We use cookies to allow us and selected partners to improve your experience and our advertising. By continuing to browse you consent to our use of cookies. You can understand more and change your cookies preferences here.

Home & garden.

Updated: 19 Apr 2022

Best plants for shade

Plants that will thrive in dry shade or damp shade are invaluable. Which? shares our favourites
Ceri Thomas
Shady flower bed

Every garden has a shady spot, whether it's the whole plot or just a shady corner. Finding plants that will thrive makes life so much easier as they'll naturally want to grow there.

Shade is generally either dry or damp. Dry shade is usually where there are other plants causing shade and also sucking moisture out of the soil with their roots. Damp shade tends to be on the north-side of buildings or walls where there's nothing competing for the moisture.


Make more of your garden - get our free Gardening newsletter for top tips from our experts


Which? Gardening Magazine

Expert advice through the seasons so you know what to do and when. £4.99 a month, cancel anytime.

Sign up now
Magazines

The best plants for dry shade

Bulbs

Spring-flowering bulbs, such as tulips, and daffodils are perfect for growing under deciduous trees and shrubs as they grow and flower during the period they've lost their leaves and rain can reach the ground easily. Then they rest while the trees and shrubs are in full leaf. There's even some evidence that tulips in particular are far more likely to live for longer when planted where the soil is dry in summer like this. 

Plant the bulbs in autumn and put them in deeply - three times the height of the bulb.

How to grow tulips and daffodils and the best varieties

Hardy geraniums

Not all hardy geraniums love shade but varieties of G. phaeum and G. macrorrhizum are perfect for it. They flower in late spring and if you cut the whole plant to the ground afterwards you may get a second flush of flowers later in summer. 

They're hardy perennials so once planted, they'll return each year.

How to grow hardy geraniums and best varieties

Epimediums

Again not all epimediums love dry shade, but some varieties, such as E. x versicolor 'Sulphureum' love it. These beautiful plants have spidery flowers in spring and attractive leaves that form a carpet on the ground. They're hardy perennials so they'll return each year.

How to grow epimediums and the best varieties

Ferns

Choose the right varieties and ferns will love dry shade. They come in both evergreen and deciduous types so take your pick. Good ones for dry shade include: Polystichum setiferum, Dryopteris filix-mas and Polypodium vulgare. They're perennial so will return each year.

Foxgloves

Easy to raise from seed or you can simply buy plants, foxgloves flower in spring. They're biennials so they die after flowering but they usually sprinkle their seed around which then produces new plants.

How to grow foxgloves and the best varieties

Other plants to try

  • Cyclamen coum for late summer and autumn flowers
  • Euonymus fortunei is an evergreen shrub and there are attractive variegated varieties
  • Euphorbia amygdaloides var robbiae is a perennial with lime-green bracts in spring
  • Colchicum bulbs have pink flowers in autumn
  • Brunnera macrophylla is a perennial with blue spring flowers. Look out for the variety 'Jack Frost' which has silvery leaves
  • Choisya ternata is a white-flowered evergreen shrub that blooms in summer. It does surprisingly very in dry shade.
  • Fatsia japonica is an evergreen shrub with large, jungle-like leaves. It turns yellow in a sunny spot so grow in dry shade.
  • Bergenias make great evergreen groundcover with pink or white flowers in spring.
  • Crinum x powelli is a summer-flowering bulb that does surprisingly well in dry shade. Its blooms tower above other plants in the border
  • Arum italicum has marbled leaves and appears over winter before disappearing in late spring
  • Snowdrops make a beautiful carpet of white flowers in late winter
  • Anemanthele lessoniana is a beautiful evergreen grass. Watch out for self-sown seedlings though
  • Lunaria rediviva is a pale-flowered version of ordinary honesty that blooms in spring

The best plants for damp shade

Hostas

There are hundreds of varieties of these beautiful foliage plants with leaves in all sorts of colours. They also produce flowers on long stems in summer. They grow well in borders and in pots so you can enjoy them on the patio too. They're perennials so return each year.

Watch our for slugs and snails and pick off any you find before they eat the leaves.

How to grow hostas and best varieties

Hydrangeas

This beautiful flowering shrub blooms in summer and comes in a wide range of colours, including white and pink. They're deciduous so they lose their leaves in autumn. Plant some spring-flowering bulbs underneath.

Pruning at the right time is important; here's our pruning advice.

How to grow hydrangeas and best varieties

Camellias

A classic spring-flowering shrub, camellias are covered in pink, red or white flowers. They're evergreens so they look good all year round. They prefer acidic soil so if your garden doesn't have that (you can check with a cheap pH test form the garden centre), grow them in pots using ericaceous compost instead.

How to grow camellias and best varieties

Japanese maples

These stunning small trees produce fiery autumn leaf colours and many are colourful in spring too when their leaves first unfurl. Damp soil is key to avoiding their leaves getting frazzled and dry. You can also grow them in large pots on the patio - be careful to water them regularly.

How to grow Japanese maples and best varieties

Fuchsias

Perfect for pots on a shady patio or for planting in borders - choose hardy varieties and they can be left in the ground year after year. There's an amazing range of varieties so take your pick. Don't plant outside until the danger of frost has passed in later spring.

How to grow fuchsias and best varieties

Other plants to try:

  • Begonias are great for shady patios
  • Japanese anemones return each year with pink or white, late-summer flowers
  • Clematis are great climbing plants for shade
  • Heucheras, tiarellas and heucherellas are groundcover perennials in a wide range of leaf colours and pretty flowers
  • Primroses come in more colours than yellow nowadays. Great for pots or borders.
  • Actaeas are less prone to wilting in shade and beautiful dark-coloured leaves and white flowers.
  • Impatiens (busy Lizzies) are a tender bedding plant that's covered in flowers all summer and great for borders and pots
  • Hellebores come in a wide range of colours and bloom in late winter and early spring
  • Trilliums are a choice plant that's worth tracking down at a specialist plant nursery
  • Clematis will cover a shady wall and there are plenty of varieties to choose from
  • Sarcococca is an evergreen shrub whose small white flowers fill the air with perfume in late winter