27 Colorful Plants for Shade Gardens

Color is not hard to find in a shady garden. You just have to know where to look. This list of 27 plants will give you the best choices for glorious foliage and pretty flowers, some ground covers, and some tall, bushy types, so there are good options for any look. The shade is the perfect spot to start a wild or meadow garden and make use of the many charming plants that you can grow.

A collection of potted plants, carefully arranged to create a lively display. The crimson, green, pink, and purple hues of the leaves interweave, forming a visually captivating composition that adds a burst of color to any space.

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When it comes to color in a shady area, the choices are quite varied – from long-lasting perennials to annuals providing a burst of color for a short time. This list also contains a lot of plants that have both interesting foliage and attractive flowers, so there is the best of both worlds just waiting to be planted.

In this article, I’ll share my favorite colorful shade plants that will brighten up your garden’s gloomy corners!

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Sweet Potato Vine

A close-up of a sweet potato vine basking in the warm sunlight, showcasing its purple flowers that add a burst of color. The deep, intricately lobed leaves create a captivating display, providing both beauty and texture to the scene.
Bred for vibrant foliage, sweet potato vines are ideal as spillers in containers.

These beauties are not for eating but have been bred specifically for their glorious foliage. Ipomoea batatas love a bit of shade, and their color comes from the bright leaves in shades of chartreuse, midnight black, rusty bronze, key lime, and mahogany to name a few.

These colorful shade plants brighten up a shady spot instantly if using the more vibrant colors, and provide a moody contrast for the dark browns and blacks. They are annual ground covers that love heat and humidity but will just be more compact in colder climates with low humidity.

Sweet potato vine has a trailing habit, which is great for use as a spiller in a container with other contrasting foliage. They will grow to around 10 inches high and 60 inches wide in ideal conditions. They need very little care – water often but don’t overwater, cut back to create bushy growth, and feed once a month with a general fertilizer.

Coleus

In a garden, a lush coleus plant stands tall, surrounded by a diverse array of other greenery. Its striking crimson leaves, adorned with elegant green edges, bask in the warm embrace of the sun's golden rays.
A leafy plant suitable for shady gardens, coleus comes in various types with bright-colored leaves.

Another leafy plant that will brighten up the shade is Coleus scutellarioides. There are so many types with bright-colored leaves and combinations of sometimes shocking colors that there is one for every shady garden.

They have various names, including Plectranthus scutellarioides and the older synonym Solenostemon scutellarioides, but they are well worth the effort of tracking them down at the nursery. They will also grow in sun.

Coleus plants have an upright habit, are easy to maintain, and require average watering (don’t overwater). Once the flowers appear, you can pinch them off to encourage more leaf growth.

Plectranthus

Purple Plectranthus flowers bloom elegantly, showcasing their intricate petals. Beneath the flowers, lush deep green leaves form a rich backdrop, providing a contrast that enhances the visual appeal of the overall botanical composition.
Thriving in shade, these resilient perennials serve as versatile ground cover.

These colorful plants do very well in shade. They produce spikes of colorful flowers in shades of purple, lilac, pink, and white and will grow as a ground cover or as a shrub, depending on the variety.

These are tough perennials that do well in warm, humid environments and once established can be left without any need for added care unless you would like to keep them trimmed once a year. This allows them to bush out and not be too spindly come flowering season. Some species also have variegated foliage, which adds to the charm and brightens up the shade in a garden.

Hostas

In a well-mulched garden bed, a hosta plant flourishes with large leaves displaying a harmonious blend of pale yellow and green hues. Delicate purple hosta flowers gracefully adorn the plant, adding a touch of captivating color to the scene.
With diverse sizes, colors, and textures, hostas thrive in shade.

There are so many sizes, colors, shapes, and textures of hostas that they belong on this list of shade-loving plants. To top it off, they are cold-hardy. From early summer to autumn, they also produce flowers, and depending on the variety, they can be pink, white, blue, or lilac.

They can get a bad reputation because snails and slugs love them and can decimate your plants in days. But if you keep a lookout and deal with any problems quickly, hostas are very rewarding large-leaved plants that need an average amount of water. They can take the summer heat and a bit of drought.

Begonias

Delicate pink begonia flowers with brilliant yellow centers burst into bloom, creating a striking contrast against the lush green foliage that surrounds them. The petals gracefully unfold, showcasing nature's intricate beauty in this harmonious botanical display.
The begonias offer a variety of leaf colors in both annual and perennial types.

