Shade Tolerant Wildflowers – Growing Wildflowers In Shade

Shade Tolerant Wildflowers – Growing Wildflowers In Shade

By: Mary Ellen Ellis

Wildflowerscan be a lovely addition to all types of garden, but especially perennial bedsand natural nativegardens. If you have a lot of shade, look for woodland species. The bestshade wildflowers grow naturally and easily in the dappled shade under trees.

Growing Shade Tolerant Wildflowers

It’s important to remember that when growing wildflowers in shadethey do need some sunlight. Flowers native to wooded areas don’t grow in deepshade. They grow on the edges of forests and under tall branching trees thatallow for some sun to penetrate. So make sure you plant these flowers wherethey get partial shade and sun.

Woodlandwildflowers need well-drained soil, no standing water, but also a goodamount of moisture. The soil should be rich in organicmatter. These flowers are adapted to growing with year-round natural leafmulch that you should replicate for the best results. Mulch keeps the soilmoist and cool and protects wildflowers in winter.

Wildflowers for Shade

There are many shade-loving wildflowers you can choose fromfor your woodlandgarden or shadybeds. Some choices include:

  • Mayapple – Also known as American mandrake, this pretty forest plant grows umbrella-like leaves with delicate flowers under them. This is a good choice for a spring to summer woodland groundcover.
  • Virginia bluebells – The gorgeous spring flowers of Virginia bluebells carpet forest floors where they grow naturally. The early spring color is hard to beat, but the flowers will die back in the middle of summer, so you’ll need to mix it in with other plants.
  • Dutchman’s breeches – The name for this unique flower comes from the pant-shaped blooms. Dutchman’s breeches is a spring bloomer that needs a lot of moisture.
  • Jack-in-the-pulpit – The flowers of Jack-in-the-pulpit consist of a spathe, shaped like a pitcher and a spadix, emerging from it like a preacher in a pulpit.
  • False Solomon’s seal – This is one of the taller woodland species and can grow up to 36 inches (1 m.) tall. False Solomon’s seal has bell-shaped flowers that hang over on arching stems.
  • Solomon’s seal – The real deal can grow even taller, up to 48 inches (1.2 m.). Solomon’s seal produces white flowers.
  • Columbine – These are among the prettiest of wildflowers. Depending on the species, columbine may be blue and purple, red, or yellow.
  • Wild sweet William – This is a woodland phlox that produces clusters of delicate flowers in blue and light purple.
  • Jacob’s ladder – Jacob’s ladder grows tall, up to three feet (1 m.), and produces pretty hanging bell-shaped flowers in clusters. They can be blue, yellow, white, or pink.

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Read more about Shade Gardens

Definitions for Sun or Shade During the Growing Season

In the Western United States:

  • Full sun - all day sunshine or a full afternoon of sun.
  • Part shade - morning sun and afternoon shade after 12 p.m. Or all-day dappled shade under small-leaved trees, such as honeylocust (Gleditsia) or desert willow (Chilopsis).
  • Full shade - no direct sun during the day because of dense overhead foliage or buildings.

In the Eastern United States:

  • Full sun - 8 or more hours of sun.
  • Part shade - up to 4 hours of sun (during any part of the day).
  • Full shade - little (morning only) or no direct sun.

Bottom line: study the light in your yard and become familiar with when the sunlight hits the ground and plant accordingly.

Maintenance - Leaves

One aspect of gardening under trees is deciding what to do with the thousands of leaves that blanket the ground each fall. You will want to remove leaves covering evergreen plants you’d like to keep. The evergreens photosynthesize during the winter, and a blanket of leaf litter will kill them. This includes lawn, moss, or evergreen natives like Christmas fern and golden groundsel.

Some plants that aren’t considered evergreen do have evergreen basal foliage, and this also needs to be protected. Bottlebrush and cardinal flower are good examples. You will notice that in the woods, mosses and evergreen native plants only grow where leaves don’t accumulate. In your garden, you are the force that keeps leaves from accumulating. From fall through spring, every few weeks you have to go out and uncover your evergreens.

Otherwise, native shade gardening can be less work and more gratification if you leave your leaves where they land! Your woodland plants are well adapted to an undisturbed blanket of leaves and do not need to have them blown, shredded, etc. From fungi to overwintering insects, many woodland species require undisturbed leaf litter. The Xerces Society lists fritillaries, hairstreaks, wooly bears, luna moths, and bumble bees among the many insects that overwinter in fallen foliage. The whole leaves also make an excellent weed barrier.

This Maryland Native Plant Society booklet has an excellent plant list, and indicates which plants perform well in shade. Keep in mind that some species also have soil texture or pH requirements, so be sure to ask your native plant vendor about these. Or try the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's searchable database, and you can select sun exposure, ecoregion, other growing conditions, and more.

11 wildflowers for shade

Transform your shady areas into wildlife havens, with these 11 wildflowers for shade.

Published: Monday, 20 May, 2019 at 8:51 am

Wildflower meadows are often associated with open, sunny swathes of land, but there are plenty of gorgeous wildflowers to grow in shade.

Even the smallest spots can be used to grow wildflowers – try creating a mini wildflower meadow, or take a look at more ways to create a mini meadow.

Whichever method you choose, don’t forget to allow seeds to form, to ensure a continuation of blooms.

Discover 11 wildflowers to grow in shade, below.

Sweet cicely

Sweet cicely, Myrrhis odorata, produces clouds of white flowers from May to June. Grow in dappled shade and enjoy the lacy foliage in dishes.


Angelica species you could grow in part shade include Angelica sylvestris, Angelica archangelica and Angelica gigas. Plant in moist, fertile soil. They make ideal plants for bees, too.

Sweet woodruff

Though many Galium species have a reputation for being garden thugs, sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) is more well-behaved. You can even plant it up in a herb container display.


Hemp agrimony (Eupatorium cannabinum) is a majestic, reliable perennial, producing fluffy flowerheads held on tall stems. Grow it in partial shade, in moist soil. Makes an extremely attractive plant for butterflies.

Common spotted orchid

Common spotted orchids, Dactylorhiza, enjoy a moist, humus-rich soil in partial shade. Sow seeds directly by sprinkling over undisturbed soil.

Red campion

With their luminous pink blooms, red campions are ideal at brightening up shady spots. To encourage more to grow, wait for the seed capsules to ripen, then sprinkle the seeds where you want them to grow.


Foxgloves are garden favourites that are easy to grow, and thrive in shady areas. They’ll self-sow readily, but you can also collect and sow foxgloves, then plant them out where you want them to grow.


Betony (Stachys officinalis) has long been used as a herbal remedy to a range of ailments. It’s also one of the best plants for bees. Grow it in well-drained soil, in partial shade.


While often avoided due to its vigour, selfheal (Prunella vulgaris) is popular with butterflies and bees, and requires almost no care. It’s also edible and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Nettle-leaved bellflower

Campanula trachelium are large, native perennials that enjoy partial shade, and are usually found growing on clay soils. Take a look at 10 more flowering plants for clay soils.

Wood sage

Wood sage (Teucrium scorodonia) is a stunning woodland perennial that produces pale green-yellow flowers, similar to those of salvias. Grow it in partial shade, where it’ll tolerate most soils.