Got lots of shady areas? From lush greenery to bright and lively flowers, check out my list for the 13 best perennials for a beautiful Ohio shade garden! Whether you’re looking for plants to fill a bed that is highly shaded for most of the day, some north facing landscaping areas that don’t see much sun, or a partially shaded area with bright sunlight for just a couple hours, choosing the right plants will give you the best chance at success… I’ve got some options for you!
13 Best Perennials for a Beautiful Ohio Shade Garden
- Coral Bells
- Jack Frost
- Lily of the Valley
- Bleeding Heart
- Creeping Jenny
- Jacob’s Ladder
Understanding the Degree of Shade
It is very important to understand your degree of shade in your shady areas. Just like how certain varieties thrive in full sunlight, there are varieties that thrive in full shade or partial shade. Knowing your degree of shade will allow you to choose the best plants for the area to have a thriving and beautiful perennials in your Ohio shade garden!
Deep Shade or Heavy Shade
Shade means no direct sunlight, only indirect sunlight. Areas in full shade may be blocked by walls or structures on the sides or overhead (think, under a porch). This is the trickiest type of shade to grow in as most flowers need sunlight to live.
Shade or Full Shade
Shade is classified as less than four hours of direct sunlight. There is a much larger selection of plants, including flowering plants, that will survive in shade.
Part Shade or Partial Shade
Partially shaded areas receive between four and six hours of sunlight. Partial shade loving plants are typically more sensitive to the strongest sunlight rays. They typically prefer their sun in the morning or evening and not the high intensity of the afternoon sun.
13 Best Perennials for a Beautiful Shade Garden in Ohio
Many perennials will die back over winter. Don’t pull them out! For most perennials, new leaves will grow once there is enough hours of sunlight to give the plant enough energy to start growing again.
Ohio encompasses a few different USDA plant hardiness zones (growing zones), including 5b, 6a, and 6b. The perennials in this list will thrive no matter which zone you fall in, within Ohio (and most surrounding states). I included the type of shade that the plants prefer, as well as a brief description of the plant’s appearance and how to manage it for the best chance at a beautiful perennials in an Ohio shade garden!
Hostas are probably the most well-known shade perennial for the Ohio garden, because of how low-maintenance they are! They are perennials in gardening zones 3-9, and they will usually come back bigger year after year. Hostas will spread underground through runners or, if left to flower, will drop seeds and grow additional sprouts the next year.
Hostas come in a wide variety of colors and have beautiful green leaves with variegated options, as well! A word of caution to pet owners; hostas are toxic to pets. I personally have never known pets to try to eat hostas, but if yours does, maybe skip this plant.
Coral Bells are a great option for partial shade gardens. They are not very finicky when it comes to watering or moisture level of the soil. They are perennial in zones 4-9, however it is not recommended to cut back the foliage in late fall (like many perennials prefer). The foliage helps protect the crown from frost damage, especially in the colder growing zones.
Coral Bells come in a wide variety of foliage color options. The colorful leaves grow from late spring through the fall. If planted in a pot, the plant will do best if brought inside. Otherwise, mulching around the plant will help protect the roots during the cold season.
Jack Frost (Brunnera)
Jack Frost heart-shaped leaves are some of my favorites! The “frosty” striping on the foliage is eye-catching and adds so much visual interest to any shaded growing space. This plant is an herbaceous perennial, so the foliage dies back in the winter months. Jack Frost prefers moist soil but will tolerate Ohio’s clay soil as well.
Jack Frost loves part shade, as its flowers really need those few hours of sunlight.The flowers are beautiful blue colors and will bloom in late spring or early summer depending on when that last frost hits. It is perennial in zones 3-8.
Lily of the Valley
Lily of the Valley is definitely a shade lover! It will survive in more sun, however the blooms will most likely not be able to survive in the strongest hours of sun (afternoon sun). Speaking of blooms, the adorable bell shaped small white flowers are some of the cutest I have ever seen. However, those blooms are actually toxic to humans. If you have curious little ones around that tend to put everything in their mouth, steer clear of this plant. The foliage is also toxic to pets.
Lily of the Valley spreads like wildfire. If left to its own devices, it will spread far beyond its original planting area. This can be beneficial if looking for a low growing ground cover (about 8 inches tall). It is perennial in zones 3-9.
Many people mistake Geraniums for annuals because they will die come winter time. However, they will come back in the late spring if left in the ground so don’t pull them out! They are perennial in zone 3-9 and grow best in partial shade. Geraniums will spread naturally but should be divided every 3-4 years to keep the plants healthy and in high production of flowers.
Perennial Geraniums come in lots of beautiful colors like blue flowers, pink flowers, purple flowers, and all the shades in between. These Geraniums are also referred to as hardy geraniums. These plants will provide you with beautiful color starting in the early summer through the early fall.
Astilbe is a nice option for bright, beautiful flowers in partial shade areas. If you have sunnier areas, it will also do well but will really prefer shade in the hottest afternoon hours. Astilbe is great for soil that doesn’t drain well (hello Ohio clay soil), and will bloom in early summer. It is perennial in zones 4-8.