For colorful flowering plants in the shade, you can’t beat begonias, and they also come with some very interesting leaf colors and combos. Both the annual and perennial types are happy in dappled shade, where the leaves are protected. But they do like a bit of sun to flower well.

They like moist, rich soil that drains well. There are so many varieties to choose from, so the number of colors you can get is plenty. There may be a begonia for every situation, and if it’s a bit too cold, you can also grow them indoors.

Heucheras

A cluster of dainty pink heuchera flowers gracefully rises, their petite petals unfolding in a delicate dance. The soft pink hues create a vivid contrast against the lush, blurred backdrop of green foliage.
These plants are low-maintenance, requiring moderate watering and well-draining soil.

Also known as coral bells, heucheras are another colorful plant grown for its leaves in the shade that will blow your mind. The color options include bright lime greens, vibrant purples, peach, toffee, and nearly black.

In spring and summer spikes of pretty flowers appear in masses over the top of the foliage, in colors from white, pink, and red. Coral bells have interest all year round and can be divided every couple of years to give you more.

They like moderate watering and prefer well-draining soil for their shallow roots. Other than that, they are very low maintenance. Just deadhead the flowers after blooming, and they will look after themselves.

Bleeding Hearts

Vivid red and white bleeding heart flowers gracefully dangle along delicate stems, creating an elegant cascade. The lush green foliage surrounding them provides a vibrant contrast. The lush greenery in the blurred background serves as a tranquil canvas.
The bleeding hearts are herbaceous shrubs with pendulous pink or white heart-shaped flowers.

In early spring, get ready to welcome the pendulous flowers of the very pretty bleeding hearts (Dicentra spectabilis). This pretty herbaceous shrub is a good-looking perennial. The plants produce burgundy-colored new shoots before the flowers appear, dripping along horizontal stems. These blooms look like pink, red, or white hearts.

This colorful, shade-loving plant does best in rich, well-draining soil and will go very well in a woodland-style garden.

These beauties are favored in a cut flower garden, as they can last up to two weeks in a vase.

Astilbe

Elegant white, purple, and lavender astilbe flowers gracefully reach skyward, creating a striking vertical display. The verdant foliage forms a harmonious tapestry, framing the flowers in a picturesque arrangement.
This plant requires regular watering and occasional fertilizer for optimal growth.

Large shrubs full of wispy flowers are very hard to find for shade, so it is good that we can rely on astilbe to supply it all. It grows in full sun but prefers a little shade, and it comes in such an amazing array of flower colors. You can expect everything from white, pale pink, shocking pink, mauve, purple, red, and burgundy. That means there is always a space for this great plant.

It is a clump-forming perennial that will do well in well-draining, rich soil with good watering every week and a dose or two of fertilizer annually. They also have pretty green fern-like leaves.

Caladiums

Assorted brown pots, ranging in size, showcase caladium plants with heart-shaped leaves. The foliage exhibits a delicate palette, featuring pale green tones with crisp green edges, complemented by striking crimson veins that intricately pattern the leaves.
Plant caladiums in well-draining, humus-rich soil with consistent moisture for beautiful heart-shaped leaves.

Often used as a houseplant, caladiums are excellent colorful plants for shade. Their pretty leaf colors will fade if they have too much direct sun. It’s these leaf colors that make them so attractive in a garden. They certainly brighten up a shady spot, especially with white and cream color combinations.

If you give them well-draining, humus-rich soil with lots of water to keep them moist and never let them dry out, they will reward you with their beautiful heart-shaped leaves full of speckled color.

They will die down in winter in colder regions, or the tubers can be lifted and replanted when the weather warms up in spring.

Impatiens

Amidst green leaves, a colorful array of impatiens flowers embraces the sunlight, showcasing hues of purple, pink, white, and red. Their delicate petals unfold gracefully, creating a picturesque scene that radiates natural beauty and tranquility on a sunny day.
Revitalized impatiens, resilient against disease, thrive in rich soil with regular care.

Impatiens have gone through a little battle with disease in recent years. Fortunately, clever botanists have brought them back to be better and brighter than ever. They are perfect for shade!

Masses of pretty flowers form on bushy-type mounded foliage. The colors range from pure white and bright pink, to blinding orange and purple, to name just a few. Get the new hybrids in your gardens into rich soil and treat them well with regular watering and feeding.

