27 Gorgeous Plants For Your Woodland Garden

Are you looking for some beautiful plants to fill in your woodland garden? Woodland gardens can be peaceful and natural wonderlands, bursting with life, but you need to know which plants will grow best in the shade of trees. In this article, gardening expert Liessa Bowen shares 27 of her favorite easy-to-grow woodland plants.

View of woodland plants in the garden. Flowering Erythronium plant on a blurred background. Erythronium features slender, arching stems adorned with one or two nodding, bell-shaped flowers of bright yellow color. The plant produces glossy, mottled leaves that are heart-shaped or lanceolate, adding to its ornamental appeal.


What can you do with a shaded patch of ground under some mature trees? Start a woodland garden! You can start a woodland garden with just a few trees or turn a larger wooded area into a peaceful garden setting. 

Woodland gardens typically contain a few essential ingredients. First, they need trees. The trees provide shade and the setting within which you can create a garden. Next, you need space. You will need adequate space between the trees to grow some additional plants. Finally, you need suitable soil with enough moisture for your woodland garden plants to thrive. 

So, how do you choose the best plants for your woodland garden?

  • Check out the USDA Plant Hardiness Zone map and determine your zone. Look for perennial plants that are hardy in that zone.
  • Familiarize yourself with your soil type and soil conditions, and look for plants that have matching requirements.
  • Consider how much space you have available, and don’t crowd too many plants into a small space.
  • Decide what types of plants you want to grow. Do you want to focus on native plants? Would you like to support pollinators? Do you hope to enjoy year-round vegetation? Choose a few different plants to satisfy each of your gardening goals.

You can further enhance your woodland garden by adding a path or two through it. Use natural mulch materials to create a path that is useful, attractive, and complements the natural surroundings. If you want to spend some quality time enjoying your wooded garden, add a bench to sit on or a small gazebo where you can relax and enjoy the nature around you. If you enjoy birdwatching, invite birds to your outdoor area by installing a bird feeder.

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Keep reading to learn more about 27 gorgeous plants you can incorporate into your wooded shade garden for year-round beauty and interest.

American Beautyberry

Close-up of Callicarpa americana, commonly known as American beautyberry, is distinguished by its striking clusters of bright purple berries that adorn the branches. These berries are tightly packed along the stems, forming eye-catching clusters that stand out against the plant's dark green, serrated leaves.
A native shrub thrives in partial shade with moist soil.
botanical-name botanical name Callicarpa americana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 3 – 8 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 10

American beautyberry is a showy shrub native to moist forests of the southeastern United States. It does well in full sun but prefers a partially shaded habitat with moist, well-drained soil. Grow it as an understory shrub in your woodland garden, or use it as part of a hedgerow planting. 

American beautyberry is perhaps most notable for its showy purple berries. The spring-blooming flowers are small and attractive but not particularly flashy. After flowering, watch for the rounded clusters of small, round, berry-like fruits that mature from green to bright pinkish-purple in the fall. The fruiting clusters will remain on the shrubs for a prolonged colorful display until hungry birds come to eat them all. 

American Wintergreen

Close-up of Gaultheria procumbens, commonly known as wintergreen or eastern teaberry, is recognized for its low-growing, spreading habit and glossy, evergreen foliage. The leaves are oval-shaped, leathery, and have a distinctive red tinge. This plant produces small bright red berries.
A woodland plant with glossy leaves and red berries thrives easily.
botanical-name botanical name Gaultheria procumbens
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 3 – 8 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 7

American wintergreen, also known as teaberry, is in the same family as blueberry plants. Wintergreen is an understory plant that prefers shaded woodland habitats with moist, acidic, well-drained soil. If you can provide favorable conditions, you will find this charming little plant to be quite easy to care for and very easy to enjoy. American wintergreen is native to the forests of central and eastern North America.

American wintergreen has glossy, evergreen leaves that become beautiful shades of purple in the fall and winter. Bell-like fragrant, pink and white flowers bloom in the summertime. After flowering, clusters of bright red berry-like fruits form. This plant supports several varieties of animals; pollinators appreciate the flowers, while birds and other small animals enjoy eating the fruits. 

