2-5ft flowering perennials for medium-full shade in Zone 3?

Calgary, Canada

I have monkshood in front of a fence and under a lilac tree. I need to remove it because it is fatal if consumed (even a very small amount) by my dog. I have other slightly toxic plants out here, but my dog is never out here without supervision. Just can't take the chance with the monkshood.

This fence is about 3.5 ft high. Plants in this area are in full shade up to about 2ft, which it then turns into medium shade, then at 3.5 ft it turns into part sun.

I have had a few creme de casis hollyhocks that did well here, since it grew fast enough to reach the sun by the time it was time to flower. But after two years it none of them came back. I hear this is common with hollyhock. And it never reseeded.

I have a really bad slug problem here so hostas are not an option. They never really touched the hollyhock or monkshood

Any other suggestions for medium to tall flowering, slug resistant perennials??

Hobart, IN

I thought hollyhocks are biennial but I could be wrong. You might want to check into Cimicifuga, Ligularia, Filipendula, Kirengeshoma or Thalictrum if you want some taller shade-lovers.

Maine, United States(Zone 5b)

How about Aruncus?

I had to read about Monkshood after seeing this post- holy cow! I wouldn't feel at all safe with that around....kind of surprised they even sell it!

Royal Oak, MI(Zone 6a)

Aruncus would probably do fine, as long as you're not looking for a showy plant. My Aruncus dioicus grow to over 4 feet in dry part shade.

I also like Actaea racemosa for a shorter shade perennial. They are maybe 18 inches tall, with flower stalks to about 24 inches, in my garden but take more water than the goat's beard. Very pretty when in bloom.

You could also consider something like Tricyrtis hirta 'Miyazaki' that grows to about 2 feet. They do well in shade and bloom in the autumn. The only negatives might be their small flowers and sprawling growth habit; they're a bit haphazard and, though less leggy than the species variety, are not exactly compact. I'm adding them to a woodland area of the yard close to a path so we can see their flowers better.

And if you can water a bit, there's nothing like a patch of ferns. I have some unidentified ones that reach about 30 inches tall and grow anywhere. They do survive dry shade but won't grow as large.

Waterman, IL(Zone 5a)

Ligularia 'Rocket' does well in shade, but is a thirsty plant. I don't know if slugs like it or not. Japanese Painted Ferns are also shade loving and the silvery foliage is pretty. They aren't tall though. Heuchera 'Palace Purple' is shade loving also and a unique color. The foliage stays low, but the flower stems are upright, maybe 1'+ depending on the age of the plant. They also spread over time. I have some Miscanthus grass also in my shade garden. It does fairly well and has been there for many years. Maidenhair ferns are pretty and very delicate looking. Ferns will rock in the shade.

An established perennial nursery will have a shade garden which you can get lots of ideas from. Hope you find what you need.

Elmira, NY(Zone 6a)

The native wild sunflowers are a good bet. I grow Helianthus maximilliani in shade and it is wonderful, tall and nice leaves. It has yellow daisy-like flowers that bees like, and goldfinches go nuts over the seeds. I grew it from seeds I got from Prairie Moon Native Nursery. Check out the range map--it will grow in zone 3 and can take up to 70% shade:


They have other helianthus also. There is one, Helianthus divaricatus, that can grow in full shade and can take zone 3.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Don't forget Astilbe...

Jamaica Plain, MA(Zone 6a)

You might want to try some of the taller tricyrtis, such as "Dark Beauty", which grows to about 3 ft and stays erect. Also japanese anemone - tomentosa robustissima grows to about 3 ft and also stays erect. Both are fall flowering.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Ooops. Forgot the Chocolate Eupatorium!!!

"Chocolate Mist Flower" (Eupatorium rugosum)(White Snakeroot) has shiny, deep purple stems with chocolate leaves and white blooms late summer. It stands 4 tall and 3' wide. It is attractive to butterflies and bees and is deer resistant.

I have read sources which suggest it can take full sun, but I wouldn't recommend it!!! It likes moist, well-drained soil. I recommend morning sun. If you're in a cooler climate, it will probably take more sun than it does here in sunny NC.



Algonquin, IL(Zone 5a)

Hi Janina5309 -
The link below for Bluestone Perennials Plant Finder allows you to put in the sun/shade requirements, zone, height, bloom-time and all sorts of other requirements. There's even a box to check if you want "long blooming" of 4 weeks or more.

