21 Shade Loving Perennials For Zone 5 Shade Gardens

Looking for some perennials to plant in your zone 5 shade garden? Or perhaps you live in a zone 5 climate but have a garden area that just doesn't get much sun? In this article, we take a deeper look at our favorite shade-friendly perennial plants for zone 5 gardens. These cold-hardy plants can withstand cooler temperatures, and partial sun.

Shade Perennial in Zone 5

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Perennials are a popular choice for a shade garden in zone 5. This preference exists because perennials can get more established even in shady conditions. It can be difficult when testing different plants in colder zones, because not all growing conditions are the same, even in the same zone. Some shade friendly perennial flowers will grow better in one zone, and not as well in another.

Zone 5 is made up of a wide band of land in the upper part of the United States. It reaches from the upper peninsula of Michigan to parts of New Mexico and from Michigan’s mainland to spots of California. The areas in this zone usually have an annual minimum temperature between -20 and -10 degrees Fahrenheit. 

Since zone 5 is one of the colder zones in the country, some plants that may be grown as perennials elsewhere will only survive as annuals in zone 5. However, this does not mean there are not plenty of great perennials that will thrive in zone 5 year after year. In this article, we take a look at some of our favorite perennials for shade gardens and shady areas for any gardeners living in zone 5. Let’s jump in!

Astilbe

Astilbe Flowers in Garden
Astilbe flowers are an excellent choice for shady areas of your garden.
Scientific Name: Astilbe spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Asia
  • Plant Size: 6-24 in tall, 6 in – 5 ft spread
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 8

There are many different species of Astilbe, but they generally all have similar needs. They have rhizomatous roots, and they enjoy loamy soil. It is best to plant them during milder times of the year, rather than hot periods. The light, fluffy spears of blooms can be white, pink, or red. If you live anywhere with any amount of heat, you should plant these in a spot with plenty of shade. These plants can do well in cooler climates, and are hardy as perennials down to zone three.

Barrenwort

Barrenwort Flowers
A unique looking flower, barrenwort does well in both full and partial shade.
Scientific Name: Epimedium
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 6 in – 3 ft tall, 1-3 ft wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 8

If you think that shady plants cannot come in striking colors, think again. This delicately flowered shade-tolerant perennial comes in a range of colors. Choose between red, orange, yellow, pink, or white blooms and greenish-blue or purple foliage.

Barrenwort is a fantastic choice if you want visual interest in all seasons. Many varieties are hardy even in the cold weather of zone 5. Barrenwort’s rhizomatous roots can withstand many soil conditions, including dry and wet soil.

Partial shade is the best for this plant if you want a lot of blooms. The full shade will not hurt barrenwort, but you may not end up with as many blooms as if you give it a bit of light. This plant is sensitive to too much light, and intense sun can burn this barrenwort’s leaves.

Boston Ivy

Parthenocissus tricuspidata
Boston Ivy is a vine that grows quickly, and changes colors in the fall.
Scientific Name: Parthenocissus tricuspidata
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China, Japan
  • Plant Size: 30-50 ft spread
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 8

Choose this plant if you are looking for a vine that loves shade. Boston Ivy can be a hardy building climber or a lush groundcover. It can also damage certain sidings and gutters, though it is not as damaging as its cousin, English Ivy.

You will likely need to prune this ivy variety on occasion since it can be a very robust grower. This plant can grow three to ten feet every year.

The leaves of this plant cycle from red to green and back to red throughout the year. Boston Ivy grows small greenish flowers and eventually dark berries.

Bleeding Heart

Dicentra Eximia
When looking at them, it’s easy to see where the bleeding heart gets its name.
Scientific Name: Dicentra eximia
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 6 in- 3 ft tall, 1-3 ft wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 9

Looking at this plant, it is not hard to understand why it is known as Bleeding Heart. The blooms are shaped like hearts emitting a single drop of blood. There are many close relatives to the Bleeding Hearts most commonly sold to recreational gardeners. These relatives are usually wildflowers. If you are looking for a perennial burst of color, the bleeding hearts will do the trick.