Anise Tree

Close-up of a flowering plant Illicium floridanum in the garden. The glossy, leathery leaves are elliptical to lance-shaped and arranged alternately along the stems. Anise Tree produces showy, maroon flowers with numerous strap-like petals arranged in a star-like formation.
A native woodland shrub with fragrant flowers thrives in shade.
botanical-name botanical name Illicium floridanum
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 10 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7 – 10

The anise tree, also commonly known as the Florida anise tree, is an attractive woodland shrub native to the southeastern United States. It is winter hardy only to zone 7, so it can only be grown as a perennial in warmer climates. The Florida anise tree grows naturally as a woodland understory shrub and appreciates a shaded habitat with moist soil. 

The anise tree is a medium-sized shrub with showy dark maroon-red flowers. The flowers are pleasantly fragrant and bloom in late spring, attracting a healthy assortment of pollinators. There are numerous cultivars available with varying growth habits and beautiful flower colors.

Despite the name, do not use this plant as a substitute for culinary anise spice, as it is toxic if ingested. It does, however, make a beautiful, evergreen woodland shrub.  


Close-up of a flowering Astilbe japonica plant against a blurred garden background. The plant forms dense clumps of finely divided, dark green leaves that provide a lush backdrop for the flowers. The flower spikes are airy plumes in a bright pink hue.
Pollinator-friendly astilbe thrives in partial shade.
botanical-name botanical name Astilbe japonica
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 1 – 5 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 9

If you’re looking for a superb pollinator-friendly plant for a partially shaded location, astilbe is a wonderful choice. These plants produce colorful, plume-like floral panicles and come in varied shades of white, red, pink, and burgundy. The ornately compound leaves are quite attractive as well. These plants provide color, shape, and texture. They also attract lots of native bees and other pollinators. 

Astilbe benefits from a shaded site with rich, moist soil. Plants grown in dry soil will most likely die back in the mid-summer heat. Add a layer of mulch around your plants and give them some extra water during dry conditions to help them stay lush and green throughout the growing season. 


Close-up of a flowering Begonia plant in a sunny garden. These popular ornamental plants feature succulent stems and asymmetrical, glossy leaves that are rounded and finely serrated. The flowers are collected in clusters and consist of rounded soft pink petals with rich pink edges and yellow centers.
These common bedding plants thrive in shaded areas, boasting vibrant flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Begonia spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 12 – 18 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10 – 11

Begonia plants are common bedding plants, widely available at most nurseries and garden centers each spring. While they are perennials in their native tropics, you can grow these plants as summer annuals throughout North America. They will grow in any shaded location with rich, moist, well-drained soil. These plants are excellent candidates for container gardens as well. 

As soon as the danger of frost has passed, you can plant begonias anywhere you need a bit of seasonal color. Their glossy leaves may be purely green but are often quite colorful and include purple and silvery highlights. Begonia flowers are spectacularly showy and help liven up any shaded landscape with their bright colors and long-lasting blooms.

Bigleaf Hydrangea

Close-up of a blooming Hydrangea macrophylla in a sunny garden. Hydrangea macrophylla produces large, showy flower clusters and lush foliage. This deciduous shrub features broad, serrated leaves. The plant produces a striking flower head which consists of many four-petaled purple-pink flowers with a white eye in the center.
Shade-loving shrubs with vibrant flowers thrive in rich, well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Hydrangea macrophylla
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 3 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 11

Hydrangeas are spectacular flowering shrubs that thrive in a partially shaded location. They will perform very well with morning sun, dappled sunlight, or partial shade throughout the day, so grow them in an open woodland setting or along a wooded edge so they get some sunlight each day. Hydrangea shrubs appreciate organically rich and well-drained soil. They do best in a location with consistently moist soil but not wet or soggy. 