I use it all the time as a resource to help me find plants for particular areas. There's no obligation to order anything.

Maybe it will help to give you some ideas. If the shade in that area varies at different heights, I would probably check plants for different amounts of shade.


Watertown, WI(Zone 5a)

I've grown some tall perennial campanulas in full shade. They're not as showy flower-wise as they would be with more light, and they seem to be somewhat short-lived (although they can reseed pretty readily, so unless you're aggressively deadheading or heavily mulched, that shouldn't be a problem).

Campanula persicifolia 'Cereulea' is what I grow, but this is a similar mix of colors.


Adenophora is another thought, but that can be pretty aggressive from what I understand. I don't grow it, but I know some folks who consider it very weedy.

Westbrook, CT(Zone 6a)

I'm late to this thread, but I have Cimicifuga and Aruncus growing in a shady spot and they vary with species between 4 and 6 ft tall. Giant bellflower (campanula lactiflora) or the taller lilies might work as well.

North Chelmsford, MA(Zone 6b)

I have a lot of shade and have maidenhair ferns (have to lime them every so often). Japanese painted ferns, chelone (turtleheads) and variegated polygonatum along with the usual polemonium, dicentras, primulas, tricyrtis, heuchera, a white phlox paniculata that actually enjoys the shade, and even some double ditch lilies. There is an understory of tiarella on one side of the path and one of galium odoratum on the other. Suits me!

Note: Turtleheads are in the mint family so have crowded out many of my astilbe. Many of them are not aware that they will soon be moving to new quarters in my condo's shaded area.

(Zone 4b)

Quote from paracelsus :
There is one, Helianthus divaricatus, that can grow in full shade and can take zone 3.

I saw this plant in a zone 4 location in pretty heavy shade and it looked so good. However I have been unable to find this same plant at any nursery.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)


I forgot about this thread but have since found the spigelia marilandica is a woodland shade loving plant and one we should all covet:



Edited to say - "O poo - prolly not good for Zone 3."

This message was edited Jan 11, 2012 2:23 PM

Thumbnail by AmandaEsq
Hobart, IN

Amanda - I tried for a Spigelia on my 2011 orders but out of stock. Thanks so much for reminding me!

(Zone 4b)

I am about to order this Spigella from gardenimport.com i.e.


Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Rouge - where does this ship from? You can order it for less from several places on the east coast. Not sure about shipping, though.

Hardy to Zone 5; I suppose you could winter it over in a container in Zone 3?


(Zone 4b)

Hi Amanda, sorry I should have pointed out that this is a Canada only mail order nursery. And as I am zone 5 I am hoping it will over winter for me.

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

I have 4-5 spigelias in various locations. I love them.
For me, they bloom a lot better with more light.
They bloom lightly in my woodland.
But I have one which in mostly full sun with just a little high shade which blooms great.
I still like them in a wooded setting, but don't expect the blooming to be very dense.

Thumbnail by Weerobin
Hobart, IN

I would guess with that flower color that there needn't be a ton of blooms to stand out in the shade, especially with most shade-lovers having paler flower colors. Are the colors as bright as various photos indicate?

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Cindy - I haven't seen one in a long time, but I believe they are stunning and high-beam bright in the shade garden - hummingbird and butterfly magnet from what I understand. I aim to have one this year - I have found several suppliers cost ranges anywhere from $6 to $18 I suppose depending on size. For this kind of dazzler probably best to order early to ensure availability.


p.s. Rouge - let us know how yours does this season.

p.p.s. Weerobin - Thanks for letting us know that it can adapt to various light conditions.

This message was edited Jan 12, 2012 11:50 AM

Hobart, IN

I'm gonna work on getting me one today! Hopefully, the IN nursery has one just for me. :)

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

I sure hope so Cindy - then you can send us all cuttings. :D

Hobart, IN

I was wondering how to propagate that one already. I'm one of those gardeners that wants one of everything. I used to try to be "good" and order in 3s or 5s (for that aesthetic harmony thing) but I'd always lose one or three, ending up with an even number anyway. So now I order one at a time and, at current prices, that's about all I can afford. :)
I did place an order this afternoon with Munchkin Nursery. Almost succumbed to a Bletilla which would have been "iffy" in my zone. Sigh... I did cave though on Phlox 'Manita' and Corydalis 'Berry Exciting' as well as the Spigelia. I was tempted by more like Epimediums (a weakness).