If exposed to too much heat, the Bleeding Heart will die back for the season. This aversion to heat makes this plant particularly well-suited to colder zones, including zone 5. These plants enjoy moist but well-drained soil. They bloom early before dying back, so be strategic if you want sustained foliage in the area in which they are planted.

Bush Honeysuckle

Diervilla lonicera
Bush honeysuckle grows in the sun but can also grow in partial or “mostly” shady areas.
Scientific Name: Diervilla lonicera
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 4 ft
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 7

If you are looking for a zone 5-friendly shade-loving shrub, Bush Honeysuckle is a great option. You can also use this shrub to form a hedge. The small yellow flowers and lush foliage of this shrub provide an interesting visual for your shade garden. The green leaves fade into yellow and orange in the fall season.

This plant can grow in a range of sun levels. Some amount of sun is necessary for robust foliage and blooming results. Unlike many other plants on this list, this plant can handle very dry soil once it has established itself. Bush Honeysuckle grows best if you live in a part of zone 5 that does not encounter a lot of humidity.

Climbing Hydrangea

Hydrangea anomala
The climbing hydrangea can tolerate everything from full sun to full shade.
Scientific Name: Hydrangea anomala ssp. petiolaris
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 30-50 ft
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 7

If you love Hydrangea but wish it had some of the features of a climbing vine, you will be excited to know that a climbing Hydrangea exists. This option does well on walls, fences, and trellises. Keep in mind that it may take a few years for hydrangea anomala to get established enough to flower.

While this vine does best with a bit of sun, it is known as being particularly okay with more shade than other, similar plants. This enjoyment of shade is particularly true if you live in a warm area. They do best in moist, well-drained soil.

There are several varieties of Climbing Hydrangea, and they have slight differences. The petiolaris subspecies have white flowers, while the Miranda variety has variegated leaves.

Columbine

Aquilegia
Columbine flowers can grow in a wide variety of different conditions.
Scientific Name: Aquilegia
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Europe, Asia
  • Plant Size: 1-3 ft tall, 1-2 ft wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Partial Shade
  • Plant Zone: 5 to 9

Both the flowers and foliage of this plant are known for their beauty. The blooms have a unique, ethereal shape, while the foliage looks like a somewhat serrated clover. You can choose a plant with red, orange, yellow, blue, purple, pink, or white flowers. Many flowers are also a combination of those colors.

Encourage the growth of more Columbine plants by not deadheading the blooms. While these plants can handle some drought after they establish themselves, they do need some moisture early in their life. Drainage is key, no matter how old the plant is. These flowers can tolerate full sun, but can do well even into “almost” full shade.

Coral Bells

Coral Bells in Shade Garden
The coral bell is a popular shade loving perennial plant.
Scientific Name: Heuchera spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 8–18 in. tall, 12–24 in. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 9

This popular perennial comes in quite a few striking varieties. Choose between red, orange, coral, pink, and white foliage and flowers. While the sprinkle of tiny flowers is notable, people also value this plant for its beautiful, colorful foliage.

While these plants enjoy shade and moisture, it is important to ensure this is balanced with great drainage to prevent root rot. If your plants will be getting some sun, make sure that the amount of water they get will be balanced appropriately.

Creeping Myrtle

Vinca minor
Creeping myrtle, also known as periwinkle, can grow in a variety of different conditions.
Scientific Name: Vinca minor
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 16 in
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 9

This plant is called by many names, including dwarf periwinkle, common periwinkle, and myrtle. While it is not a climber, creeping myrtle is known for its ability to creep along the ground. The result is wide, spread-out colonies of glossy, evergreen foliage. In early spring to mid-summer, you will be able to see small violet or white blooms.

Many people choose this plant as a dense groundcover that helps by smothering leaves. While creeping myrtle is fine in some parts of North America, there are certain parts of the United States in which this plant is considered invasive.

