Paula's Patch: A Minnesota Garden

Come wander in; my gate is always open! Gardening / Birding

Plants That Tolerate Shade April 27, 2012

Since beginning my little garden sanctuary and yard transformation 20 years ago, what was once a mostly sunny yard is now partial shade to mostly shade. That’s always a challenge when it comes time to choose plants.

Some days I long for my vegetable garden where I used to grow beans, peas, corn, zucchini, and more. These days I settle for my favorite herbs in containers so I can place them in the sunniest spots. Thankfully, herbs are easy to grow this way and I have substantial plants I can take in and continue to harvest during the winter months.

vegetable garden | paulasgardenpatch.com | paula bonelli

vegetable garden circa 2005

One of my early season favorites is Lambs’ Ear (I don’t like it much once it gets all leggy). I’ve had it for years in 3 different locations. With our mild winter and possibly the lack of snow cover(?), this Zone 4 perennial didn’t survive. 😦 Guess I have more room for new plants! 😀

We shade gardeners in Zone 4 don’t seem to have many plant choices — ‘stuck’ with the ever-popular Hosta, Fern, Astilbe, Columbine, or Bleeding Heart — all of which I have.

Somehow, though, I find new ones to try every year. Last week, I planted Gladiolus, Cyclamen, Burning Hearts Bleeding Heart, and Pink Coneflower in an attempt to have more variety, fill in holes and continue planting a new bed. I have Liatris and Bee Balm coming.

My biggest challenge is finding foundational shrubs or dwarf trees that like shade and are fast growers.
For those of you with shady areas, what’s worked for you?
I’d love to get ideas for plants or shrubs that I might try next!

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8 Responses to “Plants That Tolerate Shade”

  1. Little Sis Says:

    I’ve had great luck with greens in some surprisingly shady spots – kale especially. If you’re still interested in veggies, they might work for you. The flowers sound lovely.

    • Paula B Says:

      Thanks, Sis. Never thought to try that! I love kale. That will get me thinking what other kinds of herbs & veggies I can try — you never know…
      Thanks for reading and taking a moment to drop me a note. 😀

  2. Karen Says:

    I have a lot of shade gardens at my summer cottage in Maine. I am zone 4B. It is a challenge but I have worked with a local landscaper who was raised in the area. We are slowly adding new plants that seem to be happy. It will be interesting to see what returns after a much milder winter with much less snow cover.

    • Paula B Says:

      Hi Karen –
      I’m in a similar zone – anxious to hear which specific shade plants made it. Let me know and thanks for stopping by to read and comment!

  3. I have a couple of areas I hope to “start” as shade gardens this year….. I have purple bee balm I sure can share with you. I need to get the red. Lady’s Mantle is sure pretty as a shade loving plant–my friend who’s gardens are mostly shade uses it. I hope to photograph her adorable house and gardens this Summer and share on the blog.

    • Paula B Says:

      I have red bee balm coming to plant in the next couple of weeks. Once established, I’d be glad to share with you in exchange for some purple!

      And I’m going to look up Lady’s Mantle. Thanks for the suggestions. 😀

  4. Hi Paula, here are a few suggestions that might work for you. Perennials – hardy geranium sylvaticum and G. phaeum are both shade tolerant and hardy to Zone 2, with beautiful foliage all season. Fall blooming anemones are hardy to Z4. My favorite shade tolerant shrub is Kerria japonica picta, which is good to Z4 and has lovely variegated foliage that looks good all season and soft yellow flowers in spring. (photo in March Showers, April Flowers). A small tree, almost shrub, that is considered the cold north’s answer to Japanese maples is the dwarf cut leaf birch “Trost’s Dwarf” – hardy to zone 3. Golden hops (Humulus lupulus “aureus’) is hardy to Z4 and grows in partial shade, nice to cover a shady fence, dies to the ground in winter, and re-emerges in spring. Hope this helps! Happy planting 🙂

    • Paula B Says:

      Oh – amazing ideas, Lynn. Thanks! I’ve looked at Japanese maple a few times; will have to see how tall it gets. I’m really tight on space in all directions.

      Most of the other plants are new to me and I’ll be sure to look them up. So happy to have some great new plant ideas. Thanks again for taking a moment to share. 😀


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