Finding perennials to bloom in partial shade is easy, according to the University of Minnesota Extension's former associate professor and horticultural specialist Deborah L. Brown, M.S. Finding those that bloom in heavy shade is more of a challenge. Most shade perennials are woodland plants that bloom early in the spring, but some continue flowering all season while others blossom in the summer. Advance planning can bring three-season perennial color to your shade.
Virginia bluebell (Mertensia virginica) is a 1- to 2-foot perennial native to the eastern United States moist woods and clearings. A shade-loving plant that blooms between March and June, it has attractive, grayish-green, oval leaves on delicately arching stems. Pink buds on the stems' branches produce airy clusters of small, bell-shaped pale blue flowers. Masses of Virginia bluebells make breathtaking spring displays, according to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC). Plant it in part to full shade. It prefers rich, moist, pH neutral 6.8 to 7.0 soil.
Wild Blue Phlox
Wild blue phlox (Phlox divaricata) is a March-to-May blooming perennial with decumbent--horizontal, but curving upward at their ends---stems that root where their nodes touch the ground. Rooted stems grow upright, slightly sticky branches up to 18 inches high. Clusters of fragrant, pale blue flowers top the branches. This evergreen shade lover, says the LBJWC, is common in Midwestern fields and woods. Its nectar draws butterflies. Rodents feed on its roots. Plant wild blue phlox in partial to full shade. Give it acidic, moist rich soil. It tolerates sand, loam or clay.
Woodland pinkroot (Spigelia marilandica) is a clumping perennial of the Southern and Midwestern woods. Its 1 to 2 foot, downward curving stems have lance-shaped green leaves. Between March and May, the top 2 inches of the narrow stems bear spikes of vivid red, tubular blooms that open in ascending order. The yellow-throated, 1-1/2 inch flowers attract hummingbirds. Removing spent flowers extends the blooming season. This plant, says the LBJWC, is a reliable perennial garden performer. For best results, plant it in a moist, partially shady spot. It prefers acidic, rich sandy soil. Separate it from aggressively spreading plants.
A 2 to 3 foot high and wide shrub, turkscap (Malvaviscus arboreus var. drummondii) is a mallow family perennial. Native to Southern stream banks and limestone-rich slopes, it blooms from May to October. Heaviest flowering occurs from late summer on, according to the LBJWC. Turkscap has vivid red, loosely tubular 2- to 3-inch flowers with protruding stamens. Resembling partially open hibiscus blooms, they contrast well with the shrub's green leaves. Hummingbirds and butterflies feed on their nectar. Drought-tolerant, this plant likes partial to full shade. It performs best in moist, well-drained pH-neutral soil.