Saint Louis, MO(Zone 6a)

Uh oh, Cindy - you might need to reconsider that bletilla. Here's one from my yard last year.
It's a beauty (a cultivar called Kate).

And yes, the spigelia color is striking. The contrast between the red and yellow is great.

Thumbnail by Weerobin
(Zone 4b)

Quote from AmandaEsq :
Cindy - I haven't seen one in a long time, but I believe they are stunning and high-beam bright in the shade garden

p.s. Rouge - let us know how yours does this season.

With these latest posts I will order a couple of these Spigella (Indian Pink).

I have heard and read that "Lobelia cardinalis" can also tolerate successfully (lots of?) shade.

Any idea which can 'take' more shade?

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Cindy, have you been to Munchkin to view Gene's garden?


Hobart, IN

Weerobin - yes, I reluctantly allowed common sense to override my zeal on the Bletilla (one of your earlier photos was urging me on). Munchkin had it rated as zone 5B which was slightly encouraging as I've seen it rated for zone 6. But even I was thinking it was a bit of a zonal stretch. :( And I'm not as attentive as I should be to protecting those zone-stretching plants.
rouge - I've tried Lobelia siphilitica and gerardii (not named varieties - both from seed) here but never cardinalis since a lot of the information I had read suggested it liked some moisture in the growing months but needed the crown kept dry during the winter (?). The others that I have grown were sited in full shade. The flower stalks did grow tall but the bloom wasn't that great and the stalks would either fall over or get blown over by wind and rain. I think they do need some sun to grow well. My clay soil probably didn't help either.
Doug - no, haven't had the chance to see Munchkin but would definitely like to. I do get Gene's monthly newsletters and I was thinking about the Adonis amurensis in the Jan. letter until I saw the price. :( I was surprised that he didn't have any Cimicifugas listed.

Bardstown, KY(Zone 6a)

Cindy I think that's because the genus on those has been changed to Actaea.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Rouge - I have no experience with the spigelia in my garden or in the wild. Last summer I planted 3 small rosettes of the Lobelia cardinalis where they will get morning sun, perhaps some high noon, but shade for the rest of the day. They are fairly dry right now so that helps me Cindy. I wanted to place them lower on this small rounded slope below the front porch near where the water runs thru, but I was afraid someone (?!) would think they were weeds and cut them down.

They are still small, but I hope this season they will thrive.

I have seen them in the wild, and they are breathtaking to come upon. It was in woods in a sloping stream bed with fairly loose canopy. I suppose there they received part shade or maybe was it part sun. Ha ha - I'm relatively new to shade gardening, but I agree that many perennials that bloom in shade don't tend to be dazzlers. Since I plant mostly natives I think I have more options.

I'm looking at Thalictrum/meadow rue. Anyone else tried that in shade/part shade?

This thread is getting long and someone may have posted that already. Maybe Cindy or someone near the top could edit their post to make a list. :D


p.s. Cindy I see you have included the thalictrum up top.

(Zone 4b)

Quote from AmandaEsq :
I'm looking at Thalictrum/meadow rue. Anyone else tried that in shade/part shade?

I planted Thalictrum "Evening Star" in heavy shade last summer and it was my fault that it did not thrive as I kind of forgot about it and so I did not provide it with enough water. If it makes it through the winter I will be more attentive to it.

I had heard so many great reports re Meadow Rue "Splendide". I planted a couple of these plants this past September in what I imagine is part shade sun i.e. 2 to 4 hours of sun per diem. Again I hope they make it through this first winter.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

A friend is sending me some "black stockings"? Looks delicious! :)