Bigleaf hydrangea plants have some of the showiest flowers around. These plants produce a rounded mound of stiff, upright stems, and at the top of each, jumbo-sized clusters of colorful pink and purple flowers perform each summer. A hydrangea shrub in full bloom is a spectacular sight to see. 

Bleeding Heart

Close-up of a flowering Dicentra plant in a sunny garden. This herbaceous perennial features finely divided, fern-like foliage that forms a bushy mound. The plant produces arching stems, adorned with heart-shaped flowers dangling from graceful, drooping clusters. These flowers come in shades of pink with a distinctive inner petal that resembles a "bleeding heart."
Shade-loving bleeding heart species add spring color to woodland gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Dicentra spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 9 – 18 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Bleeding heart plants are part of the genus Dicentra, which contains a variety of beautiful, shade-loving species. Bleeding heart would be a spectacular addition to your woodland garden, gracing the understory with its showy spring, heart-shaped flowers. Depending on the variety, you can find these flowers in white, pale pink, and deep fuschia. 

There are bleeding heart species native to rich woodlands throughout much of eastern North America. They are well adapted to plenty of shade and moist, well-drained soil. The fern-like foliage may persist throughout the summer or go dormant by mid-summer, depending on the variety and growing conditions. But don’t worry if your plants go dormant early, they will re-sprout the following spring and be some of the first greenery you see in the new year.

Coral Bells

Close-up of a blooming Heuchera in a sunny garden. Heuchera, commonly known as Coral Bells, is distinguished by its vibrant and ornamental foliage. This perennial plant neat forms, mounded clumps of semi-evergreen or evergreen leaves of silvery green color. The leaves are deeply lobed and ruffled. Slender stems rise above the foliage, bearing delicate clusters of small, bell-shaped flowers in shades of coral.
This native plant thrives in varied conditions.
botanical-name botanical name Heuchera spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 20 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

American Alum Root (H. americana) is the native coral bells plant. This species is found in moist woodlands and rocky outcroppings throughout eastern North America. There are, however, a myriad of colorful coral bells cultivars that will delight the gardener. These plants are hardy, widely adaptable, and easy to grow.

Coral bells have some extremely showy foliage, Some of the cultivars develop very colorful foliage that’s silvery-green or tinged with reds and purples. The foliage stays low-growing and makes an excellent ground cover for edges and borders. Coral bells flowers form in loose panicles on tall flowering stems. These flowers may be small, but they are quite showy and even attract an assortment of summer pollinators.

Ebony Spleenwort Fern

Close-up of Asplenium platyneuron against a blurred green background. This evergreen fern features dark, glossy, lance-shaped fronds that arise from a central rosette and cascade gracefully downwards. The fronds have a leathery texture.
The native fern thrives in shaded woodland environments.
botanical-name botanical name Asplenium platyneuron
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 8 – 20 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Ferns are non-flowering plants that are a welcome addition to any woodland or shade garden. The ebony spleenwort is an easy-to-grow and highly adaptable fern native to eastern North America and also southern Africa. Grow it in a shaded location with dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil. 

These ferns are typically evergreen, retaining their fine green foliage throughout the winter. In the spring, the old foliage will slowly die back as fresh new fronds emerge as showy, bright green “fiddleheads.” One major benefit of growing ferns is that they are resistant to browsing deer and rabbits and have very few insect pest problems.

Flame Azalea

Close-up of a blooming Rhododendron calendulaceum, commonly known as flame azalea, is renowned for its stunning and vibrant floral display. This deciduous shrub features large clusters of funnel-shaped flowers of rich orange color. The plant produces glossy, oval, elongated leaves that are dark green in color.
This native shrub is known for its vibrant, showy blooms.
botanical-name botanical name Rhododendron calendulaceum
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade
height height 4 – 15 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 7

The flame azalea is a spectacular plant native to the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern United States. There are numerous azalea hybrids and cultivars, and are also perfectly well-suited for a woodland garden setting. These plants need soil that is moist but well-drained but they are less picky about sun requirements and will do well in almost any sunlight conditions.

