One of the toughest plants that grow in the shade garden, bigroot geranium (Geranium macrorrhizum) doesn't mind heat or drought. And, deer and rabbits typically pass it by in search of tastier morsels. This shade plant puts on a spring show with pink or white flowers; some varieties also offer outstanding fall coloration in their woodsy-scented foliage. Bigroot geranium is hardy in Zones 4-8 and grows 2 feet tall.
Put on a fall show with shade plant toad lily (Tricyrtis). This easy-to-grow perennial offers unique flowers that are often compared to orchids. Many are spotted with shades of purple or blue.
This topnotch groundcover is grown mainly for its foliage, but also has pretty flowers. Ajuga produces glossy, dark green leaves and springtime spikes of blue flowers. Select varieties of this shade plant offer dark purple or variegated foliage, or pink or white flowers. Ajuga grows best in Zones 3-9 and grows only 6 inches tall.
Old-Fashioned Bleeding Heart
There's little wonder why old-fashioned bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is a favorite of plants that grow in shade. In late spring and early summer, it produces pink or white heart-shaped flowers that hang from elegant, arching stems. This top-notch shade plant is hardy in Zones 3-9 and grows up to 4 feet tall.
Hostas are among the showiest and easy-to-grow perennial plants that grow in shade. They also offer the most variety of any of the multiple shade plants. Choose from miniatures that stay only a couple of inches wide or giants that sprawl 6 feet across or more. Look for leaves in shades of green, blue, white, chartreuse, and gold, with many cultivars being variegated. Some hosta flowers are very fragrant. Hostas are hardy in Zones 3-8.
A great plant with an unfortunate name, lungwort (Pulmonaria) earned its moniker from the silvery, lung-shaped spots that dot the foliage of these plants that grow in shade. The variegated foliage looks great all season long, but is an especially nice accent to the clusters of pink, white, or blue flowers in spring. Lungwort grows best in Zones 4-8 and reaches 1 foot tall.
This hard-working perennial plant that grows in shade takes the prize for being the longest bloomer in the sheltered garden. Enjoy its clusters of yellow flowers from late spring all the way to frost. It's not just the flowers that are beautiful; the gray-green leaves of these shade plants are attractive as well. The plant grows about 12 inches tall and is hardy in Zones 5-8.
Starting in mid-spring, Lamium produces clusters of pink or white flowers. This delightful groundcover can rebloom off and on through the summer, creating months of color. And even when its not blooming, the silver-infused foliage of these shade plants brighten up shady corners. Lamium usually stays about 8 inches tall and grows best in Zones 4-8.
An under-used plant that grows in shade that deserves a lot more attention, Epimedium has it all when it comes to shade plants. The groundcover blooms in spring in shades of red, orange, yellow, pink, purple, or white; it tolerates dry shade; and it's deer- and rabbit resistant. Some varieties are evergreen in mild-winter areas; others offer good fall color. Most types grow best in Zones 5-9 and reach about 1 foot tall.
In spring, shade gardens sparkle with the sky-blue flowers of Brunnera. When not in bloom, its large, robustly textured leaves continue to look great -- especially if you grow a variegated type of these shade plants. While the plant is often short-lived, it does tend to self-seed, becoming a long-term presence in the garden.
Hellebore (Helleborus), also called Christmas rose, is one of the earliest bloomers of plants that grow in shade. Look for its burgundy, pink, cream, green, or white flowers in late winter or early spring. Although it looks delicate, the Christmas rose is quite sturdy once it gets established. And, it's deer- and rabbit-resistant. Hellebore grows best in Zones 4-8 and grows 12 inches tall.
Enjoy the feathery plumes of Astilbe in early summer. This tough perennial blooms in shades of burgundy, red, pink, lavender, and white. In addition to the attractive flowers, these shade plants have finely cut foliage, which in many varieties is flushed with bronze. Astilbe grows best in Zones 4-8 and can reach up to 4 feet tall, depending on variety.
Japanese Painted Fern
It's tough to imagine lovelier shade plants than Japanese painted ferns (Athyrium niponicum var. pictum). This beauty offers fronds liberally dappled with silver, burgundy, and green. Plus, it's a low-growing, slow-spreading plant that grows in shade. And, deer and rabbits usually leave it alone. It grows best in Zones 5-8 and gets about 12 inches tall.
Hailing from the woodlands of North America, wild ginger (Asarum canadense) is one tough shade plant. It produces fuzzy, heart-shaped leaves that look great from spring to fall. And, it's rarely bothered by deer and rabbits. This slow grower eventually forms an impressive clump. It grows best in Zones 2-8 and reaches 6 inches tall.
Japanese forestgrass (Hakonechloa macra) is a wonderful grass for plants that grow in shade. It offers a lovely waterfall-like habit and variegated varieties have bight gold, yellow, or white in the foliage. In fall, the leaves of these shade plants usually pick up beautiful reddish tones. It grows best in Zones 5-9 and grows a foot tall.
Lilyturf (Liriope) is an easy-to-grow favorite shade plant. Loved for its grassy foliage and spikes of blue or white flowers in late summer, as well as its resistance to deer and rabbits, lilyturf is practically a plant-it-and-forget garden resident. It grows best in Zones 5-10 and grows a foot tall.
Monkshood (Aconitum) is a noteworthy plant that grows in shade because it blooms in late summer, when most other shade bloomers have finished. Plus, it's deer- and rabbit-resistant. Named for its drooping blue flowers that resemble the hood on a monk's robe, this lovely shade plant is an easy, under-used plant. It grows best in Zones 3-7 and grows up to 6 feet tall.
Fern-Leaf Bleeding Heart
Fern-leaf bleeding heart (Dicentra eximia and D. formosa) look beautiful all season. These shade plants bloom on and off from spring to fall (if they get enough moisture during hot, dry periods), producing delicate clusters of pink, red, or white flowers. Even when not in bloom, though, their tidy mounds of blue-green, ferny foliage looks great. They grow best in Zones 4-8 and grow up to 2 feet tall.