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Zone 3 is one of the most difficult gardening zones, with a short growing season and the potential for frost even during the summer months. This means that plants that are perennials in most other zones have to be treated like annuals in this northern growing zone. However, there are some perennials that are hardy enough to withstand the -40 degree nights, even when planted in the shade. We have curated a list of these plants to give you a great start at building the foundation of your shady place perennial garden!
Hardy and Gorgeous Zone 3 Perennials
Hostas are very popular among shade garden plants, and it’s no wonder. With its hundreds of varieties, there’s sure to be one that will help you achieve the look you’re aiming for in your garden. These require very little care and maintenance, simply give them an extra layer of mulch in late fall to protect them from frost and occasionally break them up and redistribute. Blue-toned hostas tend to do better in colder climates while yellow-toned hostas need some extra warmth and sunlight.
Astilbe plants are a great choice for a shade garden and will add plenty of color and interest in an area most flowers won’t grow. Be sure your garden area is definitely in the shade, though. These delicate plants will quickly burn in direct sun. This particular flower can grow from 6 inches to 5 feet tall. They don’t do well in dry soil, so make sure that these beauties have a moist area to root in. Also, be prepared for some leaves to turn yellow after the first frost. Simply trim the yellowed leaves and the plant will add growth the following spring.
3. Jacob’s Ladder
Jacob’s Ladder is a pretty little plant with ladder-like leaves and bell-shaped flowers. Bright blue is the most popular variation of this plant, which is eye-catching with its yellow center. They can grow up to 2 feet tall and like moist but not wet soil. If the plant has a darker green leaf it can tolerate a bit more sun, but most will grow best in a shady area. Deadheading the bloom, once it starts to fade, will keep the plant reblooming all season, and dividing once every 2-4 years will keep the clumps from dying in the center.
4. Hot Lips Turtlehead
The hot lips turtlehead is a bushy plant that loves the dappled shade and moist or wet soil. It blooms in late summer and produces hooded, hot pink flowers that stick around for 3-6 weeks. This plant is a good choice if you want to attract some butterflies to your garden, as they’re fans of this particular plant as well. The turtlehead will grow up to 3 feet tall and will spread up to 3 feet out. Wait until spring to cut back any unruly growth or to divide clumps to ensure they can deal with the cold in winter better.
5. Siberian Bugloss
Blooming with tiny blue flowers in mid to late summer, the Siberian Bugloss is an easy-to-grow perennial that loves the shade. It also has leaves that come in shades of either green or grey, silver, and white. This is a fairly hardy plant but does need the care to make sure the soil it’s planted in doesn’t get too wet or too dry. The Bugloss can get up to 1.5 feet high and 2 feet across and routinely self-seeds, causing smaller plants to sprout near the larger plant each spring.
Periwinkle is a great ground cover option for shade gardens. Traditionally blooming periwinkle has blue flowers, however, this plant has several varieties that feature blossoms with other colors should you chose to use them. Not to be confused with annual periwinkle, this plant will grow and grow big once planted and is not easy to remove. One small plant rarely grows more than 4 inches in height but can cover up to 8 feet of the ground and needs to be planted away from other plants in the area to prevent it from choking them out.
The Snakeroot plant is a good addition to a shade garden and will tolerate drier soil better than most plants. This plant grows up to 4 feet tall and blooms clusters of small white flowers in the summer and fall. The snakeroot likes moist soil but will tolerate occasional drought. You can cut this plant back in the fall if it’s overwhelming the space you have set aside for them. This plant attracts bees and butterflies as well as other pollinators such as birds and would be good in the garden of someone who enjoys these creatures. It has also been said that snakeroot will cure a snake bite, but be warned, the foliage and roots are actually poisonous to cattle and humans.
8. Plantain Lily
The Plantain Lily is a variety of hosta that loves partial to full shade. This is considered the most fragrant of all hostas and has a trumpet-like white flower that opens in the evening hours during the late summer through the fall. It loves moist, well-drained soil and isn’t a difficult plant to grow. It can grow up to 2 feet high and 4 feet wide, making it a good ground cover. Cutting off the blooms will encourage growth, and those blooms make for a great addition to a vase indoors.
9. Autumn Fern
The autumn fern is a beautiful plant for a shade garden. This fern starts off a coppery red, for which it gets its name, in the spring and then slowly changes to a bright green by summer. This is strictly a foliage plant, meaning it does not produce seeds or flowers. The autumn fern prefers full or partial shade and moist, well-drained soil that falls on the more acidic side of the pH spectrum. It’s not difficult to care for this fern. Simply make sure that the soil stays moist and apply a bit of compost in the fall to protect the fern from frost.
The Helleborus plant carries blooms that are produced in a range of colors, starting with white and extending to black. This fragrant plant has great foliage and unusual flowers that are sure to add interest and beauty to your garden, though you’ll have to wait a while to truly enjoy them. After planting the seeds in the fall it’s typical for a Helleborus plant to take 3-4 years before producing blooms. Wet soil and removal of older leaves will ensure good growth in this plant, as well as being careful of how much fertilizer you use. Too much will reduce the number of blooms, and it would be a shame to miss out on this showstopper.