Flame azaleas bloom in the spring and summer and are a favorite of hummingbirds and many insect pollinators. The bright and cheerful flowers come in some spectacular and hard-to-miss flame-like shades of orange. Azaleas may be one of the more colorful plants you will find for your woodland garden. In mild climates, these plants may even stay evergreen throughout the winter.


Close-up of Tiarella cordifolia, commonly known as foamflower, blooming in a garden. These herbaceous perennial forms low-growing clumps of heart-shaped, semi-evergreen leaves that have distinctive lobes and prominent veining. Slender stems rise above the foliage, bearing airy clusters of small, star-shaped flowers in shades of white or pale pink. The delicate flowers create a foam-like effect.
This woodland plant boasts delicate, heart-shaped leaves and slender flower spikes.
botanical-name botanical name Tiarella cordifolia
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 5 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Foamflower is an herbaceous perennial wildflower native to central and eastern North America. It grows in moist woodlands and is easy to grow in any shaded location with rich, moist soil. Use it as a ground cover in part of your woodland garden and allow it to naturalize, slowly spreading by underground rhizomes until it forms a lush, green colony. 

Foamflower plants grow in nicely rounded clumps. Its attractive foliage slightly resembles maple leaves. In the spring, beautifully delicate spires of fine white flowers attract early pollinators. Grow your foamflower plants alongside some spring ephemeral wildflowers for a wonderful display. As the spring ephemerals go dormant, the foamflower leaves persist until fall to provide continual vegetation.

Giant Snowdrop

Close-up of a flowering Galanthus elwesii plant in a garden against a blurred background of a green lawn. This bulbous perennial features slender, erect stems bearing drooping, bell-shaped flowers. The flowers are composed of three outer white tepals and three inner tepals marked with green tips. The narrow, gray-green leaves emerge from the base of the plant.
This spring-flowering bulb thrives in cooler climates and produces white flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Galanthus elwesii
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to partial shade
height height 6 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 7

The giant snowdrop is a spring-flowering bulb that’s a member of the amaryllis family. This plant prefers cooler climates. It is a spring ephemeral flower, blooming in late winter or early spring, and then going dormant by mid-summer. The showy, nodding flowers have three, large, prominent white petals. 

Giant snowdrops are a great choice for a woodland garden because, as they do enjoy plenty of sunlight, they can still grow well under deciduous trees. The snowdrops do most of their growing and flowering before the trees leaf out, and by the time your plot is shaded, the snowdrops have already started to go dormant. Allow these plants to naturalize in your woodland for a beautiful leafy-green display each spring.

Green and Gold

Close-up of a blooming Chrysogonum repens in a garden. This perennial groundcover forms dense mats of glossy, heart-shaped leaves that are deep green in color with prominent veins. Wiry stems rise above the foliage, bearing bright yellow, daisy-like flowers with prominent golden stamens at their centers.
Native wildflower thrives in partial shade, adding color to forests.
botanical-name botanical name Chrysogonum repens
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Green and gold is a beautiful wildflower native to the southeastern United States. It grows in moist forests and along shaded forest edges. Green and gold will perform best in partial shade with rich, moist, well-drained soil. 

This plant makes a lovely ground cover but doesn’t grow aggressively. You can use it along a pathway or other locations where a low-growing plant can be best appreciated. The ground-hugging basal rosettes provide seasonal greenery on the forest floor, and the bright yellow flowers add a dash of color each spring. 


Close-up of a Hosta in a sunny garden. Hosta, widely recognized for its lush and elegant foliage, is characterized by its clumping habit and large, heart-shaped leaves. These leaves are large, wide, heart-shaped, bright green with prominent ribbing.
This beloved shade plant thrives in deer-free areas.
botanical-name botanical name Hosta spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 4 – 30 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Hostas are one of the most beloved shade-growing foliage plants. They are also much-loved by browsing deer and are best grown in a deer-free location. Hostas need plenty of shade and consistently moist but well-drained soil. They are winter hardy down to zone 3 and also tolerant of summer heat, so you can grow them in just about any climate. 

