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In this guide, I’m going to share some of my favourite shade loving plants that grow well in containers. These are perfect for patios, balconies or any position where you need to plant plants, that will thrive in containers but also in shadier areas such as under trees or even along a north facing wall on a patio or decking.
Below is a mixture of perennials that provide colour throughout summer to bedding plants and even some shrubs for all year round colour.
1. Non-stop Begonias
One of my absolute favourites for growing in containers and Ideal for both indoor and outdoor growing, Non-stop begonias feature a colourful display of blooms from summer to the first frost. Begonias are not large plants, reaching a maximum of around 12 inches tall by around the same width. This means they are suitable for growing in pots without facing root bound issues. You have to be careful and work with well-drained compost to avoid root rot and other fungal diseases.
There are actually many types of Begonias, all suitable for growing in pots so there is enough room to select your favourites but my personal favourites are non-stops as they put on an amazing show. These bushy plants have no issues sitting in areas where they receive limited sun, but they can also tolerate shadier areas of the garden.
These tender perennials are not frost hardy so you do need to lift the tubers once the frost has killed the foliage and overwinter them by drying them out and then wrapping the tubers in newspaper in a cool dry place until spring when you can plant the tuber again.
They are drought tolerant and remember not to expose begonias to the hot sun for too long because you risk the foliage burning and affecting the plant’s appearance. Also, I recommend water early morning or evening to avoid getting water on the leaves as the sun also burns the leaves this way.
One of the more intriguing features of coleus plants is the typically variegated foliage and they look amazing too. Also, commonly known as painted nettle, these plants thrive in tropical or subtropical climates but they also grow well as a summer bedding plant in colder climates such as the UK. They especially prefer partial sun but can tolerate more shade, making them suitable for growing in pots.
With over 25 species of coleus recognised in 2020 by the Plants of the World online, coleus displays various characteristics in terms of foliage colours, shapes, and sizes. These plants also produce flower spikes as winter approaches; however, the appearance of flower spikes eventually creates a rangy appearance. That is why it is advisable to pinch the flowers to save energy and maintain the plant’s compact size.
Depending on the variety, these plants can grow up to 36-inches preferring well-drained acidic or neutral loose soil with adequate nutrients. This means they will grow well in ericaceous compost. These plants do not do well with low levels of water, thus regular watering and use of mulch are ideal. Coleus plants do not like cold conditions, therefore, move them indoors for protection if you want to try and keep them throughout winter.
The colourful purple/pink, red-sepal blooms of fuchsia plants are enough to transform any dull space ornamentally while attracting pollinators. These dangling blooms appear in summer and continue blooming until the emergence of the first frost. Suitable for growing in pots and hanging baskets, the plants’ foliage will vary in abundance according to their type whether trailing, climbing, or bushy.
They grow in various soils, and the roots appreciate good drainage thus ensuring the pot’s holes are not obstructed by putting lots of crockery in the bottom of pots for hardy varieties. Alternatively, you can try adding peat to the compost for better drainage.
Considering that they are voracious eaters, I recommend feeding them with a generalplant feed, especially during the blooming season. Pruning/pinching depends on the type of plants you have, as trailing varieties can be pruned at any time, while bushy varieties need pruning in spring/fall to remove dead sections. You can get both tender and hardy varieties, all of them can be grown in pots but the tender varieties which are generally grown for their large flowers are usually sold as a summer bedding plant. Hardy varieties grow well in large pots under the canopy of trees.
Known as a shade-loving plant I personally grow these under the trees at the bottom of my garden. Hostas are a must-have if you are looking for plants with conspicuous foliage but also stunning flowers. The clump-forming plants can grow up to 2ft with a sizeable spread depending on the variety to create a lovely display. This plant has thousands of cultivars displaying different characteristics in terms of plant size, foliage size, and colour.
The perennial plants do manifest tiny white/mauve blooms on top of projected stems as spring ends or the beginning of summer. These stems can be cut off once the flowering season is complete to preserve the plant’s energy. Alternatively, you can cut them once the blooms open and use them for flower arrangements.
The Eastern-Asian native plant flourishes in moist soils but not clay due to high moisture retention. I recommend planting them in a good quality potting compost and maybe mixing in a little grit to improve drainage. Keep the soil moist but not soggy, especially for young plants that tend to wilt fast.
Feed with a general fertiliser in spring but don’t feed plants entering the dormant stage in winter as the nutrients will go unused but this also encourages new growth late in the season that is damaged by frost. I recommend dividing these plants in autumn/spring every 3-4 years to divide the root ball and prevent competition for nutrients, which limits maximum growth. When the plant begins to die back for winter, clear the old foliage to prevent fungal spores from overwintering and taking hold of the plant in spring.
Whether planted in the ground or pots, hydrangeas will steal the show thanks to their stunning blooms. Hydrangea blooms are not limited to one colour, you’ll come across pink, purple, white, blue, and even red flowers as the plant has many species and cultivars. My personal favourite variety for growing in pots are hydrangea macrophylla of which there are many varieties.
Suitable varieties for pots would be dwarf to medium-sized varieties to avoid frequent repotting.
