20 colorful plants for shade gardens
A mainstay of shaded perennial borders, they’re also great beside garden pools, along shaded paths, and in pots. Give them moist, rich soil.
Zones 1–7, 14–17; short-lived in 8, 9, 14–24.
Put them in hanging baskets or containers, then make them really happy by displaying them in a location that gets warm shade or filtered sunlight. Leaves are small, roundish, and green.
These begonias grow best in filtered shade and rich soil; water them enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy, and mist regularly.
Zones 4–6, 15–17, 21–24; H1.
Either one would look refreshing in an apple green glazed pot; they’re so striking, they can hold their own! Pinch the tips to encourage vigorous growth.
Zones 24; H1, H2; or anywhere as an annual; or indoors.
The tender evergreen shrub has thrived in its 16-inch-diameter container for about three years now—pretty good for Menlo Park, California, where winter temperatures regularly dip into the 30s. It grows 18 to 36 inches tall.
Sunset climate zones 24 or H2; or indoors.
We grow it in an olive green glazed pot, where it spills out around a yellow-flowered abutilon. In the ground, it grows 4 to 8 inches tall, and spreads to 2 feet—rooting as it goes.
Zones 1–9, 14–24.
‘Ann Greenaway’ has green leaves edged in yellow, with a silver stripe down the center, and pink flowers. ‘Beacon Silver’ has silvery gray leaves with green edges, and pink flowers. ‘White Nancy’ has silvery gray-green leaves with green edges, and white flowers.
Spreading to 3 feet wide, this perennial is great in hanging baskets and as pot edging.
Overwinters in zones A2, A3; 1–11, 14–24, but is grown as a winter annual in zones 12, 13.
We love the combo pictured: The green and white caladium grows in a 6-inch plastic nursery pot nestled inside a big green pot to jazz up the striped amaryllis that lives there year round (but goes dormant in winter).
Zone H2, or store the dormant tubers indoors in winter.
The evergreen shrub grows about 8 feet tall, but we love the dwarf varieties for pots and small spaces; coral salmon ‘Melon Sorbet’ grows just 18 to 36 inches tall. The white and yellow forms flower almost continuously. Give the plant part shade in the hottest climates.
Zones 8, 9, 12–24; H1, H2; annual elsewhere.
For really large clusters, grow H. arborescens ‘Incrediball’, which has 12-inch heads that open lime green, turn snowy white, then age to pale green on plants to 10 feet tall.
Grow garden hydrangea in zones 3b–9, 14–21; H1; ‘Incrediball’ in zones A3; 1–21.
At Sunset headquarters, we grow G. x cantabrigiense ‘Biokovo’, which has white blooms with a pale pink blush in late spring and early summer, in a bed under a shapely oak (it doesn’t need much water).
Other pretty choices include G. cinereum ‘Ballerina’ (pink flowers), ‘Brookside’ (blue flowers), and ‘Jolly Bee’ (blue flowers).
Heuchera takes sun only in coolest climates, and grows to 28 inches tall.
Zones 1–9, 14–24.
Small spring flowers are a bonus. Grow this little perennial beauty in a shaded rock garden or as a groundcover in a woodland corner. It needs humus-rich, well-drained soil.
Zones 1–10, 14–24.
We especially love the cool, bluish green ‘Sagae’ (pictured); it grows 2 feet tall, and makes a stunning accent in a blue-green glazed container. The perennial also sends up white flowers in late summer.
Zones 1–10, 14–21.
To edge shaded borders, go for the low- growing Busy Lizzie impatiens, which cover themselves in 2-inch-wide, five-petaled flowers in nearly every color but blue.
Perennial in zones 14, 24; H1, H2; annual elsewhere.
Display a single plant in a pot, or plant in drifts at the front of a border to create a drapey edging.
Zones 2b–9, 14–24.
Meadow rue thrives in the dappled shade of woodland gardens, and blooms in early summer.
Zones 2–10, 14– 17.
The plant is gorgeous all year, and grows in a pyramid shape to 5 feet tall, but can be sheared to any size; it makes a great hedge in part shade.
Zones 14–24; H1.
We grow Persian shield as a strapping accent in a large (18-inch) pot, along with Medusa ferns, fragrant, white-flowered bouvardia, and lamium. It grows 4 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Zones 23, 24; H1, H2; with protection in 16, 17, 19–22.
More: Paradise in a pot
In small spaces, you can keep it to 3 feet tall with pruning, or grow a dwarf form.
Zones 12– 17, 20–24; H1, H2.
Find your zone: Sunset Plant Finder