would otherwise wilt in direct sunlight.

There are different levels of shade. Full shade is when no direct sunlight reaches the area where the plants are growing (such as under a dense tree canopy). Partial shade means that some light gets through but not enough for full growth (such as dappled shade or direct sunlight for only a few hours).

Hostas in the shade garden

1. Hosta

Hostas can tolerate heavy shade and still become lush. The large leaves on these perennials provide visual interest while they absorb excess moisture from the surrounding air. They also have an attractive texture that looks great in spring and summer and even into early autumn.

Hostas come in a variety of colors and sizes, so you can find one to fit any garden style. Here are some of the most popular hosta varieties to choose from, including everything from tiny mini hostas to big giant hosta cultivars.

Astilbe

2. Astilbe

These low-maintenance perennials are perfect for tricky areas that receive low light. They don’t need much water or fertilizer and bloom from late spring until midsummer. They also come in many different varieties, from low ground-covering types to large varieties that can be used as centerpieces in shady gardens.

Brunnera

3. Brunnera

Brunnera is an incredibly low-maintenance perennial that is perfect for shady spots. Its eye-catching heart-shaped leaves add texture and color to a garden while its clusters of small blue flowers attract pollinators. It’s an easy plant to care for, as it only needs occasional watering and can tolerate low light levels.

Solomon's seal and columbine

4. Solomon’s seal

Solomon’s seal is a low-maintenance perennial that grows in shade and is perfect for low light areas. It’s a low growing ground cover with bright green foliage and white flowers that bloom in late spring. This hardy plant doesn’t need much attention, so it’s perfect for busy gardeners!

Lady's mantle

5. Lady’s mantle

Lady’s mantle is a low-maintenance perennial plant that prefers low light, moist soil and partial shade. Its low-growing foliage and clusters of small yellow flowers add texture to gardens. The leaves are slightly fuzzy, which helps them absorb moisture from the air and retain it in their stems. Lady’s mantle is also low maintenance, so you won’t have to worry about trimming or pruning regularly.

Coral bells

6. Coral Bells

Coral Bells have large, beautiful leaves that contrast wonderfully with other plants’ foliage while providing color in your garden or yard. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors and can tolerate low to medium light levels.

Ferns

7. Ferns

Ferns are a great choice for areas that get a lot of shade. They thrive in dim, wooded areas and grow best if not exposed to direct sunlight. Ferns are low-maintenance plants and don’t require a lot of water or fertilizer, so they’re perfect for busy gardeners who don’t have a lot of time to tend their gardens.

Periwinkle

8. Periwinkle

Periwinkle can be a good choice for ground cover in spots of deep shade. This plant grows quickly, and you can use it to fill bare spots in your yard or garden. Its low-growing leaves create a low-maintenance blanket of color.

Hydrangeas

9. Hydrangeas

Hydrangeas are one of the best plants for partial shade, especially if you’re looking for a small shrub. They’re easy to maintain and can grow large if you give them enough space. They’re also easy to find at your local nursery and come in various colors.

There are quite a few different types of hydrangeas, and certain species do better in partial shade while others bloom best in full sun. Here are some of the most popular hydrangea varieties to choose from.

Bleeding heart

10. Bleeding heart

If you’re looking for something smaller, try bleeding heart plants. Their flowers are breathtaking and will bloom with little light. They prefer cooler climates and can tolerate low light levels. They will flower better in partial shade than in full shade.

Columbine

11. Columbine

If you’re looking for something a bit more colorful, consider Columbine flowers. Columbines do well during cold, dark seasons and are found in most nurseries. They come in many different colors and shapes, adding a pop of color to any low-maintenance garden.

Ajuga

12. Ajuga

Plants with substantial leaves, like ajuga, give a full look. Ajuga is colorful and will thrive in low-light conditions, making it perfect for a low-maintenance garden.

Azaleas

13. Azaleas and rhododendrons

Azaleas and rhododendrons are stunning woody shrubs that can add some larger structure to shady spots. These low-maintenance perennials are perfect for areas that get low light, such as underneath a tree canopy. They can tolerate partial shade and still bloom in spring and summer with beautiful flowers.

White hellebore

14. Hellebore

Hellebore is a traditional shade perennial flower that is not nearly as difficult to grow as it looks. While the opulent flowers look like they must take lots of work, the opposite is true. Just cut back any ragged leaves in early spring and let those beauties shine through!

Hellebores in the shade

FAQs about low maintenance perennials for shade

What low maintenance perennials can I plant in my shady garden?

Hostas, astilbes, coral bells, ferns, periwinkle, hydrangeas, bleeding heart, columbine, ajuga, azaleas and rhododendrons and hellebores are all low maintenance perennials that do well in low light environments.

How often should low maintenance plants for shade be watered?

Generally speaking, low-maintenance perennials require low amounts of water and fertilizer, and once established, should only be watered during dry periods or if wilting is noticed. You may have to water them once or twice a week at first though to get them established in the soil. Each type of low maintenance perennial will require different amounts of water and fertilizer, so it’s important to research the specific plant you’re considering.

What shade perennials will thrive in cold climates?

Bleeding heart, columbines, ajuga and hellebore are low maintenance perennials that tend to do better in colder climates. Hostas, astilbes and coral bells do well in cooler climates, but they may need to be covered with a light blanket of protective mulch during cold winter periods.

Certain types of hydrangeas can tolerate low temperatures, but bigleaf hydrangeas are very cold sensitive (especially in Zones 4-6). Climbing hydrangea is a bit more cold hardy and can still bloom very well in shade.

Are low maintenance perennials for shade expensive?

It depends on the type of low maintenance perennial you’re looking for. Some low-maintenance perennials, such as hostas and astilbes, can be found at a low cost from your local nursery or big box store in the spring. Other low maintenance perennials like hellebores or small shrubs like hydrangeas or azaleas may be more expensive but with proper care can last for many years in your garden.

References

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Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a Master Gardener and founder of the gardening website Home for the Harvest. She has been featured by Better Homes & Gardens, Real Simple, Good Housekeeping, Mother Earth News, and the National Garden Bureau. Mary Jane lives with her family in the Okanagan Valley.