Top Ten Shade Perennials for a Cold Climate: Tips for Growing a Lush Shade Garden

Last Updated on December 16, 2023 by Kimberly Crawford

Gardeners have always struggled with what to grow in dark areas of the yard, but shade gardens can be just as beautiful and rewarding as their sunnier counterparts.

Most shade loving plants grow naturally along the forest edge or on the forest floor. Because of their natural habitat, they generally prefer a well-watered, well-drained location and appreciate a good mulch.

  1. Hosta: Sometimes referred to as Plantain Lilies, Hostas are a low-growing, shade-loving plant known for it’s striking greenery. Hostas come in many varieties. Blue-green leaved hostas are better for deep shade; while those with variegated leaves grow better in partial shade. Although low-growing, hostas come in many sizes and can grow from a few inches in diameter to several feet. Hostas can be found for zones 3 to 9.
  2. Bleeding Hearts: Bleeding hearts make a charming addition to just about any shade garden. Boasting an unusual pink or white heart-shaped flower, the bleeding heart adds colour and variety to the rich foliage of a typical shade garden. Bleeding hearts quickly grow to a height of about two or three feet and about the same width. They begin blooming in April or May (depending on the area) and continue to bloom throughout most of the summer. In drier areas, keep them well watered, or they may become gangly. Zones 3 to 9.
  3. Monkshood: Also known as Wolfbane or Aconite, Monk’s Hood is a striking, tall perennial that stands out best at the back of a border. Monkshood has distinctive light blue to deep purple flowers that bloom from May or June into September. Because of their height, some staking may be required. Monkshood should be handled with care. They are extremely poisonous, so you might not want to grow them if you have small children, and you should always wash your hands thoroughly after cutting the flowers.
  4. Lily of the Valley: Lily of the Valley is a beautiful, understated little plant. Lily of the Valley blooms in spring. Its small white flowers have a remarkable fragrance that may go unnoticed in the garden. Starting with two or three plants, it will spread over a large area. Grows to zone 3.
  5. Ferns: Ferns look magical in a shade garden, and with so much variety, there is something for nearly every condition. Although some varieties are sun tolerant, many, including the Western Maidenhair and Lady Fern do well in deep shade. Most, but not all, ferns prefer moist soil. Once established, ferns can spread rapidly and require very little maintenance. Depending upon the variety, ferns can be used for everything from ground cover to planter arrangements. Some varieties can withstand zone 3.
  6. Dogwood: The Dogwood is a shrub, not a perennial, but dogwoods can easily be used in perennial gardens. Dogwoods are hardy, long-lived shrubs capable of surviving harsh winters – they can be grown with some success in zone 2. If left unpruned the Common Dogwood can reach a height of ten feet, but with regular trimming, it can be kept much more compact. Dogwoods bloom in the spring. They have small, unimpressive white or pink flowers, but their bark is an unusual red that stands out against the snow in winter.
  7. Columbine: Columbine blooms in spring, and its distinctive trumpet-like flowers attract hummingbirds and butterflies. Columbine is adaptable to most soil conditions. It can be grown in shade and even sun with liberal watering. Watch out for leaf-miners and aphids. Zones 3 to 9.
  8. Astilbe: Astilbe is easy to grow. With feathery leaves and tall white, pink or red flowers, Astilbe does well in shaded areas. Astilbe grows from one to three feet tall. It makes a stunning contrast to the leathery foliage of the Hosta or the variegated low-growing Goutweed.
  9. Goutweed: Goutweed is a hardy, fast-growing plant. The beauty of goutweed is its toughness. It will grow and spread almost anywhere making it a perfect ground cover for that difficult to fill, deeply shaded space. Watch out though, it can take over a garden. Goutweed can grow to zone 3.
  10. Trillium: Trillium is sometimes called Wake Robin. Trillium means three, and most varieties have three leaves, three pedals, and three sepals; although some of the newer varieties are more showy than their predecessors.Trillium has white blossoms and blooms in spring. It can grow to a height of two feet. Trillium comes in a number of varieties and all thrive in shade. Trillium is generally easy to grow, but must be kept moist. Some varieties grow to zone 3.

When planning a shade garden look for a variety of textures and sizes, but don’t be discouraged. Shade gardens can be every bit as rewarding as their sunny neighbors even in cold climates.

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Jason is a respected home and garden expert and a well-established figure in the digital media industry. He is the founder of, a leading online platform providing high-quality content on home improvement, DIY projects, gardening, and more. His passion for creating engaging, value-driven content has made a go-to resource for home and garden enthusiasts. In addition to his work with KKMediaGroup, Jason co-founded, a website dedicated to offering practical advice and innovative ideas on farming, food, and family. His entrepreneurial spirit and dedication to sharing knowledge and expertise have played a significant role in the success of both platforms.