What can I plant in deep shade?

Updated Oct 12 2015
Ajuga reptans 'Metallica Crispa'
I hear Ajuga make for good deep shade plants. (Photo by: magnolia1000CC BY 2.0)
I have a spot in my apartment building's courtyard where I buried our beloved family dog. I'd love to plant flowers or something — anything — over her final resting spot. The problem is that it's in deep shade. I mean, that spot never sees sun because it's underneath a stairwell (though there are sunny spots all around it).

Which got me thinking… I'm sure there are plants out there that don't necessarily need direct sun to grow.

Homies, got any recommendations for plants that grow well in deep shade? -Megan

  1. Ferns! Hehe. Many ferns can grown on forest floors with dense canopies because they can actually photosynthesize with a broader spectrum of light than many plants can. If you find the right species, it may do very well in that area.

    Also, asparagus (which looks a bit fern-like, but isn't a fern) can grow in very low/ indirect light, as well.

    • LIKE IN WHERE THE RED FERN GROWS *dissolves into weeping*

      I'm so sorry about your pup, OP. Planting something over the spot is a really nice idea 🙂 We've got a rosebush over our late family dog, but I think that probably requires significantly more sun. It is really nice to see the blooms every year and think of her, though.

        • *huh, everyone seems to know this book
          *google*
          *oh my goodness that's like White Fang all over again
          *totally on reading list

        • Oh my god every time. EVERY SINGLE TIME. That's the first book that ever made me really cry. And I never cried any less on rereads either.

          Losing a pet really sucks, and I'm giving you a virtual hug if you want it, Megan.

  2. It depends if you want annuals or something that last year after year.

    Annuals-Begonias, Impatients do best in these type of situations.

    Perennials- Hosta, Snow On The Mountain, English Primrose (will only flower in spring), Lily of the Valley, Periwinkle

    Azaleas will also survive in almost complete shade, but are bush like.

  3. Love the idea to plant something for our Ayala!
    Just a reference for you……Our Hancock Park home had azaleas planted along the front of our house, hydrangeas bordered with begonias along the side of our house, day lilies in the backyard, and impatiens in the planters on our front porch.
    I like the fern idea, since it would go with the overall "jungle" theme:)
    Love,
    Mom

  4. Beware that that spot may also not receive much water.

    Also I would go to a local garden center, the kind that's a small business, not the part of Home Depot that says "garden center", and ask a helpful staff person. They will know more about what is happy in your climate than any of us will.

    • Fortunately water isn't a problem in that spot. The building hires gardeners that basically drown that shit weekly.

      • I think Southern California might be too warm for many types of ferns, but your local garden center would be able to advise you about that. I second the suggestion to consult them about what would grow best in your climate.

        If you're up for a field trip from LA, I also suggest a visit to the Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden in Claremont, CA. They sell plants at various times of year, as as they are a research garden they are true experts in the local plants of Southern CA. If you visit, be sure to check out their giant oak tree, which is really beautiful and very old.

        http://www.rsabg.org/grow-native-nursery
        http://www.rsabg.org/visit-home

  5. I've heard good things about hostas in shade but haven't tried them myself. I have tried a fern and it's doing very well with no maintenance.

    • Too much shade is not good for hostas. My parents live in a forest, and they have to plant the hostas in the "sunny" spot in the yard, because anything else is too deep shade.

  6. Ferns, Hostas , astilbe, bleeding hearts, and Heuchera are all great perennials for shade. All of them come in a variety of leaf colors and variations, so they look pretty even when they aren't flowering. I live in a very shady valley and NONE of my yard gets direct sun so these are staples in my yard.

    If you are looking for a shrub, rhododendron is a power house. Plus it flowers and does well in low quality, rocky, or sandy soil.

    For Annuals I would go with impatiens, coleus, or begonias.

    Daffodils and tulips also work in shade, but some times mine don't flower, just put up the leaves, so that might be because of the lack of sun?