Hobart, IN

I saw 'Black Stockings' at the Munchkin site. Looks very floriferous (sp?)! And somewhere in past week I saw a photo of 'Splendide' but can't remember where. I grow T. rochebrunianum 'Lavender Mist'. Love the little flowers on it. Have even propagated it from collected seed (I treated like columbine seed). It can put up with some dry neglected conditions but it gets about 3/4 shade. I do have a very neglected T. aquilegiafolium 'Apurpureum' that I got years ago from Bluestone. It consistently gets overrun by Pachysandra and I really must move it. It's in even drier and sunnier conditions and surprises me every year by coming back. This might be the year I finally move the poor thing. 'Course, it might croak by changing the location after all this time.
Amanda - have never seen wild Lobelia - it must be fantastic! From what I've read (and that was years ago), they don't want to be wet in the winter. There might be more up-to-date info on those.
Doug - of course they changed the name! (sarcasm here at my ignorance) I was thinking of one of the pink-flowered ones (not sure if Munchkin had any) but I might just have to wait. Thanks for keeping me up to date botanically. :)

(Zone 4b)

Quote from CindyMzone5 :
From what I've read (and that was years ago), they don't want to be wet in the winter.

So many of my plants are describe as such. I so have my fingers crossed that they can make it through this winter.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Cindy I have seed for the Actaea/Cimifuga/Bugbane if you're interested.

Hobart, IN

Amanda - thanks for your offer. However, I have tried to grow some from seed gathered from my Actea/Cimicifuga racemosa (just the plain species) and didn't have any luck getting the seed to germinate. What variety are you growing? If I remember correctly, it needed either a long stratifying period or a double one but maybe there's a better technique.

Greensboro, NC(Zone 7b)

Hmmm. Haven't looked into it, just knew enough to gather the seed. I would have to look at the plant tag to see, but I think it's the native, not a cultivar. I guess if I get a mind to plant them and they sprout I could let you know later in the spring.


p.s. I wasn't happy giving them part sun. The flower wands stretched waaaaay towards the sun. Should move them to deep deep shade. This season I MUST move my chocolate eupatorium to full shade. The part sun that they get is almost the noon sun and it scorches them. :/

p.p.s. Did I put chocolate eupatorium on this list yet? If not I have seed and they bloom from seed the first year.

Hobart, IN

I was wondering yesterday (as I was putting a plastic milk jug in the recycle bin) if winter sowing would be appropriate for the Actea/Cimicifuga seed - that cycle of freeze/thaw maybe helping it along? I'd be interested to hear whether the chocolate variety from seed has that dark leaf color. Does the chocolate need some sun to bring out the leaf color? My plain variety flower wands lean every which way and they're in full (though not dense) shade, close to 6 ft tall. Sometimes I wonder if we have to choose which way we want some of the shade-lovers to lean towards sun since some will do that naturally. If I had to give the siting that much thought, I'd probably pull my hair out.

Jamaica Plain, MA(Zone 6a)

Hi all. I haven't been on here for quite a while and see that you're all yapping away again about plants that I'm interested in.

I've been trying cimicifugas and thalictrums without much success - in fact 3 of 4 cimicifugas that I planted in the shade up and died very quickly. Only one remains that continued to look healthy, and I sure hope it returns after winter. I have one thalictrum that overwintered last year, but didn't grow much this past summer and never flowered. Another one I'm not sure if it survived. I could sure use some tips on how to grow these. I did grow a whole lot of thalictrum delavayi (I think) from seed last winter and have them in a seedling bed, but still very small. And I'm trying a few different thalictrums and cimicifugas from seed this winter. I read to give the cimicifugas 6 weeks of warm before the cold and that it might take 2 seasons of cycles before they germinate, but what the hell - they're not always right.

I've moved on to trying filipendula as tall shade plant. I traded this past summer for a couple of unnamed ones, but was afraid to put them in my deeper shade problem areas. So far so good, but they haven't flowered yet and I hope they make it through their first winter. I also have a bunch of sprouts in my filipendula flore pleno jug that I started inside. I think it's supposed to be a dwarf variety though..

Cindy, lobelia siphilitica is like a weed in my yard and can tolerate shade, but too much shade and they'll lean and grow horizontally. I have them mostly in a somewhat shady area, and lobelia "Monet Moment" is surviving there as well, but can get floppy, so I guess it wants more sun. I got a bit of a red lobelia from a friend this summer, so too soon to tell how it'll do in the same area.

I had good success with a martagon lily that I planted in a shady area a couple of years ago, so I bought a few more varieties and planted the bulbs this fall. And I'm still looking for a few more tall shade plants, so please keep the ideas coming!

Gotta go cause Masterpiece Theatre's coming on in a few minutes.

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