A vast number of hosta cultivars are available to satisfy almost any look you want. Some have dark green, light green, blue-green, or variegated leaves. Their nodding, bell-like flowers come in white, pale blue, or purple. Hummingbirds and pollinators love the flowers which bloom throughout the summer. Grow several masses of hosta plants together for a truly stunning shade-garden display.


Close-up of Impatiens walleriana blooming in a garden. This popular annual features succulent stems bearing glossy, ovate leaves arranged alternately along the stem. The plant is adorned with clusters of five-petaled flowers in a bright pink color.
These popular annuals with vibrant flowers bloom profusely in shade gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Impatiens walleriana
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 24 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 10 – 11

Impatiens are very popular annual bedding plants. In their native tropics, they are herbaceous perennials, but in zone 9 and cooler, they are easily grown as annuals. These flowering plants grow fast, flower profusely, and love the shade!

Impatiens come in a huge array of beautiful flower colors. You can find white, orange, pink, purple, and burgundy-red. They have a very long blooming season, flowering almost continually from spring until the first frost. If you have a bit of extra space in your woodland garden, you can easily add some annual impatiens to liven it up for the warm season. 

Lenten Rose

Close-up of blooming Helleborus in the garden. These perennial evergreen plants feature thick, leathery leaves arranged in rosettes at the base of the plant. Sturdy stems rise above the foliage, bearing nodding, saucer-shaped flowers in shades of purple-pink.
Year-round evergreen with showy winter blooms thrives in shaded landscapes.
botanical-name botanical name Helleborus spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 12 – 15 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 8

Lenten rose, also known as hellebore, is an evergreen plant that you can enjoy all year. Even in the middle of winter, when everything else has gone dormant, the tough, leathery, umbrella-like leaves of the lenten rose will still be standing. In colder climates, however, the foliage may be deciduous. The lenten rose is remarkably easy to grow in any landscape with some shade and rich, well-drained, moist soil. 

There are numerous very showy hybrids and cultivars of Lenten rose available. While these plants are not related to roses, their rose-like flowers are extremely showy. These flowers bloom in mid-winter and into early spring, adding a dash of color to your cold-season landscape.

The flowers may be single or double and are available in a fascinating array of colors. These plants are not bothered by deer or rabbits and will spread to form dense masses.

Lowbush Blueberry

Close-up of Vaccinium angustifolium on a blurred green background. This deciduous shrub features slender, woody stems covered in small, ovate leaves with finely serrated edges. This lowbush blueberry produces clusters of small, round berries in shades of blue.
Compact shade-tolerant shrubs produce sweet fruits and vibrant fall foliage.
botanical-name botanical name Vaccinium angustifolium
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 24 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 2 – 8

Just because you have a lot of shade doesn’t mean you can’t grow edible fruits! Lowbush blueberry shrubs are small and compact but produce plenty of tasty fruits, even in the shade.

These blueberries are native to the open woodlands of eastern North America. They will perform best with moderate sunlight. The soil should be organically rich, acidic, consistently moist, and have excellent drainage. 

There are a great number of lowbush blueberry cultivars available. They all produce delicious, sweet, edible fruits. These plants also have surprisingly beautiful fall foliage in brilliant shades of red. Blueberries are not only a favorite human snack, but they’ll also attract plenty of pollinators in the spring, and birds during the fruiting time. 

Maple Leaf Viburnum

Close-up of leaves of Viburnum acerifolium plant in the garden. This deciduous shrub features slender, arching branches adorned with deeply veined, three-lobed leaves resembling those of a maple tree.
Colorful shrub with maple-like leaves and bird-attracting fruits.
botanical-name botanical name Viburnum acerifolium
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 4 – 6 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 8

Maple leaf viburnum is a lovely and colorful shrub for a woodland garden. This medium-sized deciduous shrub has maple-like leaves that turn brilliant shades of yellow, orange, and red in the autumn. Bunches of pretty white flowers bloom in the spring, and cross-pollinated flowers will become showy black berry-like fruits that are much loved by birds. 

