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Bulbs That Grow in the Shade

By M.H. Dyer ; Updated September 21, 2017

For most gardeners, the first hint of color from a brightly-colored crocus or daffodil, or the sight of a dainty white snowdrop poking its head above the snow means that spring is just around the corner and it's time to break out the hoe and shovel. Although all spring bulbs will do better with at least a few hours of sunlight every day, it's possible to produce a bright display of color even in shady areas. Spring-blooming bulbs work especially well under deciduous trees. The bulbs will receive dappled sunlight through the branches, and will be done blooming by the time the leaves appear to block out the sunlight.


Daffodils will display their bright, yellow colors even in shady conditions, but without a minimal amount of dappled sunlight to provide energy to the bulbs, their beauty may be limited to one year. If your daffodils will be in total shade, dig the bulbs at the end of their blooming season, and plant fresh daffodil bulbs in the fall. Although shade-grown daffodils may be short-lived, the brilliant display of color may be worth the extra time and expense. Jonquils and narcissus, daffodil cousins, will also add bright color in shady areas.


Snowdrops are one of the best bulbs for shady areas, and can often be found growing beneath the canopy of tall trees in woodland areas. Snowdrops are a diminutive plant, growing no more than 6 inches tall, with tiny white flowers that bend over toward the ground. Although snowdrops have a delicate appearance, they are are among the earliest of all the spring-blooming bulbs, often making their first appearance in January. Snowdrop bulbs multiply rapidly and in a few short years, will become a blanket of white blooms. If they overgrow their boundaries, dig them up and divide them as soon as they finish blooming.


Plant crocus bulbs in autumn, and you'll have a cheerful display of golden yellow, white, lavender and bright purple crocus in early spring. Although crocus will bloom bigger and brighter with at least a few hours of sunlight each day, they will do well in partial shade, and can often survive for as long as 20 years. For the most dramatic effect, plant crocus bulbs in mass groupings of 25 to 30 bulbs planted about 3 inches apart. If you plant the crocus in total shade, you may need to dig them in the spring and plant new bulbs in the autumn.


About the Author


M.H. Dyer began her writing career as a staff writer at a community newspaper and is now a full-time commercial writer. She writes about a variety of topics, with a focus on sustainable, pesticide- and herbicide-free gardening. She is an Oregon State University Master Gardener and Master Naturalist and holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative nonfiction writing.