I’ve been lucky enough to observe plants growing in a variety of environments. As a gardener, seeing the difference between the growth rate of a garden in bright sun as opposed to full shade was hugely helpful. It made me realize the importance of sunlight exposure and how the sun could also cause problems like dried-out topsoil, premature bolting, and sunscald.
Years ago, I used to garden in a heavily shaded area. I had limited success, despite doing nearly everything right, simply because there wasn’t enough sunlight for certain plants to thrive. I was always disappointed because my tomatoes never grew tall or big enough, and I took my healthy greens for granted.
In my current garden, everything is fully exposed to the sun. It’s been incredible to watch how peppers, eggplants, and tomatoes grow in full sun as opposed to in dappled shade. But, I’ve also had trouble growing greens before the hot sun made them bolt.
Having gardens on opposite ends of the sunlight scale has made it clear that a shaded space isn’t a reason to avoid gardening. There are plenty of vegetables and plants that don't need sun. Instead of struggling to make things grow where they don't want to, embrace the plants that enjoy a bit of shade.
While my garden enjoys a lot of sun, indoors is a different story. It’s hard to find a spot that offers enough light for many houseplants, especially during the dark winters. I’ve learned to carefully select plants that don't need sun to be happy, and now my indoor plants are thriving.
Below, you’ll find a list of outdoor and indoor plants suitable for areas with limited sun exposure.
Outdoor Plants that Don't Need Sun
Wondering what you can plant in that well-shaded area in your garden? Here are a few ideas for your vegetable patch or shaded landscape.
Vegetables for Shade
If you’re looking for vegetable options to grow in the shade, the key is to manage your expectations. It’s possible to grow a variety of produce types in the shade, but things will inevitably grow a lot slower than in full sun.
Chard is a multi-faceted plant. It loves the sun but doesn’t mind living in a shaded spot. Choose colorful ribbed varieties for a fun rainbow effect in your veggie patch.
In the summer, lettuce does way better in the shade than it does in full sun. While you can purchase shade cloth to protect lettuces and other greens from being exposed to too much sun, a better strategy is to keep them in an appropriately shaded area.
Arugula seems to bolt as soon as it sprouts if you plant it in direct sun. Instead, opt for a partially shaded garden plot when planting this spicy-tasting salad green. I’ve had luck growing arugula in extremely shaded areas.
Like chard, kale grows incredibly quickly in full sun, but it doesn’t mind a bit of shade, either. I love kale because it doesn’t bolt if exposed to full sun but it’s still possible to grow it in a shaded garden.
Plants for Shade
Most of my garden is in full sun, but I also have a towering maple tree on my property that shades a rocky section of my front yard where I mainly (try to) grow ornamental plants. If you’ve got a super shady area where you’d like to grow perennials, shrubs, and other ornamental plants, here are a few options:
5. Lady Fern
Ferns, in general, are an exceptional choice for shaded gardens. In their native habitats, they typically thrive in humid areas under forest canopies. I love the tropical look of a fern plant.
Lady ferns are particularly pretty with their delicate, bright green, lacy fronds. They grow up to 5 feet tall in elegant clumps.
6. Ostrich Fern
Another beautiful fern for your shady patch, ostrich ferns are also edible. Some varieties can grow up to 6 feet tall, and they’re well-suited to humid, cold climates.
Astilbe is a pretty perennial bush-like flowering plant that grows in groups. They grow up to 24-inches tall and add a little texture to a shady spot.
Hostas may grow slower in the shade, but they will undoubtedly grow, giving you some color in what may be a drab spot. There’s an amazingly wide variety of hosta species available that are suitable for different climates and growing environments. They’re an excellent plant choice if you’re looking to create a tropical-looking atmosphere.
9. Creeping Myrtle
Perennial in zones 4 to 9, creeping myrtle is also known as common periwinkle and vinca. It grows close to the ground, never reaching more than 6-inches tall. It grows in partial to full shade and tolerates any number of soil types.