You can successfully grow a maple leaf viburnum in a naturalized woodland, forested edge, or as part of a shrubby hedge. It should do well in any partially or fully shaded location with moist, acidic, and well-drained soil. Naturalized plants will spread by root suckers, which you can easily prune back if you want fewer stems. There are plenty of other showy viburnum varieties as well!


Close-up of Asimina triloba, commonly known as pawpaw, is recognized for its unique and tropical appearance. This deciduous tree large features, broad, drooping leaves of dark green color. The plant produces large, oblong fruits with greenish-yellow skin.
A native understory tree with edible fruits, pawpaw is beneficial for wildlife and landscapes.
botanical-name botanical name Asimina triloba
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade
height height 15 – 30 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

Pawpaw is a small understory tree native to the central and eastern United States. It is commonly found in moist woodlands, growing under large hardwood trees, often near a water source or low area that collects and holds a bit of moisture. These trees can be a wonderful addition to your landscape, providing ornamental value and delicious edible fruits!

Pawpaw trees bloom in the spring with small, inconspicuous brownish flowers. If the flowers are cross-pollinated by another nearby pawpaw tree, they can develop into sweet, creamy fruits that have a flavor somewhat like a cross between pears and bananas.

These trees also offer excellent wildlife benefits. They are a larval host plant of the Zebra Swallowtail butterfly. The flowers attract pollinators, and many animals will enjoy helping you eat the fruits.

Shield Fern

Close-up of Dryopteris carthusiana, commonly known as the narrow buckler fern, is characterized by its graceful and finely textured appearance. This deciduous fern features upright, arching fronds that emerge from a central crown and grow in a distinctive shuttlecock shape. The fronds are composed of delicate, lance-shaped leaflets with finely toothed edges, giving them a feathery and airy appearance.
This low-maintenance fern is ideal for shaded gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Polystichum setiferum
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 7 – 9

The shield fern, also known as the wood fern, is a fabulous fern for your shade garden. This low-maintenance fern is easy to grow and looks great during the growing season. It prefers a shaded location with moist soil but also good drainage. It will tolerate periodically wet conditions as long as the soil dries a bit in between. 

Shield fern is a small to medium-sized plant with deciduous fronds. Each spring, the fiddleheads unfurl into dense, feathery clumps of foliage that spread at a moderate rate to form a lovely ground cover.

This fern will grow well in a leafy area under some large, mature shade trees to create an appealing woodland habitat. If you can’t find shield ferns available to grow, check out some other beautiful varieties of fern for your woodland garden. 

Solomon’s Seal

Close-up of a blooming Polygonatum, commonly known as Solomon's seal, is recognized for its graceful and arching stems adorned with pairs of dangling, bell-shaped flowers. This perennial herbaceous plant features upright, arching stems that bear alternate, lance-shaped leaves along their length. The plant produces small, fragrant flowers with greenish-white to creamy-yellow hues hang delicately beneath the stems in clusters or solitary along the axils of the leaves.
Various Solomon’s seal species offer attractive foliage and graceful flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Polygonatum spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

There are several species of Solomon’s seal, as well as a few interesting cultivars, all of which are worthy candidates for your shade garden. These plants are primarily grown for their attractive, somewhat fern-like foliage that persists throughout the growing season. Some have pure green leaves, while others have beautiful variegated foliage. 

Solomon’s seal grows from tubers and will spread to form attractive colonies. The flowers are small and bell-like, hanging from the underside of the central stems in graceful arches. Grow your Solomon’s seal plants in a moist but well-drained woodland garden plot where they will get plenty of cool shade.