Ideal growing conditions for hydrangeas includes access to partial to full sunlight with fertile, well-drained soils. With the macrophylla varieties, the flower colour will vary, for example, acidic soils produce blooms with a blue hue while alkaline/ neutral soils produce pink blooms. You can tweak the soil pH to get the colour of blooms you prefer, using compounds such as sulphur or lime.
Ensure you water these plants effectively, especially on hot days where too much heat causes the foliage to curl. For potted plants, keep the soil moist with regular watering and do not allow them to dry out.
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Hellebores are perfect for those looking for potted plants that bloom from winter into spring requiring little maintenance. These plants manifest small blooms of various colours from black, purple, to white depending on the variety you grow. The Scented blooms are bound to attract pollinators, the likes of hummingbirds, which is a plus if you are a birdwatcher, obviously not for those who live in the UK though.
The compact plants also feature lush foliage which contrasts well with the flowers, creating a worthwhile aesthetic. Growing to about 2ft with a spread of similar dimensions, these plants thrive in moist neutral or alkaline soils with proper drainage so a standard potting compost is fine.
These evergreen hardy plants should be pruned to remove the previous season’s growth as the new growth emerges, which is usually in late winter or the beginning of summer. At this time, you might also want to divide the plant for propagation purposes.
Pruning assists with proper ventilation, which prevents diseases such as leaf spot. Like most flowering plants, deadheading is essential, but in this case, deadheading supports the emergence of new growth at the base.
7. Dryopteris affinis (Golden Shield Fern)
One of the simplest plants you can grow in containers that doesn’t mind some shade is the Dryopteris affinis, commonly identified as Gold Shield Fern and naturally grows under the canopy of trees. Preferring cool temperatures and moist soils, this semi-evergreen bushy plant features long, finely cut fronds. The foliage typically uncurls in summer, manifesting a yellow-greenish hue before turning dark green.
Reaching about 1.5 meters in height with a 1-metre spread, these plants grow well regardless of whether you place them in fully shaded areas or under full sunlight. These zone-7 hardy plants are low maintenance, especially when established as they are drought tolerant and present no issues with pests or diseases.
Furthermore, pruning these plants is not complicated as you can remove diseased, faded or dead fronds at any time. When the root ball becomes crowded, it is time to divide the plants in spring to improve their appearance and reduce the fight for nutrients. When growing on pots I like to use a John Innes potting compost as it retains moisture.
Read next: Best grasses for containers
The colourful plumes of Astilbe are the most attractive feature of the plant; however, the fern-looking foliage also adds a layer of interest. The plant is most captivating as spring ends and in summer with feathery plumes ranging in colour according to variety.
These perennial plants with 25 species and various cultivars are fairly easy to grow. In fact, they tolerate sitting under the sun or in the shade, making them suitable for areas that receive little light. The soil used must be acidic, but have decent moisture content so I recommend using a soil based compost in pots such as John Innes potting compost.
Considered as hardy plants, Astilbe can tolerate winter conditions using mulch to maintain temperature and moisture content in the soil. Do not forget to feed the plants in spring using phosphorus-rich fertilisers to ensure quality blooms.
Pruning these plants is not essential, but you can cut them back at the beginning of spring as you remove the dried plumes. Dividing the perennial plants every five years in spring will help maintain a suitable aesthetic.
Read next: Best plants for pots all year round
9. Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana)
Colourful, lush foliage, and easy to maintain are some words I can use to describe Impatiens walleriana. The colour-saturated blooms are actually summer bedding plants and a favourite for many gardeners. Depending on the variety, the flower colour will vary from purple, red, pink, orange, yellow and white.
They are short plants that thrive in shaded or partially shaded areas, making them ideal for containers in more shady areas of the garden. By providing slightly acidic but moist, well-drained compost, they will thrive and so well. These are not winter hardy so can only be planted when the risk of frost has passed.
Maintenance-wise, provide potted Impatiens with water as and when needed, ensuring nothing obstructs the drainage holes. Additionally, fertilising the plant during the blooming season helps the plant support the process. That about it, keep them watered and deadhead regularly and they will flower all summer long.
10. Hebe ‘Red Edge’
Last on my list for recommended plants for pots in shade, Hebe ‘Red Edge’ is another plant with interesting foliage that is suitable for decorative purposes. Apart from the distinguishable leaves, this shrub also displays light purple flower from summer drawing into autumn. During Fall, the younger leaves of the plant at the top turn pink, contrasting the mature bluish-grey foliage.
This evergreen beauty flourishes in different soils, with a preference for either neutral or alkaline pH. Hebe ‘Red Edge’ is ideal for shady gardens, as it can tolerate full sun as well as partial shade. It is a short plant with a height of about 50cm which is why is also a suitable choice for container growing.
Falling under RHS’ group 9 pruning, the evergreen plant should be pruned in the middle of spring or as the season ends. Also, harvesting semi-hardwood cuttings is the fastest way to propagate this elegant plant. Be watchful of aphids, and tortrix moths as they could be detrimental to the plant.
There are more shade loving plants for containers, this is just the tip of the iceberg. You can grow different plants in the shade successfully without facing frustrating challenges. If it is your first time, try with one plant before proceeding to others. If the first plant flourishes, add another until you have yourself a small Eden.
Last update on 2023-09-29 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API