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Yes, You Can Grow Shade-Loving Plants

By Marjory Blare, MD, Master Gardener

Many people think that shade just creates problems for the garden. This article explains how wrong that can be. Read on to learn more about which trees, shrubs and perennials can prosper in your shady garden.

Yes, You Can Grow Shade-Loving Plants

You may consider your garden to be “shady,” but is it in full shade or part shade? Full shade is defined as an area that receives less than 4 hours of direct sun per day. Part shade is defined as a garden that receives 4 to 6 hours per day. How much sun (take into account reflected or filtered sun) does your garden get? The easiest way to measure sunlight exposure is to simply observe your planting area every 30 minutes or so throughout the daylight hours over a week or two. Use those observations to determine the average amount of time the area receives sunlight, dappled sunlight, or shade. When you have determined the average amount of sunlight an area receives, you can choose plants that match the conditions of the site. Research the plants before buying and planting. You should also take into account the condition of your soil. Is it clay, sandy or loamy, is it dry or wet, acidic or alkaline? (Click here to find out about soil tests: )

Consider the following plants for your shady garden.


Saucer Magnolias

Saucer Magnolias (30’) are shrub-like trees. They grow at a moderate pace producing goblet-shaped flowers in shades of white, pink, and purple. The buds are attractive to deer and rabbits. They grow well in many soil types, especially organic-rich soils that stay moist. They are useful in tight spaces and can be near a foundation without causing problems.

Eastern Redbud (zones 4-9)

Eastern Redbuds (20’-30’ x 25’-35’) produce violet-pink blossoms on bare branches in early to mid-spring before heart-shaped foliage emerges. Eastern Redbuds grow at a medium rate, and tolerate many soil types, from clay to sand, from alkaline to acidic. Water regularly when young; once established, they’re drought-resistant.




The University of Minnesota’s Northerns Lights series has a wide range of colors. If you look at other growers, be sure to purchase plants grown in Minnesota. Acidic soil (pH 4.5-6.0) is very important. Try to site azaleas at the edges of shade. 

Aronia, Chokeberry 

Aronia does best in part shade. In the spring they are covered in white blossoms, in the fall they provide bright color.

Chokeberry Aronia


Snowberry produces tiny pink flowers and white berries the size of peas. Is is very hardy with a wide tolerance of soil types, and moisture conditions. The drupes attract many birds.


Weigelas, like azaleas, bloom better with more sun rather than less, but are not so picky about pH. The blossoms are white, pink, mauve and red. The leaves can range from light green to dark and many have stunning bronze foliage.



If you would like more ideas, please download this table. It should dispel any question in your mind that there are a wide variety of perennials that will grow well in your shady garden.

Shade Plant Table
Download PDF • 131KB


Photo credits: Marjory Blare (1), – All Creative Commons (2), – All Creative Commons (3), – All Creative Commons (4)


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