The two main types are equally good in the shade – Impatiens walleriana and Impatiens hawkeri (New Guinea impatiens). The latter enjoys more sun.

Hellebores

A close-up of a hellebore flower, showcasing deep crimson petals adorned with a striking golden center. Surrounding the bloom are tightly closed deep crimson buds, promising a burst of vibrant color. Lush green leaves complete the captivating scene.
Lovely hellebores boast attractive, spotted, solid, and striped flowers in various colors.

Winter-flowering hellebores are very popular colorful plants for shade areas because they flower at different times than most other plants. They produce very attractive spotted, striped, or variegated flowers in many colors.

Flowers can be a shy green or a bright pink, white, or red, and many shades in between. The foliage is lovely, too. Even if they don’t flower, they are good to have around as another texture for the garden.

They like rich soil and an average amount of water and will grow very well in pots, too. Cut back every year and mulch and compost well, and they will last for years. The flowers face towards the ground to give shelter to pollinators in rainy and wet weather.

Lily of the Valley

Delicate white flowers of the lily of the valley gracefully hang, exuding an ethereal charm. Their pure petals form a captivating contrast against the lush backdrop of large, vibrant green leaves.
A shade-loving ground cover, lily of the valley blooms in spring when planted in fall.

Convallaria majalis, more commonly known as lily of the valley, is one of those iconic plants that is planted as a ground cover in shade. These will not only produce very exotic stems of white bell-shaped flowers but also have a wonderful scent, so much so that it’s been copied for perfumes. Planted in fall, they will start blooming in spring and form clumps that can be divided and replanted. They also do well in containers.

Lily of the valley will do well if kept constantly watered during the growing season. They can become invasive, so check with your local extension office before planting.

Calla Lilies

A pristine white calla lily unfurls its elegant petals, basking in soft sunlight. The delicate bloom stands out against a blurred backdrop of lush, oversized leaves, creating a captivating contrast of textures and emphasizing the flower's purity and grace.
Shade-loving Calla lilies thrive in swampy areas and along riverbanks.

Calla or Arum lilies are great shade-lovers that love a bit of a swampy area. In the wild, they are often found on the banks of rivers and streams. The Zantedeschia aethiopica species is the more common version with the pristine white spathes, but other hybrids are available in striking colors from purple, pink, yellow, and cream to almost black.

These pretty lilies will grow in full sun in cooler regions but prefer the cover of shade in hotter areas. They bloom for up to 12 weeks in spring and summer, so they are a good value for a garden.

Hydrangeas

Clusters of hydrangeas showcase a breathtaking palette of blue and purple hues, creating a lively burst of color. Surrounded by glossy leaves, the hydrangeas stand out as a vivid testament to nature's artistry.
The hydrangeas thrive in dappled shade, growing slowly with strong stems in well-draining soil.

Many types of hydrangeas will do well in dappled shade, and they often prefer it. They grow slower but also produce stronger stems that can then hold up the large mops of flowers.

With average water and good well-draining soil, colorful hydrangea plants will illuminate a shade garden with their bright flowers in colors ranging from blue, pink, and white. But they will also be lush and green shrubs during other times of the year. Look out for some of the newer varieties for unusual flower colors.

Foam Flowers

Elegant white foam flowers reach skyward, their delicate petals forming a graceful display. Beneath the blossoms, green leaves sprawl, creating a verdant carpet that complements the ethereal beauty above.
This is a shade-loving ground cover with foliage resembling heucheras, features ‘foamy’ flowers.

Tiarella cordifolia is very similar in foliage to heucheras, but they produce spikes of ‘foamy’ flowers that love a bit of shade. This ground cover is perfect for woodland-type gardens with rich, well-draining soil.

After flowers in late spring and early summer, the leaves remain as attractive elements. Some have patterns like splotches or spots and burgundy marks along the veins.

This plant grows well in USDA zones three to eight, and can be found growing wild in woodlands and the mountains. It forms clumps that can be divided in the spring or fall.

Foxgloves

A field of foxglove flowers stretches towards the sky, bathed in the warm embrace of the sun's golden rays. Each foxglove blossom boasts a delicate shade of pink, with tubular petals forming an elegant dance of nature.
These plants feature tall spires of tubular flowers in various colors.