Dutchman’s Breeches

Dicentra cucullaria
The Dutchman’s Breeches is aptly named, given the look of the flower.
Scientific Name: Dicentra cucullaria
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 6–12 in. tall, 6–12 in. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 7

This plant only blooms and has foliage for a short period in the early spring. Dutchman’s Breeches is named for its blooms that resemble upsidedown pants. If you get the chance to see some, the uniquely shaped white flowers and fern-like foliage of this plant are striking to behold. Choose the Dutchman’s Breeches if you value a garden with rotating blooms.

Foxglove

Digitalis purpurea
Foxglove can handle a wide range of sun and shade conditions, depending on the heat.
Scientific Name: Digitalis purpurea
  • Plant Type: Perennial, Biennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe and Northwest Africa
  • Plant Size: 2-5 feet tall, 1-2 feet wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 10

Common Foxglove is one of the many types of Foxglove out there. As a perennial and biennial plant, the plant only grows a small clump of foliage in its first year and develops a stalk of blooms in its second year. At the end of this blooming period, the plant re-seeds. Blooms can be pink, purple, and white, and they usually have colorful speckles. This perennial can grow quite tall, and doesn’t spread too rapidly compared to other plants.

Hosta

Green Hosta in Garden
Hostas are a popular shade perennial, and are extremely versatile.
Scientific Name: Hosta spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Eastern Asia
  • Plant Size: 6-48 in. tall, 10 in.-6 ft. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 8 or 9

A very popular shade perennial, Hostas come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. The foliage can range from cream-colored to dark green. It often contains stripes of several shades of green and cream. The blooms can be white or lavender. Choose your varieties based on how quickly or slowly these plants grow.

Lenten Rose

Hellebore Flower
The hellebore can tolerate full sun, to almost full shade, depending on the heat.
Scientific Name: Helleborus orientalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 12-18 in tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 9

Rather than being related to the rose family, the Lenten Rose is more closely related to a buttercup. Also known as the hellebore, choose this option if you need a shade-loving early bloomer to provide some color to your garden in early spring. Blooms can be maroon, yellow, purple, white.

Lily of the Valley

Convallaria majalis
The lily of the valley is a shade-friendly perennial that grows well in most zones.
Scientific Name: Convallaria majalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe
  • Plant Size: 6-12 in tall, 9-12 in wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 8

While Lily of the Valley is a close relative of asparagus, you probably do not want to roast and eat this white or pink perennial flowered plant anytime soon. It is known to be toxic to humans and animals.

This plant can spread rather hardily as a ground cover if you let it. For this reason, many people choose to grow Lily of the Valley in containers. It is not prone to many pests or diseases. This low-growing plant arrives in late spring, and it spreads via its rhizomatous root. It loves well-drained soil, and it does well under trees.

Lungwort

Pulmonaria Purple and Pink Flowers
Lungwort is a beautiful perennial, that does quite well in partial shade.
Scientific Name: Pulmonaria spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe, Asia
  • Plant Size: 6–12 in tall, 12–18 in wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 8

This low-growing plant is known for its ability to attract pollinators. While Lungwort’s flowers start pink, their perennial blooms develop into blue. You may observe some variance in color depending on the specific variety you plant.

Lungwort needs plenty of water to grow well. This requirement means that you may need to use shade to keep the solid moist during warm times of the year. These plants do not love humidity.

Monkshood

Aconitum napellus
The Monkshood flower enjoys full sun, but can also do well in partially shaded areas.
Scientific Name: Aconitum napellus
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Europe, Asia
  • Plant Size: 2–4 ft tall, 1–2 ft wide
  • Sun Exposure: Full Sun to Partial Shade
  • Plant Zone: 3 to 7

Aconitum comes in many shapes and sizes. The most common variety is Aconitum napellus, which has blueish white flowers that mimic the shape of a monk’s hood. The plants enjoy many types of soil, and they do best with a bit of sun. The blooms can burn from too much sun, so plant them somewhere shady if you live somewhere warm.