Southern Lady Fern

Close-up of Athyrium asplenioides, commonly known as the Southern lady fern, is distinguished by its delicate and lacy appearance. This deciduous fern features graceful, arching fronds that emerge from a central crown and grow in a symmetrical, vase-like shape. The fronds are composed of finely divided, lance-shaped leaflets with serrated edges.
The large southern lady fern creates dense ground cover in shade.
botanical-name botanical name Athyrium asplenioides
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 2 – 3 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 5 – 9

The southern lady fern is a large fern that will make a bold statement in your woodland garden. This plant has broad leaves and grows into an attractive, dense clump. These ferns will spread by underground rhizomes to eventually create a mass of lush green ground cover. The southern lady fern is deciduous and dies back each winter, vigorously re-sprouting each spring.

Southern lady fern needs medium moisture to slightly wet soil. It will do well in a consistently moist woodland. You can keep the soil well mulched to help preserve soil moisture. It’s also a great choice for growing alongside a wetland area or stream bank. 

Trout Lily

Close-up of a flowering Erythronium plant, commonly known as trout lily, in a sunny garden. The plant features two glossy, elliptical leaves that arise from the base, mottled with unique patterns resembling a trout's markings. Rising above these leaves is a singular, nodding flower of white color. The flower has distinct, reflexed petals and a central, prominent, yellow stamen cluster.
Ephemeral trout lilies bring early spring blooms to woodland gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Erythronium spp.
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 4 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Trout lily, also called fawn lily or Erythronium, is an ephemeral spring-blooming bulb. The native trout lily (E. americanum) grows in moist forests throughout eastern North America. There are also several notable cultivars with both showy leaves and showy flowers. These plants will bloom reliably each spring and be one of the first plants of the year to wake up your woodland garden. 

Trout lilies grow from small bulbs and, in ideal growing conditions, naturalize easily to form dense colonies. The glossy, oblong leaves are frequently mottled shades of green and are quite attractive. The flowers are short-lived but well worth the effort. Depending on your variety, these flowers may be bright yellow, white, or pink. These six-petaled, lily-like flowers also attract some early spring pollinators.

Virginia Bluebells

Close-up of a flowering Mertensia virginica plant in a sunny garden. This herbaceous perennial features clumps of smooth, upright stems adorned with soft, oval-shaped leaves emerging alternately along the stems. The plant produces fully unfurls, clusters of bell-shaped flowers dangle delicately from slender, arching stems. These flowers start as pink buds and gradually open to reveal exquisite, pendulous blooms in shades of sky blue or lavender-blue, with a hint of pink at the center.
These stunning bell-like flowers create a stunning spring display in shaded woodland gardens.
botanical-name botanical name Mertensia virginica
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 18 – 24 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 9

Virginia bluebells know how to make a statement in the spring woodland garden. These plants are native to moist bottomland forests of eastern North America, where they blanket the forest floor with spectacular displays of nodding, bell-like purple-blue flowers. Virginia bluebells are spring ephemeral wildflowers. After flowering, the entire plant goes dormant until the following spring.

Grow your Virginia bluebells in a moist, shaded area, amongst some taller trees. Grow them near some other spring ephemeral wildflowers for super spring flowering, or accompany them with ferns or hostas that will provide greenery after the ephemerals have gone dormant. While blooming, the flowers will attract plenty of pollinators and hummingbirds.

Wild Ginger

Close-up of a flowering Asarum canadense plant with mulched soil. This low-growing perennial herb forms dense mats of heart-shaped, glossy green leaves that emerge from creeping rhizomes. The leaves are deeply veined and have a slightly hairy texture. The plant produces small, maroon, bell-shaped flowers.
This plant thrives in woodland areas, with unique, hidden spring flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Asarum canadense
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 4 – 6

Wild ginger makes a wonderful ground cover for a woodland site, partially shaded border, or walkway edge. It grows best in organically rich, well-drained soil. The soil should stay somewhat moist, although once established, wild ginger can be fairly drought tolerant.

This deciduous perennial produces some very unusual flowers. The three-lobed purplish-brown flowers bloom in the springtime at ground level. You probably won’t even see them unless you move some of the heart-shaped leaves aside to look carefully. For most of the year, you can certainly appreciate the lush green foliage that stays low to the ground and spreads by vigorous, tuberous rhizomes.


