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Small Shade Plants

By Gen Schmidt ; Updated September 21, 2017

Many shade gardeners grow plants under trees and large shrubs, so a diminutive size of shade-loving plant is necessary.

When choosing shade-loving plants, keep in mind that plants with white or brightly colored flowers or variegated foliage show up best in shady sites. Plants with shiny leaf surfaces also show up well in shade because they reflect light.

Most plants, even shade-loving varieties, do not like deep, dark shade. If you have very dark shade, consider painting buildings or fences white or another light color to help reflect light to plants or consider pruning nearby trees to allow more light in to your shade-loving plants.

Little Heath Lily of the Valley Shrub

Little Heath lily of the valley shrub (Pieris "Little Heath") is a dwarf variety that reaches only 3 feet tall and wide. It thrives in partial or bright shade, and because it has golden variegated foliage, it lights up a shady corner of the garden.

Little Heath lily of the valley shrub is evergreen and blooms in February or March with white, bell-shaped blossoms that attract bees. The new growth on this dwarf, shade-loving shrub is a cheerful shade of bronze-red. It grows well in USDA Zones 5 to 9.

Amber Gem Lenten Rose

Amber Gem Lenten rose (Helleborus "Amber Gem") is a double-flowered Lenten rose that reaches 2 to 3 feet tall and thrives in shade. The rich peach tones of the flowers simply glow in winter when they bloom, and Lenten roses enhance woodland settings with other shade-loving perennials.

Amber Gem Lenten rose grows in USDA Zones 5 to 9 and makes an excellent winter cut flower to bring indoors.

Dwarf Goat’s Beard

Dwarf goat’s beard (Aruncus aethusifolius) looks like a common garden astilbe, only with finer, darker foliage with a fern-like texture. It has bright white blooms in summer and thrives in shady sites with regular water.

Dwarf goat’s beard reaches 2 feet tall and wide and looks good with shade-loving shrubs such as Little Heath lily of the valley shrub. It grows in USDA Zones 3 to 9.

Tassel Fern

Tassel fern (Polystichum polyblepharum) is a gorgeous small fern that reaches 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. Many shade gardeners are bored with ferns, but the glossy, shiny foliage on this tassel fern reflects light and makes it an exciting choice for shade gardeners.

Tassel fern lives in USDA Zones 6 to 8 and needs full to partial shade and regular watering. It looks beautiful among woodland plants and growing under trees and shrubs.

Dora Amateis Rhododendron

Dora Amateis rhododendron (Rhododendron "Dora Amateis") is a tough rhododendron that will thrive in full sun to full shade. It will even tolerate difficult soil conditions that other plants will not, as long as it has decent drainage.

It blooms white in April, and the blossoms completely cover the foliage. It thrives in USDA Zones 6 to 9 and grows to a petite 2 to 3 feet tall and wide. The white flowers glow brightly in a shady site.


About the Author


Gen Schmidt has been a landscaper in Northern California since 1998, and a professional garden writer since 2008. Her education includes a certificate of completion in environmental horticulture from City College of San Francisco. She is the owner of North Coast Gardening, a garden website for the Pacific Northwest.