Outdoor gardening can be a very rewarding practice for many homeowners, but despite all their work, a lot of New Englanders find that their plants just don’t last.
Many landscapes in our area have shaded areas under trees or overhangs. Unfortunately, not all plants thrive well without sun, and it’s very important to choose varieties that like shade, specifically.
Many homeowners sometimes forget to look at their plant’s sun preference before purchasing. Find the best shade-loving plants, that’ll come back year after year, with a little help from our landscape experts at Green Sphere. Here are some of the most popular plants for shaded New England gardens:
1. Hosta (AKA Plantain Lily)
Hostas, more formally referred to as Plantain Lilies, are a very popular feature in many shaded New England gardens, for their preference to dappled or partial sun but ability to thrive in heavy shade. The problem is, they come in a number of varieties— and with so many variances in color, leaf shape and size, it can be hard to choose your favorite!
From the white-edged First Frost hosta with its blue-green leaves to the uniquely curled and soft Blue Mouse Ears, there are dozens of hosta plants that grow well in Massachusetts. Many Plantain Lilies also flower, blooming different shades that make lovely accents. Not to mention, these perennials are easy to maintain.
Peruse these hostas, but be sure to look for a shade-loving variety, because certain types prefer a little sun. Just be aware that deer LOVE to snack on Hosta so if you are in a heavy deer population area you may want to steer clear of these guys.
You can’t go wrong with some shade-loving ferns! Their fine-textured, almost lace-like appearance, adds a gentle, breezy touch to any New England garden. For Massachusetts homeowners, in particular, there are four varieties we recommend planting in your shaded outdoor plot: the Lady Fern, Japanese Painted Fern, Ostrich Fern or the Cinnamon Fern. (Learn more about each from the Mass. Master Gardener Association).
All of these ferns prefer moist soil and shaded areas and are perennials, which come back year after year. Choose your favorite frond color; while most are green, you’ll find that some types— like the Lady Fern— can boast hues of purple or red. Ferns are wonderful filler plants, for dressing the space between shrubs or under trees.
Let’s not overlook the fact that they require very little upkeep, are generally pest and disease-free as well as spread throughout your beds to fill in over time! Beautiful and easy to care for? That makes ferns a sure win.
3. Jack Frost
You can’t deny the serene beauty of the Jack Frost plant’s silver, green-veined leaves. Formally called Brunnera macrophylla, this plant’s dainty purple or blue flowers unfurl in springtime, bringing color to your outdoor oasis. (We think it looks just stunning against white lattice or lining a stone walkway!).
Like the other shade-loving plants mentioned, Jack Frost enjoys moist soil and partial to full coverage away from the sun. It goes by many names, such as False Forget-Me-Not, and is a variety of Siberian Bugloss— so don’t get confused when shopping around.
Though we singled out the Jack Frost variety of Siberian Bugloss for its color and ease of care, there are other types that grow well in New England gardens. For instance, yellow Diane’s Gold can add a bright burst to your landscape, or Silver Charm can look quite charming in almost any setting. Explore all the varieties of shade-friendly Bugloss plants here.
4. Hakone Grass (AKA Japanese Forest Grass)
This long-lasting ornamental grass shoots out in lengthy strands, resembling the shape of a bush. Because of their volume and spread, Hakonechloa macra looks great in big pots, as accents on your porch or patio— not just in the garden.
This swaying grass grows best in partial shade and loves a nice moist, well-drained soil. The greenish-yellow grass creates slender ripples in any breeze, and their strands change to a coppery-orange color come fall. Like ferns, pests and disease are rarely problems for Hakone, and it can be easily divided and spread to other areas of your landscape after a few healthy seasons of growth.
5. Lady’s Mantle
Alchemilla mollis is a gray-greenish foliage with uniquely scallop-shaped leaves. It produces “blooms” that mimic the color of the plant itself, perfect for maintaining a layer of green around your other flowers.
While it can tolerate full sun, Lady’s Mantle prefers shade and makes a wonderful bordering plant for edging gardens. When left in the sun this plant can get a little wild, but Alchemilla Mollis planted in shaded areas is generally easy to maintain.
Fun fact: this plant is known for its medicinal properties, often used in teas or ointments.
You Didn’t Think We’d Forget the Flowers, Did You?
You probably noticed we didn’t mention any flowers in this post. Shade-loving perennials typically have smaller/ insignificant flowers but showy foliage which makes them shine all season! However, no garden would be complete without some bright blooms, but there are so many options, we devoted a separate article to choose the right flora: The Best Perennial Flowers to Plant in Your Northeastern Garden. While many of these flowers love the sun, you’ll find that Astilbe is often a “must-plant,” so be sure to give it a read.
In addition to these lovely perennials, we made another post all about pollinator-friendly flowers— for attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds. Again, many of these flowers thrive best in the sunshine, but not Sweet Alyssum! Read our blog on Flowers for Your Pollinator Garden to learn more about this carpeting annual.
Really Make Your Landscape Shine
Now that you’ve filled your garden beds with lively plants, it’s time to fix up the rest of your landscape.
Download our Ultimate Guide to Curb Appeal to discover six ways to instantly increase your property value and cultivate an outdoor escape worth enjoying.