Nearly every garden has shady areas and it's important to understand the different types of shade when choosing plants. Partial shade means there are some periods of full morning or late day sun, while filtered shade means some light penetrates through the tree canopy. Full shade refers to areas that never get direct sunlight, such as the north side of a house or deep beneath a stand of evergreen trees. The plants in this list will grow well in full shade, provided adequate water and nutrients are available.
Hostas have become a gardening favorite due to their hardiness, lush foliage and adaptability to a wide range of light and soil conditions. Belonging to the lily family, there are 27 species within the hosta genus. Cold hardy to USDA Plant Hardiness Zone 3 or 4, low-growing varieties such as hosta blue moon and hosta halcyon are particularly well suited for shade gardens. These perennials grow between 12 and 36 inches tall depending on the type and can be used for borders, ground covers or as ornamentals. Blooming usually occurs through the summer months with delicate trumpet-shaped flowers in hues of white, lavender and purple appearing at the ends of tall stems.
The deep green, glossy foliage of heartleaf bergenia (Bergenia cordifolia) makes it an excellent choice for adding rich color to deeply-shaded areas. The thick heart-shaped leaves of this perennial grow 10 to 12 inches in length to form a groundcover for beds and borders. Suitable for Zones 3 through 8, bergenia blooms in spring with panicles of dark pink flowers emerging from tall stalks. In late season, the foliage turns a distinctive purplish-bronze, which adds an eye-catching splash of color to the fall landscape.
Japanese laurel (Aucuba japonica) is an evergreen shrub that brightens shady areas with its deep green foliage. The leaves of the spotted laurel variety are dappled with bright yellow spots and edges to add even greater color range to the landscape. With a maximum height of about 6 feet, Japanese laurel is also easily trained as a hedging plant, which makes it particularly useful in gardens with diverse light conditions. This shrub is suitable for Zones 6 through 10 and readily adapts to various types of soil.
Adapted to growing in densely forested areas, bamboo adds an exotic touch to gardens, either as an ornamental or when planted as a privacy screen. Although very woody when mature, bamboo belongs to the poaceae grass family and there are at least three types native to North America. Larger varieties grow vigorously and can quickly fill in dark, uninviting garden spaces with lush evergreen foliage. Broadleaf bamboo (Indocallamus latifolius) is a very cold hardy variety that does well in shade and reaches a manageable 8 feet in height when mature.