17 Colorful Outdoor Plants That Don't Need Direct Sunlight

Heuchera 'Midnight Bayou' Coralbells
Photo: Samantha Hedum

Not all plants need direct sunlight. In fact, plenty of annuals, perennials, and tropicals can thrive in the shade. Whether you want to brighten up those dim corners in your yard or liven up a spot in the shadow of a large tree, these shade-loving flowering plants happily grow where their full-sun counterparts won't.

01 of 17

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabilis)
Peter Krumhardt

Perk up the dark corners of your landscape with a generous helping of bleeding heart. These hardy shade perennials develop graceful, arching branches of heart-shaped flowers that have a tiny teardrop at the base of each bloom. Besides its lovely flowers, bleeding heart also produces pretty, ferny, blue-green foliage. This no-fuss plant goes dormant in middle to late summer and reappears the following spring.

Name: Lamprocapnos spectabilis

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in medium moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

02 of 17

Fuchsia

'Diva Coral and White' fuchsia
Justin Hancock

Cool, shady locations are the ideal environment for all members of the fuchsia family. Most fuchsia species form small shrubs in mild climates, but some are treated as annuals and grown in hanging baskets that showcase eye-catching, pendulous flowers. The plant's long-lasting blooms in red, pink, white, violet, and purple are a favorite of hummingbirds and butterflies. Hang fuchsia from low tree branches or plant it in tall urns so you can best admire the plant's color and beauty.

Name: Fuchsia

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in evenly moist, moisture-retentive soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 10-11

03 of 17

Astilbe

pink superba chinese astilbe
Stephen Cridland

No shade garden is complete without astilbe. These rugged, long-blooming perennials thrive in moist shade, providing you with a summer's worth of feathery flower heads. And even when not in bloom, the plants' mounded, fernlike foliage is pretty, too. Astilbe flowers come in white, red, pink, orange, and violet, and generally start to appear in late spring and early summer.

Name: Astilbe

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

04 of 17

Toad Lily

toad lily
Greg Ryan

With a name like toad lily, you might not expect much in terms of beauty, but this hardy perennial turns into a prince in the late summer, producing jewellike white flowers generously splashed with purple spots. Capable of blooming in full shade, toad lily will slowly naturalize a small area, carpeting it with a late-season flourish of color.

Name: Tricyrtis hirta

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in medium to wet, well-drained soil

Zones: 4-8

05 of 17

New Guinea Impatiens

red new guinea impatiens close up in a green container
Peter Krumhardt

Large, colorful flowers make New Guinea impatiens a must-have annual plant for your shade garden. New Guinea impatiens seem to thrive better in containers than they do when planted directly in the garden. But, grown either way, they add tons of spectacular color to the dark corners of your landscape. Bloom colors include pink, red, white, orange, lavender, and bicolor. The leaves can be dark green, green with red veins, or cream and green. It's possible to grow New Guinea impatiens from seed, but it's a lot easier and faster to buy young plants in the spring at your local garden center.

Name: Impatiens hawkeri

Growing Conditions: Part shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 4 feet tall

Zones: 10 to 12

06 of 17

Wax Begonia

red wax-leaf wax begonia blooms
Ryann Ford

A no-fail shade plant, wax begonia grows easily in your garden and needs very little maintenance. This mounded, compact plant has thick, fleshy stems with bronze or green leaves and is almost always in bloom, sporting clusters of white, pink, red, or bicolor flowers right up until frost. The plants thrive in both containers and borders. Extra showy, double-flowered varieties are also available.

Name: Begonia (Semperflorens Cultorum Group)

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 10-11

07 of 17

Impatiens

Impatiens 'Tempo Series'
Chipper R. Hatter

A go-to flower for shady locations, impatiens will transform any dark corner into a flower festival. Many gardeners use impatiens as a quick-growing summer groundcover for hard-to-plant locations under tall trees. Both single- and double-flowering varieties are available and bloom in white, pink, peach, yellow, orange, lavender, and bicolors. Impatiens grow well in containers, too. If your garden has been affected by outbreaks of downy mildew disease, switch to New Guinea impatiens or wax begonias, which are immune to the problem.

Name: Impatiens

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 10-11

Buy It: White Impatiens Outdoor Annual Plant

08 of 17

Viola

Sorbet Coconut Duet Viola
Justin Hancock

A shady border packed with the happy faces of viola is always a cheerful sight. These joyous spring bloomers (close cousins to pansies) almost seem to smile at you whenever you approach. Violas produce a seemingly endless supply of irresistibly perky flowers. Colors vary, but most varieties show off bicolor flowers in shades of white, blue, purple, yellow, orange, red, or lilac. Violas and pansies look a lot alike and are often sold under those names interchangeably. The main difference is that violas are more perennial, often lasting more than just a season or two.

