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Shade Loving Plants for the Midwest

By Fern Fischer ; Updated September 21, 2017

Planting a garden in the shade may seem like a challenge, but it only requires a little planning. Shade gardens have become popular as peaceful, restful areas in landscape design. Perennials make excellent choices for Midwest shade gardens, because they will multiply and increase in beauty, and they require little care. Select plants for texture and color, and use fragrance to contribute to the mood of your shade garden. Choose varieties with different flowering periods to extend the visual interest.

Lily of the Valley

Lily of the valley (Convallaria majalis) is a spreading perennial that will carpet a shady area. The shiny leaves grow from the base whorl to about 10 inches tall, and the flower raceme rises from the center. The raceme, or long stem, carries the small bell-shaped flowers along its length. Lily of the valley flowers are very sweet smelling. They will perfume the air where they grow. Use them as cut flowers and bring the aroma indoors. The plants prefer full shade or part shade, and they like moist soil. Lily of the valley may become invasive if left uncontrolled, but this quality also makes it a good ground cover. Lily of the valley is often planted in woodland gardens as naturalizing flowers.

Bleeding Heart

Bleeding heart (Dicentra spectabilis) is an herbaceous perennial native to Asia. It is well suited to the climate of the Midwest, and thrives in shady areas. Several varieties of bleeding heart have been developed, with differences in flower color. The flowers may be white or shades of pink. Bleeding heart is named for the shape of the flowers. The petals curve downward to form a heart shape, with an extended inner petal that signifies a drop of blood.

Plant bleeding heart in shade or dappled shade, and provide consistent moisture. The flowers appear in spring and last for several weeks. The foliage dies back in the summer as the plant becomes dormant.

Sweet Woodruff

Sweet woodruff (Galium odoratum) grows 6 to 10 inches tall and makes an excellent ground cover. It prefers dense shade with moist but well-drained soil. Sweet woodruff is a perennial that blooms in the spring. The flowers are small clusters of white blossoms that cover the mound of fine leaf foliage. The foliage has the sweet fragrance of fresh cut hay. Sweet woodruff is an ideal plant to intersperse with spring bulbs, because it will hide the dying bulb foliage. Space sweet woodruff plants 10 to 14 inches apart for use as a ground cover or bedding plant.


About the Author


Fern Fischer's print and online work has appeared in publications such as Midwest Gardening, Dolls, Workbasket, Quilts for Today and Cooking Fresh. With a broader focus on organic gardening, health, rural lifestyle, home and family articles, she specializes in topics involving antique and modern quilting, sewing and needlework techniques.