Close-up of a flowering Clematis virginiana plant against a blurred foliage background. Clematis virginiana is characterized by its vigorous climbing habit and profusion of small, white flowers. The plant produces clusters of fragrant, star-shaped flowers with creamy white petals and prominent yellow stamens.
This native vine thrives in shaded woodland edges, attracting pollinators with fragrant flowers.
botanical-name botanical name Clematis virginiana
sun-requirements sun requirements Full sun to full shade
height height 15 – 20 feet
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 6 – 8

Woodbine, also known as virgin’s bower, is a beautiful vine native to the eastern United States. Don’t confuse the native woodbine with the invasive sweet autumn clematis (C. terniflora); grow the native species instead. This native clematis vine would do very well planted at a woodland edge where it can enjoy a mix of sunlight and partial shade.

Woodbine is one of the few vines that will bloom well in the shade. The fragrant, white flowers open in late summer or early autumn. These are excellent plants for attracting pollinators to your landscape. In ideal conditions, woodbine can spread quickly by self-seeding, but you can easily remove any unwanted young plants. This is a great plant to grow on an ornamental trellis or fence, allowing it to twine its way up. 

Woodland Phlox

Close-up of blooming Phlox divaricata in a sunny garden. This herbaceous perennial forms low-growing clumps of slender stems adorned with lance-shaped leaves that emerge opposite each other along the stems. The foliage is adorned with clusters of fragrant, star-shaped flowers in shades of pale blue to lavender, with a prominent white center.
This native wildflower thrives in shaded landscapes with moist, well-drained soil.
botanical-name botanical name Phlox divaricata
sun-requirements sun requirements Partial to full shade
height height 6 – 12 inches
hardiness-zones hardiness zones 3 – 8

Woodland phlox, also known as blue phlox or wood phlox, is an herbaceous perennial wildflower native to eastern North America. You can easily grow phlox in a shaded part of your landscape. This plant needs moist, well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter. 

There are several varieties of phlox with showy pink and purple flowers. They bloom anytime from mid-spring until early summer. The flowers attract a host of butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds, making it an excellent plant for your pollinator-friendly landscape. Grow it in a shaded rock garden, or naturalized shade garden area, or place low-growing varieties along a showy border. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What sort of maintenance does my woodland garden need?

Like any cultivated landscape, you’ll need to manage weeds. Walk through your woodland garden regularly and pull out any weeds you see. Weeds are much easier to control if you can remove them before they produce seeds. Mulching your garden plot can help dramatically reduce weed growth.


Can I create a woodland garden if I don’t already have trees?

Woodland gardens are all about growing plants in the shade of taller trees. If you want to convert a sunny part of your yard into a shaded woodland garden, you’ll need to plant the trees first and allow them to mature before you can grow shade-loving plants around them.

Why can’t I just grow any plant I want in a woodland garden?

Each type of plant has a different need for sunlight. If you try to grow a full sun-loving plant in a shaded area, your plant will not grow as strong and healthy as it would in full sun.

Sun-loving plants growing in the shade will tend to be weak and won’t flower well, if at all. They may persist for a few years in the shade, but may eventually die if they aren’t getting the sun they need. It’s best to choose shade-loving plants for your woodland garden. There are a few on this list that can adapt to either full sun or full shade.

Final Thoughts

If you thought that shade gardening didn’t offer many options, perhaps you are pleasantly surprised by all the beautiful woodland plants that will thrive in a shaded location. A well-planted woodland garden is a wealth of showy foliage and colorful flowers and fruits from spring through fall. Choose the best plants for your climate, available sunlight, and soil conditions to convert your shaded home landscape into a vibrant woodland habitat. 

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View of English Cottage garden styles. Close-up of an old English cottage with old wooden doors, abundantly covered with climbing Clematis in bloom. Around the house there are flowering hydrangea bushes and an apple tree with ripe fruits. On the porch there are two flowerpots with African daisies in bloom and begonia in bloom. There is a wreath of fresh carnation flowers hanging on the door.

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