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Perennial Selections for Shade Gardens

Asian bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) have delicate, heart-shaped pink flowers with white inner petals that give the plants their common name.

Asian bleeding hearts (Lamprocapnos spectabilis) have delicate, heart-shaped pink flowers with white inner petals that give the plants their common name.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Do you have a shady garden where you would like to plant perennials? Hostas, ferns, and Lenten roses are the usual choices, but there are a number of wonderful perennial selections to choose from that will add bloom, texture, and color to your landscape. Here are several of my favorite early spring bloomers.

Bleeding Heart

A beautiful part to full shade-loving spring flowering perennial is Asian bleeding heart (Lamprocapnos spectabilis, formerly Dicentra spectabilis). Native to China, Korea, and Japan, Asian bleeding hearts have delicate, heart-shaped pink flowers with white inner petals that give the plants their common name. Blooming from April to May, they grow best in moist, humus-rich soils, and the foliage will die back in the mid-summer. Similar to Virginia bluebells, mix in ferns, hostas, and other summer perennials to prolong the season. When mature, Asian bleeding hearts range in heights of 2 to 3 feet tall and 1½ to 2½ feet wide and are larger and showier than their native counterparts.

Yellow barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) has short-spurred yellow flowers.

Yellow barrenwort (Epimedium x versicolor ‘Sulphureum’) has short-spurred yellow flowers.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

Fairy Wings

Commonly known as barrenwort or fairy wings (Epimedium species) are available in a number of different species and hybrids. If you have dry shade, this is the plant for you. The delicate, airy flowers appear above the foliage in April and can range in color from white, yellow, pink, red, purple, or orange. These clump spreaders from China are an excellent choice to plant under trees. Depending on the species or cultivar you choose, fairy wings will range in heights of 10 inches to 2 feet tall and spread up to 2 feet wide. Cut back the old foliage in the late winter before the new leaves begin to emerge. It’s a great addition to a garden, as these plants have a high resistance to rabbit and deer visitors dining on them.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal

Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’) blooms from April to May.

Variegated Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’) blooms from April to May.
Barbara H. Smith, ©2019 HGIC, Clemson University

A tried and true perennial in my landscape is variegated Solomon’s seal (Polygonatum odoratum var. pluriflorum ‘Variegatum’). The bright green leaves are edged in white, giving a boost of color and texture to a shady garden. The fragrant, greenish-white, bell-shaped flowers bloom from April to May and hang down below the stem from the leaf axils (where the leaves attach to the stem). Blue-black berries form in the autumn, and the foliage turns an attractive yellow fall color. Native to Europe and Asia, variegated Solomon’s seal will slowly spread to form colonies and reach a height and width of 2 to 3 feet. It is an excellent choice for a dry, heavily shaded area.

These choices are just a few of a long list of my favorite shade-loving perennials. For more information on growing perennials, please see HGIC 1153, Growing Perennials.

If this document didn’t answer your questions, please contact HGIC at hgic@clemson.edu or 1-888-656-9988.

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