Japanese Pachysandra

Pachysandra terminalis
Japanese Pachysandra is a white flowered perennial that does well in partial to full shade.
Scientific Name: Pachysandra terminalis
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Japan
  • Plant Size: 6 in tall, 12 in wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 8

If you are looking for a plant that you can set and forget, Japanese Pachysandra may be a great choice for you. It can tolerate a range of conditions and is an enthusiastic grower, thanks to its rhizomatous roots. However, this ability to spread can mean that it needs attention if you want to prevent too much spread.

Japanese Pachysandra is used primarily as a groundcover. However, it is also valued for its small, white flowers. The foliage of this plant is thick, dark green, and uniquely shaped. The leaves are small and ovular with some serration.

Rodgers Flower

Rodgersia
The Rodgers Flower can grow quite well in shady environments.
Scientific Name: Rodgersia
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: China
  • Plant Size: 3-4 in tall
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 5 to 7

Five different species can be called Rodgers flower. Even though this plant is named for its flower, it is also known for its unique foliage. Blades made up of the tiny light pink flowers float above the large, serrated leaves.

The leaves go on a colorful journey throughout the growing season. The leaves are slightly bronze in the spring before transitioning to green in the summer. Before falling off in late fall, the green leaves become red.

These plants love the shade because shady locations encourage moist soil. It can be grown in full sun as long as it is given plenty of water. However, it is often just simpler to plant them in the shade.

Trillium

Great White Trillium Flower
Trillium typically grows in shaded forest areas, so they do well in shade gardens.
Scientific Name: Trillium spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America, Asia
  • Plant Size: 1–2 ft. tall and wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 9

Named for their tendency towards triplicate, Trillium has three petals, three leaves, and three sepals. Beyond this pattern, species of these plants can vary wildly. Some of them grow in slightly different areas, and they come in a variety of colors.

The foliage can come in many shapes, from long and thin to plump and ovular. The flowers may or may not have a stem, and they can vary in shape. Blooms can be red, yellow, green, purple, pink, and white.

In general, these plants enjoy environments that are like woodland settings. They need plenty of moisture in the soil with plenty of nourishment. However, the soil should also drain well.

Toad Lily

Tricyrtis Flower
The Toad Lily does very well in shaded areas.
Scientific Name: Tricyrtis spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: Asia
  • Plant Size: 2-3 ft. tall, 1-2 ft. wide
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 4 to 8

While toad lilies can look very similar to some varieties of orchids, they are different plants. They are part of the lily family. The blooms can be white or violet, and they are speckled with purple spots.

As long as you pick a good spot for this plant, it should thrive. These unique and beautiful plants require a decent amount of moisture in their soil, and they should be protected from wind and excessive sunlight. In zone 5, the toad lily can do well in partial shade, but you should opt for full shade if possible.

Witch Alder

Fothergilla blooming in forest
Witch alder can make a great addition to any shade garden.
Scientific Name: Fothergilla spp.
  • Plant Type: Perennial
  • Geographic Origin: North America
  • Plant Size: 3-10 ft tall
  • Sun Exposure: Partial Shade to Full Shade
  • Plant Zone: 5 to 8

These pants do not grow very quickly or get very big, but they can make quite the impact. This low-growing shrub produces feathery white flowers and oval-shaped green leaves that transform into beautifully warm fall foliage. There are several varieties of witch alder, including a dwarf and large version. There is also an extinct version of this plant.

Witch Alder’s only major soil requirement is plenty of nourishment and good drainage. While some sun does improve the blooming of this plant, it does do very well in the shade. This plant can spread primarily via its roots. Butterflies and birds love this plant.

Final Thoughts

Whether the shade in your garden is caused by buildings, trees, or fences, you can use that shade to your advantage. Plenty of gorgeous foliage and unique flowers can do well in zone 5 in the shade.

In particular, plants that are already cold-hardy zone 5 champions will enjoy the lack of light since it can protect their soil moisture. Any of the shade perennials for zone 5 gardens we’ve mentioned should add a bit of color, and a great mixture of plants for local pollinators to enjoy!

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