Because so many plants require full to partial sun for proper growth, gardeners planning a flower bed located in the shade may feel at a loss when it comes to selecting plants. Regardless of where you live within the United States, you have many choices in low-growing shade-loving shrubs. Many of these same species will also tolerate growing in partial sun conditions and have the extra benefit of producing flowers.
Southern gardeners living within USDA planting zones 8 through 11 can use the perennial coontie (Zamia floridana). The coontie, sometimes called a palm, is truly a cycad and the only one native to Florida. It tolerates growing in both shade and sun and is cold hardy to the mid 20s degrees F before the foliage begins to turn brown. Plants spread slowly reaching a height of 1 to 5 feet with a spreading habit of 3 to 5 feet, making it a good ground cover. Plants have a high salt and drought tolerance, making it a suitable choice for coastal gardens. Seeds are poisonous and the atala butterfly uses the coontie as larval food, making it a good addition to butterfly gardens.
Cast Iron Plant
Gardeners living within USDA planting zones 8 through 11 and in need of a deep shade lover should try the perennial cast iron plant (Aspidistra elatior) in their shade gardens. Plants tolerate living in deep to partial shade and produce deep green foliage with brown flowers blooming periodically throughout the year. Cast iron plant is also suitable for growing indoors. Plants grow slowly, reaching a height and spread of 1 to 3 feet. Plants are not salt-tolerant and have medium water requirements, benefiting from regular watering. The plants works well in giving the shade garden a lush, tropical effect.
Beehive Box-leaved Holly
Beehive box-leaved holly (Ilex crenata), sometimes called Japanese holly, does well in USDA planting zones 5 through 8. It tolerates living in both sun and shade, slowing forming dense, compact mounds of evergreen foliage. Depending on the cultivar, plants grow 3 to 5 feet in height and spread up to 5 feet, making them suitable for shady, small hedges. May through June brings clusters of white flowers followed by smallish black fruits in summer. Beehive box-leaved holly has a medium drought tolerance, but will benefit for regular weekly watering.
Native to the Pacific Northwest, cascades mahonia (Mahonia nervosa) is an evergreen perennial that will tolerate growing in both partial and full shade in USDA planting zones 5 through 7. This slow grower has fern-like foliage that grows up to 18 inches in height with the same spreading habit. Cascades mahonia produces yellow flowers in spring and bluish black fruits follow in summer. Plants are suitable for group plantings as ground covers and require regular weekly watering for best growth.