Astilbe can be cut back in the fall to over-winter. This will give easier maintenance come springtime when the foliage will come back and have plenty of room for growth. The different varieties will bloom at different times of the year. Grabbing a few different varieties will leave your garden full of these beautiful blooms all summer long.
Bleeding Heart plants are perennial in zones 3-9 and bloom in late spring. This perennial is unique in that it will bloom once and then disappear for the hotter months of the summer. Toward the end of the summer, it may bloom a second time! The roots of the plant stay alive and will grow back every spring.
The interesting name for this plant describes its flowers perfectly. They are heart shaped red flowers with a droplet looking part on the bottom. However, they also come in different colors like white or yellow flowers. Bleeding Heart is known to be a bit finicky as it doesn’t like the heat and prefers the shade because of that. It will grow in more sun, but only if it is kept cool enough. They also prefer well-drained soil.
Creeping Jenny is a great option for ground cover in your shady growing area. The trailing foliage would look beautiful on the edge of a flower bed, or hanging over the edge of a pot. However, it has been known to grow out of control and take over beds. If you want ground cover, this is perfect!
This plant is perennial in zones 4-9 and begins its growth every spring. Because it is invasive, it requires very little maintenance. The green foliage turns a deep red color in the fall. During the summer months, it grows small yellow, cup shaped flowers.
If you have particularly wet, partial shady landscape, Lungwort might be a good choice. This is not an invasive species but will serve as a slow spreading ground cover with eye-catching spotted foliage. It will be one of the first blooms in very early spring, boasting pink and purple flowers that change to more blue tones as the months progress.
These particular flowers tend to attract hummingbirds. However, this plant is toxic to pets, so beware. Lungwort is perennial in zones 3-9. Best practice is to allow the foliage to die off in the winter and then trim the dead leaves back before new growth begins in the late winter.
Primrose is a beautiful flowering plant, hardy in zones 4-8. They actually require a winter chill to thrive and therefore will not do well in zones higher than 8. The rainbow of different color options will begin blooming in the late spring and continue all summer long. Deadheading the blooms will encourage the plant to put on more flowers, unless, of course, you want the dry flower heads to drop seeds.
Primrose definitely prefers shade or partial shade. It does not like to be dry, as it has a tendency to wilt in dry conditions. This plant can be grown as a ground cover, as it will spread.
The name Bugbane actually comes from this plant’s tendency to ward off unwanted pests. While most insects avoid it, it is actually non-toxic to dogs. It will bloom in the late summer through the fall, with interesting white or lavender colored stalks of flowers. It will not aggressively spread like a ground cover, but the clump will grow year after year.
Bugbane is extremely low maintenance, preferring mostly shade. It is perennial in zones 4-8. Your results will be best if you cut back dead foliage in the early spring.
This low-growing foliage has leaves that resemble a ladder, almost fern like in appearance. It will emerge in early spring and bloom in early summer. The foliage will sprawl out, creating a beautiful waterfall effect. This plant does not transplant well, as its roots like to be left alone.
Jacob’s Ladder loves shade, making it a great addition to wooded landscape or yards. The blooms are bell shaped and are typically blue flowers, but also come in shades of pink and white. It is perennial in zones 3-8.
As its name explains, this plant is fairly poisonous (mostly the roots but foliage as well). Take precautions when handling the plant as some people experience skin irritation. This plant might be best as a “set it and forget it” kind of foliage. If you have particular hungry deer around your area, this could be a great deer resistant option.
It does best in partial shade during the summer but needs more sun in winter. It is perennial in zones 3-9. Hellebores will bloom in the late winter and early spring. Its foliage will stay vibrant through the coldest months. It is very slow growing which tends to make it a little more expensive to buy.
I hope you found this list helpful in your search for the best perennials for a beautiful Ohio shade garden! Living in central Ohio means we have long winters, a fairly long growing season, and quick transition seasons like spring and fall. My number one most successful shade plants are my hostas. They are so low maintenance and boast beautiful foliage that comes back year after year, bigger and better than ever!
If you are interested in other gardening information, I share tons of articles on growing vegetable gardens here. If you are really new to the idea of growing and planting anything, start with my Gardening for Beginners article. While this article is focused more around vegetable gardening, there are some great tips for understanding growing zones and frost dates that will help you grow more successfully, no matter what you’re planting.
I also created a resource for some of the easiest crops to grow in the vegetable garden in Ohio. If you are an Ohioan, like me, I highly suggest giving this article a read. I have been gardening for quite a few years now, and while I will probably never consider myself to be a professional, there are definitely a few crops that grow and produce abundantly, seemingly, no matter how much or little effort I put into their care.
Don’t Let the Noise Stop You!
Lastly, there is so much noise out there about how to grow things perfectly or what you can and can’t do when it comes to planting things. I want to encourage you to block out some of that noise and just give it a try! Gardening and growing plants is one of my greatest passions and brings such a huge sense of fulfillment and accomplishment. I would love it if everyone could experience even a little bit of that joy for themselves!
I hope you enjoyed this peek into Life at Metzger Acres!