Although they grow well in full sun, colorful foxglove plants (Digitalis purpurea) are also very good in dappled shade. The tall spires of attractive tubular flowers are a good addition to a shady area, giving it a woodland or wild look. They come in a variety of colors and are considered short-lived perennials. In most areas, they need to be replanted every year or two.

Foxgloves grow in a variety of soils and conditions but prefer a richer soil with neither too much nor too little water. They are the original source of a type of heart medication, and the leaves, flowers, and seeds are very toxic.

Primulas

A close-up reveals the delicate beauty of primula flowers, showcasing intricate details of creamy petals and yellow centers. Textured leaves surround the primula blooms, providing a lush backdrop that enhances the visual appeal.
With around 400 varieties, primulas exhibit varying flowering times for extended color options.

Also known as primrose, primulas are a well-known group of around 400 different varieties. These plants are good in shade and will produce flowers that will give a boring area some life.

Each of the primula varieties has different characteristics, but what they all like is well-draining soil enriched with plenty of organic matter like compost. Some varieties prefer a bit more sun than others.

Some flower earlier in the spring and some later in the summer so there is are a great number of choices for long-lasting color with these plants.

Hakone Grass

Hakone grass gracefully arches in a gentle curve, showcasing its elegant and cascading form. The individual blades boast a harmonious blend of green and yellow hues, creating a visually captivating display of nature's artistry.
A unique ornamental grass, the Hakone grass displays bright cascading foliage.

It’s not often that you will find grass that does well in shade, so this one is unusual. Hakonechloa macra, or Japanese forest grass, is a bright cascading ornamental grass that will turn orange and red in the fall.

Some hybrids have variegation as well. Because it is a grass, it provides a different look and interest when combined with other shade-loving plants. And it’s very easy to care for, only requiring protection in cold regions.

This grass prefers rich soil with moderate water but will grow in any soil as long as it’s not waterlogged.

Cape Primrose

 In a vibrant display, lavender and purple cape primrose flowers burst into bloom, forming a stunning botanical spectacle. Surrounding these blossoms, lush green textured leaves add a contrasting and complementary backdrop to nature's exquisite composition.
These evergreen perennials flower for months, requiring well-draining soil.

Streptocarpus varieties are much-loved houseplants that can also be grown outdoors in the shade. They are very similar to African violets, just with tubular-shaped flowers that come in a variety of colors, including pink and purple, with dark markings that make them distinct.

They are evergreen perennials that flower for months at a time in rich, well-draining soil. Give them plenty of water, allowing them to dry out between waterings. As heavy feeders, they benefit from a high-potassium fertilizer every month.

They form clumps that can be divided in spring, and they can be easily propagated from leaf cuttings.

Black Bugbane

A close-up of black bugbane flowers standing out vividly against a lush, blurred deep green backdrop. The white blossoms exude a frothy elegance, their intricate details capturing the essence of nature's intricate beauty.
This is a shade-friendly plant with tall clusters of small white flowers.

The native plant Actaea racemosa, known as black bugbane or black cohosh, is a good plant for shade with its impressive clusters of tiny white to cream flowers. The plants reach up to six feet high in early to mid-summer.

This plant grows in just about any condition as long as it’s moist and semi-shaded. The slightly off-putting smell of the flowers has given it the name ‘bugbane.’

Actaea has been used for centuries as a traditional medicine for the treatment of women’s health issues like hormonal imbalance and fertility.

Meadow Rue

Bathed in the sunlight, clusters of yellow meadow rue bloom gracefully, creating a mesmerizing display. Delicate and slender green stems elegantly support the blossoms, adding a sense of fragility to the overall composition.
A versatile herbaceous perennial, meadow rue thrives in semi-shade to full sun.

The herbaceous perennial meadow rue (Thalictrum sp) is a good plant for semi-shade to full sun in a meadow or wildflower garden. There are several different species of this plant, each with varying colors of foliage and flowers. What is common among them is their light, airy form that contrasts well with other bolder foliage plants in the shade. They prefer moist, rich soil that is well-draining to perform at their best.

Cyclamen

Sunlight illuminates a cluster of white cyclamen flowers, highlighting their exquisite beauty. Supported by earthy brown stems, each bloom stands out, creating a harmonious balance of nature's elements in this captivating close-up composition.
Suitable for both indoor and outdoor settings, cyclamens thrive in USDA hardiness zones 9-11.