Tiarella is a foliage plant perfect for a shade garden. There’s a variety of cultivars available, so finding one that fits your vision for your garden shouldn’t be a problem. These are fairly low-maintenance and can be left alone for years without needing division. They prefer dappled sunlight rather than deep shade, and grow best in neutral pH soil that’s moist and well-drained. This plant will also need protection from cold during winter, so be sure to cover them with mulch to shield them from the frost.
12. Japanese Spurge
The Japanese Spurge is a gorgeous green foliage plant that produces small sprays of white flowers in the spring. It loves partial to full shade with more acidic soil and can tolerate drier conditions well. This plant is more sensitive to temperature extremes, however, and will have brown patches if exposed to colder weather and its leaves will burn in direct sunlight. You also have to be mindful of fungus, which will develop on the leaves if moisture is trapped beneath them. Avoid watering this plant from overhead and thin out the growth occasionally to help prevent it.
13. Climbing Hydrangea
The climbing hydrangea is a versatile plant that can grow up to 30-80 feet tall but can also be cut short back to shrub height. It’s dark green foliage and large clusters of white flowers are gorgeous in a shade garden, and it will climb anything that can hold it’s heavy vines. Partial sunlight and moist, well-drained soil is the best way to keep this plant happy, and mulch around the base will keep the soil moist and discourage the growth of weeds. Compost or fertilizer in late winter or early spring will also help keep this plant healthy and vibrant.
Lungwort is a pretty little plant that showcases interesting spotted leaves. Its flower blooms in early spring and can be blue, pink, or white, with more than one color appearing per plant. These flowers can also start one color, then fade into a different color as they age. This plant does best in moist, shaded gardens. It can survive in drier areas with adequate shade, however, and would be a good choice close to trees where other plants may have a hard time getting enough water.
The anemone is a gorgeous flower and a great choice for a shaded garden. This poppy look alike produces blooms in white, red, yellow, pink, and purple, and is a favorite in bouquets for weddings. Some of these plants produce double flowers, making them even more of a statement. These thrive in partial shade and well-drained, not wet, soil, especially if you boost the soil with compost before planting. A bone meal in the fall or spring will give an extra shot of nutrients to blooms in the opposing season. Overwatering can cause the roots to rot, so be careful how wet you make the soil.
16. Creeping Wintergreen
The creeping wintergreen is a hardy, evergreen ground cover that produces mint-scented leaves and bright red berries that sprout from bell-shaped flowers that bloom in summer. Their leaves fade from green to red to bronze in winter. It thrives in partial shade and moist soil with an acidic pH level. This is a fairly easy garden addition, with little needed in the way of pruning. Simply keep the soil moist for even established plants and your creeping wintergreen will keep providing a gorgeous ground cover.
Bergenia is a clump-forming ground cover that has glossy dark green leaves and pink flowers that bloom from April to May. It loves darker spaces with limited sunlight and grows well in moist, well-drained soil. Compost can be added to give this plant an extra bit of vibrancy, and removing dead leaves in the summer will help its growth. Don’t pull the leaves in the fall, however, as the plant uses these for extra food during winter. This plant grows slowly, and while it does need to be divided up occasionally, this is only necessary once every 3 to 5 years when the middle of the plant dies off.
18. Lady’s Mantle
The Lady’s Mantle plant is a sweet addition to a garden. This plant is low maintenance and works well with other plants, giving nice ground cover and good contrast against other blooming specimens. Lady’s Mantle likes partial shade and can withstand drier soil, so if your area is prone to droughts consider this choice for your garden. When planting these keep each plant 12 inches from its neighbor as it will quickly fill in the empty space. Fungus growth can be a problem in high humidity areas, so try to let the soil dry as much as possible to prevent it.
Ligularia has a distinctive tall yellow flower that blooms in late summer and large notched leaves. This plant requires rich soil and loves moist soil. It will not live in dry soil, and in warmer weather consistent watering is needed to help it truly thrive. Don’t be surprised if you catch this plant wilting during the hottest parts of the day: they do this to help conserve the water they have available. During winter cover this plant with mulch to protect it from colder temperatures. With good care, this plant will be a wonderful addition to your garden for years.
The Spiderwort plant is pretty and fairly easy to maintain. This little wildflower typically blooms in shades of blues and purples, but varieties with pink, white, or red flowers are not uncommon. An interesting feature in this plant is that its flowers will only open during daylight hours, closing up at dusk. Cutting back the plant after blooms slow will help encourage another round of flowering. Spiderwort does best in moist, acidic soil and partial shade, and will likely need to be divided every 3 years or so.
21. Toad Lily
The Toad Lily is an exotic-looking variety of shade loving plant. With spotted petals and unique structure, this flower is sure to be an interesting part of your shade garden when it makes its appearance each fall. Deep shade is preferred space for the Toad Lily, and moist soil and fertilizer keep it happy and thriving. This plant is delicate due to how it grows, so keeping it shielded from wind is a must.
Creating Your Garden
We hope this list of shade-loving plants has helped you realize you can have a gorgeous garden, even in yards with a lot of shade. Chose one or many of these plants to make a beautiful statement in your landscaping!