In this article we want to go over some of the best annuals for shade, and specifically, our top 8 that we like the most. Why do we like them? Simple. They are easy to grow and brighten up an otherwise shady garden.
You might think there are less annuals available for shade then there are sun, and you might be right. It seems that way when you're looking through the the plethora of plants at the garden center but still, you can have quite a bit of variety if your gardens are in partial to full shade.
Many shade annuals like those kinds of conditions because they stay moist and don't dry out as quickly as they would in full sun. In other words, keeping them from drying out for an extended period of time is probably good. This is, of course, a blanket statement so be sure to check each plant's light and water needs.
The list here is not exhaustive. However these are our favorites. We have used all of these more than once and have experience with them. This favorite plays into whether they made our list or not.
Here are the top 8 best annuals for shade, including photos of the plants:
Dragon Wing Begonias
Growing Zones: In warm growing zones, such as 9-11 could be a perennial. In all other zones, an annual. Will not survive a frost.
Water Needs: Drought tolerant. Can survive with less than optimal water.
Begonias in general, and more specifically, the popular wax begonia, do okay in partial shade but also full sun, even though their specs might not say so.
We've planted many wax begonias for numerous clients in full sun and they absolutely thrive!
However there is one variety of begonia that would not do well in full sun but does excellent in shade. That is the "dragon wing begonia."
This beautiful plant sports large foliage and red or pink blooms that droop downward, not in a trailing fashion, but more of a hanging style. This makes them excellent choices for pots, especially pots that are in shaded locations such as your front porch.
We’ve used dragon wing begonias in pots on our front porch for years and they never fail to disappoint.
However, we've also planted them in our shade gardens and they thrive in this location as well.
Keep in mind that dragon wing begonias are much larger plants than their cousin - the wax begonia - so you need to consider that when deciding where to plant them. In the right conditions they will grow quite large.
Their flowers will fall off when spent, which will result in debris on your porch or deck, but their beauty is worth the small inconvenience of having to sweep up the dead flowers.
You'll often time find them for sale in hanging baskets. You can keep them in those baskets and just hang them up around your house, or transplant them as we do.
We love dragon wing begonias and would highly recommend them.
#2: New Guinea Impatiens
Growing Zones: Hardy in zones 10-12. Other zones an annual
Water Needs: Needs frequent watering
Impatiens in general are known as the shade plant. They provide an excellent variety of colors in an otherwise colorless shady garden. They will also grow in mounded fashion and grow together as one mass of color.
One variety of impatien that we like is called the new guinea impatien.
This variety has glossy darker green leaves that are bigger than regular impatiens. These leaves combined with the bright pinks and purple flowers that grow taller than the foliage make this plant look tropical in nature.
New guinea impatiens have a slightly different growing habits than regular impatiens but they're very appealing none the less.
The only downside to this plant is the fact that they dry out quickly and when they do, they will start to droop. Because of this, they may not be good for climates that are hot and dry where the rainfall varies substantially.
To keep them looking good, you may need to watch them closely and water them if they dry out and start to droop.
Regular impatiens do this if they dry out also, but not as quickly.
We'd recommend trying some new guinea impatiens. They just might become a staple in your gardens
Growing Zones: Hardy in zones 10 and above. An annual in other zones. Some varieties are hardy in colder temeratures but they will succumb to cold and frost.
Water Needs: Can tolerate dry periods but if they dry out, the flowers will wither and die. New blooms will sprout in a few weeks though.
Fuchsia is a beautiful plant that hangs downward and the flowers look positively elegant and unique. For us, it's the flowers that make this plant stand out.
The flowers could be bright fuschia colored but also reds, pinks and whites - combined within one flower - really make a unique statement. They grow in clusters, dangling like precious jewelry. As a plus, their the perfect plant to attract hummingbirds.
You will fuchsias almost always in pots or hanging baskets growing over the edge along with other plants that stand tall. However if you want to try them in your gardens, feel free. They will do well in your shade garden and will spread out over the ground as a bushy shrub.
#4: Blue Lobelia
Growing Zones: Varieties can be hardy in zones 6-8, but they do not reliable come back, even in those zones. For this reason, many people consider it an annual.
Water Needs: Avergage water needs. Doesn't tolerate drought well.
Lobelia is a small, dainty plant with a small blue flowers.
It does best receiving some direct sun, but not for tthe entire day, but also survives in partial shade as well. It probably won't survive in hot humid weather nor in a full shade garden.
This plant is a great choice to use as a filler or a spiller in pots but also makes a good border plant for your gardens where it would be planted in front of other larger plants. Some varieties can grow taller - up to 3 feet and look good in mixed into wildflower gardens.
If you use lobelia in your window boxes or pots, it will trail downward but also grow up as well, making it highly versatile.
Since plants with blue flowers are not as common as other colors, you would do well to include lobelia in your gardens.