Impatiens are one of the only flowering plants that grow exceptionally well and blooms in heavily shaded areas. There are several varieties of this type of annual flowering plant. Impatiens should be planted in healthy soil in areas that don’t get waterlogged.
11. Coral Bells
Also known as heuchera, these are plants I often see growing in people’s front yards around my neighborhood. The plant reminds me of squash plants because of the big broad leaves. They don’t get very tall (up to 12-inches maximum), and foliage color varies depending on the species.
12. Toad Lily
I find it funny that so many shade-loving plants have such ugly-sounding names. Something-wort is a common name for many shade-loving plants. The toad lily, however, has a name that sounds both pretty and woodsy, in my opinion. The perennial plant is incredibly low-maintenance and has some seriously attractive foliage. Perennial in zones 5-9 and perhaps 4 with some protection.
Indoor Plants That Don’t Need Sun
I love indoor plants, but I don’t love high-maintenance varieties. While I can somehow keep my outdoor garden plants alive and happy, I always seem to kill houseplants unintentionally. I used to forget to water them, but now I use water globes to help me out. More often, I realized that they simply aren't getting enough light. I’ve stopped investing big bucks in fancy sun-loving houseplants and instead, have gotten cozy with several kinds of plants that don't need sun.
13. Spider Plant
Spider plants look a lot like the uber-popular air plant, with their spidery, slender striped foliage. I expect they’d survive just about anything, including full shade. I’m sure my mother’s spider plant is about as old as I am. Spider plants help clean indoor air, and they also produce little ‘baby’ (or pup) plants that can be translated to separate pots. Know a friend with a spider plant in their living room or kitchen? Ask them for a pup.
14. Creeping Fig
The perfect option for hanging ceiling pots, creeping fig plants have brilliant, attractive foliage. They don’t mind low light conditions, but careful not to overwater. You’re better off waiting until the plant is wilting a little than watering before the soil has dried out.
15. Snake Plant
Snake plants are my absolute favorite houseplant. They look exotic and have a great texture. I had a snake plant in my bathroom for the longest time. It loved the humidity and didn’t mind the frequent bouts of darkness. I managed to murder it accidentally when cleaning. I left it outside and forgot to bring it back in.
While multiple species of ivy are happy to live in low-light conditions, devil’s ivy is a top choice for spots without much light. The trailing plant looks terrific in a hanging pot of any kind. The bright dual-colored leaves make an attractive accent anywhere in the house, and the plant increases air quality, too.
You’ll find multiple species of this plant available at local nurseries. Dracaena will survive quite well in a shady indoor location. In fact, it’s best to keep in away from direct sunlight. Just be sure to water regularly and prune as needed.
18. Parlor Palm
Add a tropical element to your sun-deprived living room with this type of palm that grows well even in pretty dark areas of your home. I should know, I had a parlor palm, and it managed to stay green even in my often dark basement. I killed it because I forgot to water it and kept the thermostat a little too low.
There are different varieties of this type of houseplant, but the vine variety is my favorite. Philodendron plants are an attractive addition to shelving, credenzas, and mantles. You’ll need to water frequently, though, so think about investing in a self-watering pot to keep your plant alive in its low-light home.
I first spotted a thriving bamboo plant at a friend’s house. After we enjoyed a delicious shrimp curry dinner, we sat and chatted in the cozy living room, and I noticed the gigantic vertically growing bamboo plant in the corner. When I asked about it, she told me it had grown without much help, and I made a note to myself to buy some bamboo the next time I saw it for sale.
A few weeks later, I snatched up a tiny plant at the grocery store, and two years later, the plant has grown into a large coffee table centerpiece. All it needs is indirect light (but it could survive in an even darker corner) and periodic refills of water to replace any that has evaporated.
What do you plan on putting in your shadiest areas? Let us know in the comments below.