It's no secret that plants need plenty of sun for optimal health and vigor, and many of our favorite summer bloomers need between 6-8 hours of sunlight per day! What does a gardener do, though, with those shady corners and dark spaces blocked off from the sun by taller plants, trees, and buildings? Enter: shade-loving plants!
We have lots of room here in Iowa for plants that thrive in shady spots all season long. To help you find the perfect ones for your garden this year, here is a list of our all-time favorite shade-loving plants!
What is a Shade-Tolerant Plant?
When we talk about a plant being shade tolerant, we don't mean you can leave them with no light and expect them to grow. Being shade tolerant, or even shade-loving, simply means that a plant can thrive with lower levels of dappled light or in areas without full sun exposure. These plants have adapted to these conditions over time, usually due to being native to deep forests, and typically have slower growth habits as a result.
Best Plants For Shade in Iowa
If you're looking to design a shade garden in Iowa this year, try some of these low-light faves!
Always a superstar in a perennial shade garden, beside a pond, or growing underneath towering trees, hostas have beautiful, exotic foliage that makes them stand out in any garden design. The Hadspen Blue and Halcyon varieties add distinct blue coloring and texture and love living the shady life with their darker foliage. In general, lighter varieties of hosta, or variegated types, will require at least some sunlight to keep their coloring.
A stunning perennial flower, astilbe is a must-have shade-loving plant for any summer garden. Tall spiky blooms adorn frilly, fern-like foliage; we recommend planting them alongside hostas for a dynamic shade duo.
An all-around gardener's delight, the columbine is a gorgeous perennial that will add tons of visual interest to your shade garden all season. Columbines bloom different colors of bell-shaped flowers in the spring that attract hummingbirds, and their dark green foliage turns red in the fall.
A top performer in any shade garden, the bergenia is a clump-forming evergreen perennial that blooms clusters of small pink flowers. Nicknamed "Pig Squeak" due to the odd sound the leaves make when rubbed together, this is a shade-loving plant worthy of any shade or cottage garden.
This delicate-looking perennial is a woodland plant that needs a full shade location to be happy. Nicknamed "Jack Frost" because of its silvery leaves, this beauty displays tiny blue flowers that complement any garden style!
A popular choice for woodland shade garden designs, heucheras or "Coral Bells" make excellent plants for color variety and year-round interest. The foliage is often the most striking part of the plant, with a ruffled appearance in reds, greens, and purples. Their small flowers are also great for cut flower arrangements and are well-loved by pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies.
The Ligularia is a must if you're looking for a great foliage addition to your shade garden! With large, toothed leaves and towering blooms, these plants add depth and drama to every garden. They are also tolerant of wet soil and will thrive in soggy areas where many plants struggle.
An herbaceous perennial that will grow in the dry shade under trees, Lamium or Deadnettle boasts a low growth habit with a dense mat of silver foliage and flowers in white, purple, or pink.
Commonly known as "Jacob's Ladder," this tall standing perennial is the perfect addition to any cottage garden design. Polemoniums are adored for their loose sprays of lavender-colored flowers that bloom in small cup shapes and love moist soil and partial shade.
Although this woodland perennial was originally named after a diseased lung (Lungwort), we assure you that this shade-loving plant really is a beautiful addition to your garden! Pulmonaria's flowers begin to bloom in late winter to early spring and start out as a pink or violet, changing to a deep blue as they age.
The tricyrtis, or "Toad Lily," is the shade-loving plant you want to buy if you're after a pop of drama in your garden. Exotic and colorful, it dazzles in late summer to early fall with orchid-like flowers of white and purple. These beauties will bloom for a few weeks before dying back at the onset of frost.
There are so many great varieties of shade-loving plants for your Bettendorf landscape, and we hope we've given you a head-start for planning your shade garden this year. Come by the garden center to stock up on these Iowa favorites and to see what else we have in store!