Often used as houseplants in the winter, cyclamen is also a good plant in the garden for shade. Certain species should be planted in warmer climates in USDA hardiness zones nine to eleven for the best results, while others are hardy in zones four through eight. They need lots of humidity and water but must not be waterlogged.

The flowers are borne on long stalks with their petals flying backward like they want to take off. They come in a variety of pretty colors and combinations of colors. These are good plants to have when other plants are still dormant.

Fuchsias

Fuchsia flowers cascade gracefully, showcasing delicate petals and slender, pink stamens that elegantly dangle. Surrounding this botanical spectacle, lush green leaves create a harmonious backdrop, providing a verdant contrast to the striking pink hues of the blossoms.
Favored for semi-shade, fuchsias boast diverse varieties from bushy to vining types.

One of the most favorite plants for semi-shade are fuchsias, with their masses of dancing ballerina flowers that tumble over the plant for months from spring to the first fall frost. There are several different varieties, from bushy to vining types, and you can also get them as standards these days.

They prefer the warmer regions to grow outdoors, but indoors is also an option. They have specific needs, including regular water. Most importantly, to keep them looking good, they need a general slow-release fertilizer every two weeks in the growing season.

Columbines

A mesmerizing close-up captures the delicate beauty of columbine flowers, revealing intricate petal details bathed in soft pink and pale hues. The foreground blooms stand out against a dreamy, blurred backdrop showcasing a variety of flowers and lush greenery.
These are attractive shade-loving perennials that attract birds and pollinators with two-tone flowers.

Pretty flowering columbines (Aquilegia) are one of the best for planting in the shade as they also attract birds and other pollinators to their brightly colored, often two-tone flowers. They are considered perennials but will often not last if only one is planted. They like to form clumps where they can self-seed and perpetuate the species.

Planted in moist, rich soil they will produce loads of single or double (variety-dependent) blooms on stall stems above the foliage in spring. Deadhead the blooms to encourage more. They also like cooler temperatures to flower more and will fade in very hot weather.

Forget-me-nots

A close-up of forget-me-not flowers, their blue petals standing out against a backdrop of lush green leaves. Bathed in the gentle glow of soft sunlight, the forget-me-nots showcase a serene charm, evoking a sense of tranquility.
Known for their pretty blue flowers, forget-me-nots thrive in damp shade.

Clouds of pretty blue flowers are what make these plants, Myosotis, unforgettable. From May to October, these bright blue flowers with yellow centers peak out on tall hairy stems up to two feet.

Some varieties are annuals, and some perennials. They are often found near water and in areas of high humidity in the wild, and they self-seed and spread easily in these conditions. They like the damp shade but will also grow with a bit of sun.

Grow them in a woodland or wild garden, or use them as a ground cover. You can also grow them in pots for a lovely blue display.

Solomon’s Seal

Solomon's Seal flowers gracefully hang along the arching stem, creating an elegant display amid the backdrop of large, lush leaves. The ethereal blooms, tubular in shape, enchant with their pristine white petals adorned by green tips.
This plant features glossy leaves and fragrant bell flowers in late spring to early summer.

Polygonatum odoratum or Solomon’s seal has lovely glossy leaves on long arching stems. In late spring to early summer, little white bell flowers droop from under and along the stem. They have a very lily-like fragrance. The plants grow to about three feet tall and are shade-loving perennials that grow up from rhizomes in the soil.

They prefer rich, moist soil with plenty of organic material added. A position from semi-shade to deep shade helps them avoid the heat of summer. They can form colonies on their own from the spreading rhizomes.

Violets

Violet flowers burst into bloom, creating a striking contrast against the green leaves that form a verdant backdrop. The plant is surrounded by scattered dried leaves, a testament to the changing seasons and the cycle of life.
This is a resilient ground cover that thrives in full sun or shade.

Viola odorata is a tough ground cover with the daintiest little flowers on long, thin stalks. They have a beautiful floral scent. They grow well in full sun with lots of water and in the shade where the stems are a bit longer.

This is a useful plant to have for between pavers. New plants will often be formed by ants carrying around the seed or by runner shoots, forming a thick carpet with the little viola flowers in shades of purple and white in spring.

Final Thoughts

It is often difficult to get color and interest into a shady area, but what we can see from this list is that there is so much to choose from. Many of them will self-seed or clump so that the shade is always full of interest and color.

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