Name: Viola

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 9 inches tall

Zones: 5-8

Buy It: Sorbet Mix Viola

09 of 17

Torenia

Torenia 'Summer Wave Blue' and 'Summer Wave Large Violet'
Peter Krumhardt

If you look closely down the throat of a torenia bloom, you'll see stamens forming a wishbone shape, which is how the plant got its common name: wishbone flower. This hardworking little annual puts out a big show of jewellike, trumpet-shaped flowers throughout the summer. In warm climate regions, be sure torenia is planted where it won't be exposed to the hot afternoon sun or it will sulk. Remove the faded flowers as needed to promote additional bloom.

Name: Torenia fournieri

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in consistently moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 2-11

10 of 17

Ajuga

ajuga reptans plant
Blaine Moats

If you're looking to add color to your shade garden with both flowers and foliage, ajuga is a tough perennial groundcover that features bright green, bronze, or tricolor leaves, and every spring it sends up spikes of blue, purple, or white flowers. When in full flower, this plant can make a striking display in containers. And because of its spreading nature, keeping ajuga in pots or other small spaces where it can't invade lawns is best.

Name: Ajuga reptans

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 9 inches tall

Zones: 3-10

11 of 17

Lungwort

Purple Lungwort
David McDonald

In the early spring, you can depend on the attractively spotted or splotched leaves of lungwort to give your garden an early jolt of color. After the leaves are established, the plants send up graceful bell-shaped stalks with pink flowers that mature into shades of baby blue, which means that you might find both blue and pink flowers on the same stalk. This deer-resistant perennial will slowly spread through your garden without becoming invasive.

Name: Pulmonaria saccharata

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

12 of 17

Heartleaf Brunnera

Heartleaf Brunnera ‘King’s Ransom’
Jacob Fox

With colorful flowers and foliage, you can't go wrong with heartleaf brunnera, also known as Siberian bugloss and false forget-me-not (its blooms resemble those of true forget-me-not). In spring, this shade garden perennial develops clouds of small, bright blue flowers atop a mound of heart-shaped leaves. It's the perfect partner for spring bulbs, such as daffodils and tulips. And even when its flowers fade, you can enjoy this plant's pretty foliage all summer long; some varieties have silvery or variegated leaves that brighten up shady corners.

Name: Brunnera macrophylla

Growing Conditions: Part shade in consistently moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 1 foot tall

Zones: 3-8

13 of 17

Hosta

Hosta 'Heavenly Tiara'
Kritsada Panichgul

Due to their richly patterned foliage, hostas are one of the best plants for shady gardens. Many hosta varieties develop masses of fragrant, pendulous, white, or lavender flowers from midsummer to fall. Not only do hosta flowers add a much-needed dose of color to the summer border, but they are also prized by hummingbirds who feast on the nectar-rich blooms. Read the plant tag before you buy to find varieties that bloom profusely.

Name: Hosta

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 4-9

14 of 17

Coralbells

Heuchera 'Midnight Bayou' Coralbells
Samantha Hedum

Prized for their colorful foliage, coralbells, were once primarily grown for their graceful spikes of pink, white, or red bell-like flowers that bloom from late spring to early summer. Certainly, you can't ignore the plant's amazing foliage in shades of red, bronze, green, plum, or chartreuse, but the flowers are what made this easy-care perennial popular in the first place.

Name: Heuchera sanguinea

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in evenly moist, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 3-8

Buy It: Mixed Colored Coral Bells

15 of 17

Leopard's Bane

leopard's bane flower
Marty Baldwin

One of the earliest flowering perennials in the aster family, leopard's bane, shoots up bright yellow daisy-like flowers just as spring is getting underway. This eager perennial makes a wonderful companion for spring-flowering bulbs, such as scilla, daffodil, and tulip. To encourage fall flowering, be sure to deadhead its spent blooms.

Name: Doronicum orientale

Growing Conditions: Full sun to part shade in evenly moist, fertile soil

Size: Up to 2 feet tall

Zones: 4-8

16 of 17

Hellebore

Hellebores
Richard Hirneisen

Just when you thought winter was never going to end, the beautiful blooms of hellebore burst into bloom. Commonly called Lenten rose, hellebores are one of the first perennials to bloom in the spring, often before the snow melts. Most varieties of this nearly indestructible shade garden plant develop downward-facing white, pink, green, or purple blooms that are often delicately etched in a contrasting color. Although most varieties have single flowers, a few also offer showy double blooms.

Name: Helleborus

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in humusy, well-drained soil

Size: Up to 18 inches tall

Zones: 4-9

17 of 17

Coleus

Purple and green Coleus
Jason Donnelly

No story on colorful shade plants is complete without including coleus. This popular foliage plant is available in a variety of leaf combinations that add vivid color to your shade garden right up until frost. Coleus will occasionally flower, producing a narrow blue spike in late summer, but the plants do better if you clip the spike away as soon as it appears.

Name: Plectranthus scutellarioides

Growing Conditions: Part shade to full shade in moist soil

Size: Up to 3 feet tall

Zones: 10-11

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