Growing Zones: Only warm climates, meaning Zone 11. An annual in all other zones.
Water Needs: Average water needs. Can survive periods of drought. If leaves start to droop, water well to revive the plant and it should come back well.
Coleus are a tender tropical plant that are extremely common today and planted as annuals everywhere because they don't like cold.
You'll see them in pots, in their gardens, and everywhere else. We, in fact, use them a lot in our pots and hanging baskets and in the proper conditions will grow 2-3 feet tall.
The most notable thing about coleus is the color you see comes from their leaves, not their flowers.
Browsing your garden center you'll find a large variety of leaf colors, mostly variegated with various shades of greens, pink's, and reds.
This, not only makes coleus a good choice because of the unusual color combinations in their leaves, but also the texture of their foliage, which will add lots of interest to your gardens.
They are easy to grow and need little care - making them a good choice.
#6: Sweet Potato Vine
Growing Zones: Hardy in zones 9-11. An annual in all other zones.
Water Needs: Average water needs. Can survive periods of drought.
Note: In the image above, the pink flowers are not part of the sweet potato vine. Those flowers are impatens. This is a great example of how you can plant sweet potato vine along with other plants and get a great looking garden!
Like many plants on our list for best annuals for shade, the sweet potato vine will not survive frost. This is why it's planted as an annual in many parts of the country.
This plant is also planted for the color of its leaves - which are commonly bright lime green.
Like its name suggests, sweet potato vine is a vine, which means it should be planted where you want vines to grow; that is, as spiller's in your pots, hanging baskets, or window boxes.
However, it also does well as a ground cover in gardens and will spread out over an area, filling the ground with bright, almost neon like, glowing leaves. It's perfect for a dark shade garden and will add greatly to an area. We've used it in all of these locations and it thrives no matter where it's planted - all locations that is except bright full sun.
Sweet potato vine grows rather quickly and will take over an area, so you might need to keep in trimmed several times a season - a small price to pay for such a great plant.
Finally, I'm sure you are wondering the same thing that many people wonder... "Does this vine product sweet potatoes and can you eat them?"
The answer is yes, this vine does product sweet potatoes and yes, you can eat them - but would you want to?
Sweet potato vines that are used for their decorative foliage have been cultivated specifically for their foliage and therefore, are different than the vines that produce sweet potatoes for sale at the grocery store. While they do produce potatoes that you can eat, they don't taste the same - kind of bitter (so I've heard - I've never tried one) so you probably wouldn't want to eat them.
Growing Zones: Hardy in zones 9-11. An annual in all other zones.
Water Needs: Average water needs. Does well with less water.
Caladium is another plant that is known for its leaf color. - one of the best annuals for shade that uses leaf color as its strong suit. The difference between this plant and coleus is that caladium leaves can be much larger.
One other difference that's worth noting is caladium leaves, even though they are variegated, they have less variegation than coleus. You'll find the variegation comes by having the leaf veins a different color than the rest of the leaf. Quite interesting.
Although they come with various colors, the most common, and the ones we like the most are deep reds and whites.
Being a tropical plant, it's most often used as an annual in most areas of the country to brighten up shade gardens.
Calladium is another plant that we absolutely love because of the unique and interesting leaves that give our shade gardens some variety and interest.
#8: Tuberous Begonia:
Growing Zones: Hardy to zones 9-11 only - an annual in all other zones.
Water Needs: Don't to well in drought.
Tuberous begonias are another variety of begonia that stand out because of their very large, bright flowers. In fact, they are quite unique because they look similar to roses.
In addition to the flowers, the foliage is fairly large and makes just as much of a statement as the flowers. Combined they make for a very attractive plant.
Even though they are a tropical plant, they prefer partial shade rather than full sun, which can damage the leaves, so don't plant them in full sun in a hot environment.
The only disadvantage is the flower stems tend to be brittle and will break off easily. Take care when transporting them from the store to your home. Once planted, they'll usually stand up to most weather, but strong winds could see them damaged.
Tuberous begonias have become more popular in the last several years. They have become widely available in the big box stores because of their very attractive flowers. People love them and so do we.
Summary - The Best Annuals For Shade For Your Gardens
As we mentioned previously. This is not an exhaustive list. In fact, some varieties of annuals for sun also have varieties that are better suited for partial shade.
Despite what you and others might think, nature has provided garden lovers will beautiful, colorful plants that will thrive in shade too. Check them out at your local garden center and try them in your own gardens.
Now that you know about the best annuals for shade, you might want to know about the ones that are good for sun. If so, check out our list of the best annuals for sun by READING THIS ARTICLE.
If you're a beginning gardener and still have some confusion as to what an annual actually is, we have a clear explanation. READ THIS ARTICLE FOR CLARIFICATION.
December 12, 2020
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