  7. I would say to google some images of hosta gardens. There's a ton of different varieties and it can look really nice, and elegant greenery goodness. Pretty low maintenance and they have a "tidy" look to them.

    I am also a sucker for Soloman's seal and bleeding hearts.

    If you plant some hostas as a base, then you can do some flowering annuals like begonias and impatiens each year with guaranteed hosta greenery for the backdrop.

  8. My hostas and bleeding hearts thrive in New England shade. Both come in several varieties, colors and sizes.

    I would also strongly encourage you to walk in to any greenhouse or home improvement store that sells plants and ask them. They are very accustomed to questions like this and are always pleased to help both beginners and veterans.

  9. Ferns and hostas are good ideas. Primroses flower well in shade and you can get some very pretty colours, including doubles for a little texture. How about Helleborus foetidus? The variety "Wester Flisk" will give year round interest and flowers well in shade.

  10. One of the things I learned when replanting some flower beds in a Duplex I rented was that the darker the leaves of a plant the more shade it needs. More chlorophyll means making more food from less light. Thus cacti tend to be light colored and succulents are often darker.

    • Ohhhh, super interesting tidbit! There is ONE succulent in a little pot that I put in that spot that's managed to keep surviving. Not thriving, by any means, but not dying like everything else. Cool info!

  11. Our dogbaby of six years, Nilla, died suddenly of an diagnosed genetic condition while we were on a road trip with her (the worst one EVAR). We were devastated and had a 1,000 mile move planned later that year so we didn't want to bury her ashes at our house. We decided to bury the ashes on family property with the idea that no matter where we moved, we would always visit my family's home in the Smokies (a place Nilla enjoyed very much).

    In addition to having a physical place to remember her, we wanted to give her a little legacy. So, I used her ashes as part of a soil mixture to plant a blueberry bush, newly-dubbed Nilla-berry bush. This way we "commune" with her whenever we eat the berries! Not unlike the seminal classic, "How High" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/How_high

    • Just realized the part of my comment that actually contributed to the conversation didn't post/save

      I wanted to suggest that your shady corner sounds ideal for a fern/moss rock garden. Like many others suggested, ferns and mosses thrive in low-light, high humidity environs and their delicacy juxtaposes beautifully with the harsher lines of rocks. Larger rocks and statuary can also be used to fill negative/vertical space until your plants grow and fill out themselves.

      Plus, even without plants (and caring for them) rocks can look classy as shit: http://www.pinterest.com/search/pins/?q=moss%20fern%20rock%20garden

      • I love the idea of a moss rock garden. That just sounds lovely, easy to take care of, and would do well with varying levels of moisture. Great idea!

        I have nothing real to add. My thumb is not very green, but I love the idea of gardening. 🙂

  12. Loving the comments here!! We have massive spruce trees surrounding our yard, which is great for privacy but SUCKS for growing anything but weeds and moss, so I'm definitely taking notes!

  13. Hello I sell plants for a living.

    Most of the things mentioned would work great. I'm particularly fond of heucheras, because they come in some fantastic colors (there's a few that are so dark red/purple they're almost black). Ajuga would definitely work, plus they can tolerate surprisingly low water. I think someone mentioned hellebores already, another one of my favorites for deep, deep shade. They have really neat flowers. Liriope and aspidistra (common name cast iron plant) are good too. Liriopes have lovely purple flower spikes and some have varigated foliage. Aspidistra doesn't really have flowers, but it's at least green and full.

    If you wanted something more shrub like, sarcoccoca and loropetalum both like shade.

  14. We've got hostas and astilbe in a really shady corner in our garden. We chose hostas in pale green, almost with a silver tone, and two different white astilbes to givet some hight to the planting.

  15. some of my favorites in our very shady wooded yard are purple vinca, bleeding hearts, dutchman's breeches, sweet azaleas and sweet woodruff.

  16. When I was trying to make a duplex I lived in nicer, I learned that the darker the leaves the more shade it can take. I had an entire flower bed that never erally saw sun and got some nice dark plants to grow there.

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