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Beautiful Annual Shade Plants

Discover gorgeous annual shade garden plants for your garden beds, borders, and containers. By Justin Hancock

Begonia

There’s an amazingly wide variety of beautiful begonias available -- and most are excellent plants for shaded gardens. Among the easiest to grow are hybrids such as the Big series (shown here is Big Pink with Green Leaf). These flowering annuals are ideal for your garden because they thrive in sun, partial shade, or full shade, and tolerate drought, too. 

Tip: The Big series of begonia grows into an impressive plant, so it’s easy to fill shaded spots with big color. 


Caladium

Caladiums feature fantastic leaves, making them valuable shade garden plants because you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll keep flowering. They give you color from the time you plant them all the way to frost. 

Caladium leaves primarily come in shades of pink, red, white, and green, with many multi-colors available, too. 

Tip: If you want to keep caladiums from year to year, dig them up just after the first frost in fall. Caladiums form tuberous roots; if you gently wash the tubers, you can store them with sand in a cool place such as a basement for winter to replant in spring. Note: In frost-free areas, caladiums are perennials that go dormant over winter, but put out new growth in the spring. 

Coleus

If there’s a plant for pretty much every yard, it’s coleus. Varieties of this leafy wonder grow in sun, partial shade, or full shade -- making them ideal for adding big, bold color to shade gardens. Like caladiums, the color from coleus comes from its bright leaves, which appear in just about every shade of the rainbow (except blue). 

Coleus grows just as well in container gardens as it does beds and borders, so this shaded garden plant should thrive wherever you want to grow it. 

Tip: While coleus grows well with all the other shade-loving plants we’re recommending here, it’s particularly fun when mixed with caladium. 

Curcuma

Curcuma, also called tulip ginger, is an exotic beauty that’s a lot easier to grow than it looks. Perfect for shade and partial shade (and even full sun, if it stays evenly moist), it features fantastic tulip-shaped flowers all summer long. Most varieties bloom in shades of pink, purple, and white. 

As a tropical flower, curcuma loves the heat, so it’s particularly useful in planters on shaded decks, patios, and porches. The plant looks fabulous on its own and in combination with other shade lovers. 

Tip: Pests and diseases largely ignore curcuma, so you can enjoy this tropical beauty without a lot of effort!

Heliconia

You might not realize it, but heliconia is a relative of bananas! As such, it’s an easy-to-grow tropical flower. This plant thrives in shade, part shade, and even sunny spots if it stays moist enough. More vertical than many other shade plants, heliconia is useful for adding an upright touch to planters and gardens. You can mix it beautifully with other plants such as coleus or New Guinea impatiens for a chic look.

Tip: Heliconia blooms last a long time as cut flowers. Use them in bouquets!

Lobelia

Annual lobelia is another of those plants that doesn’t mind sun or partial sun. In fact, in hot-summer climates, you can often get it to bloom a bit longer into the season by growing it in some afternoon shade. You’ll mostly find this gorgeous mounding or spilling plant in shades of blue and purple, but look around and you’re sure to find pink, lavender, and white varieties, as well. 

Lobelia is perfect for hanging baskets and other container gardens, but spilling varieties also make good annual groundcovers when planted in landscape beds and borders. 

Tip: Newer and premium lobelia varieties tend to hold up better to heat and bloom longer than old-fashioned varieties. 

New Guinea Impatiens

One of the most versatile shade plants, New Guinea impatiens show off a dazzling array of colors and bicolors, from crisp whites and soft pinks to lavenders and purples, reds, and oranges. Some varieties offer fun variegated foliage, too!

Like traditional impatiens, New Guineas like a lot of water and wilt quickly when they get too dry. Unlike old-fashioned impatiens, they’re resistant to disease, so you can plant them in garden beds and borders without worry. The plants don’t grow as large as their cousins, but their flowers are much larger. 

Tip: New Guinea impatiens are easy to propagate from cuttings --- just take a section of the stem, pop the flowers off, and pot it up in moist potting mix. After a couple of weeks, it should start to root if you keep it evenly moist. 

Polka-Dot Plant

Often grown as a houseplant, polka-dot plant also thrives outdoors in shaded and partially shaded spots. You’ll love it for its colorful leaves – the red, pink, or white foliage is accentuated with splashes of dark green. This low-growing annual groundcover is sure to brighten even the dimmest corner of your yard. 

Because polka-dot plant is relatively low-growing, it’s often used in container gardens and in combination with other shade varieties like New Guinea impatiens. 

Tip: Keep your polka-dot plant going as a colorful houseplant by taking cuttings in fall before frost. Pot them up in moist potting mix, bring them indoors, and enjoy until spring. 
Get more tips for saving your tropical plants for winter.

Sweet Potato Vine

Sweet potato vine has gone through a makeover the last few years. It used to be that only long, lanky varieties were available, but today, compact, mounding types add color to containers without taking over. There’s the traditional chartreuse and purple, as well as a variety of shades of red and bronze. You can look around for different leaf shapes, too – some types have heart-shaped leaves and others are more hand-shaped. 

Tip: Get a fun design look by using sweet potato vine in hanging baskets, as well as garden beds and borders below. Repeating it creates the kind of cohesive appearance professional designers love. 

Wishbone Flower

Wishbone flower is a happy little plant that blooms and blooms in sun or shade. Its little flowers appear in a wide range of colors, from white and yellow to bronze and purple to blue and pink. There are mounding and trailing varieties, too, so you’re sure to find the perfect wishbone flower for your needs. 

Wishbone flower thrives in hot, humid weather, making it a particularly good pick for the Southeast and Midwest. But it’s also a perfect performer in garden beds, borders, and containers in the Northeast and Northwest, too.

Tip: You can grow wishbone flower in the sun, too. In sunny spots, though, its foliage often looks pale green and not as lush and healthy as when the plant is grown in shade.

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