Heat Wave Resistant Summer Color Made in the Shade

Color is at a premium in the shade garden.  While there are many great shade loving plants in shades of green, there are fewer choices for those who want colorful flowers and foliage.  Here are some plants that feature colorful foliage and flowers to increase the beauty of your shady garden. Impatiens, New Guinea Impatiens, ‘Dragon Wing’ and bedding Begonias add flower color during hot summers while Persian Shield, Caladiums, Pink Polka Dot Plant, and Coleus add color to the garden with attractive foliage.

Shade Plants Grown for Colorful Flowers


Impatiens Flower
Credit: MShades

Impatiens (Impatiens wallerana)

Impatiens are the classic shade garden plant.  Impatiens are easy to grow and offer more flower color in shade gardens than any other annual flower. Impatiens are available in an incredible assortment of colors, including pink, white, lavender, mauve, and bicolor.  Some varieties have double flowers that look like miniature roses. the best varieties of Impatiens are Super Elfin, Accent, and Tempo.  Super Elfin Impatiens are neat and compact plants while other varieties like Tempo and Accent grow larger and are more vigorous. Keep the soil moist and protect Impatiens from afternoon sun, and you will be successful.  Plant from six packs or 4 inch pots in the spring after the last frost date. Space Impatiens 8 inches apart for quick coverage and maximum color. Impatiens are wonderful additions to container gardens and hanging baskets, too.

New Guinea Impatiens

New Guinea Impatiens
Credit: ssedro

New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens x hawkeri)

New Guinea Impatiens are a different kind of Impatiens that have larger, multicolored foliage and larger flowers.  The plants get bigger than traditional Impatiens and are used for mass planting in flower beds or in containers and hanging baskets.  Space plants 12 to 18 inches apart. Grow like regular Impatiens.

'Dragon Wing' Begonia

Dragon Wing Begonia
Credit: David Houston

‘Dragon Wing’ Begonia (Begonia x 'Dragon Wing')

'Dragon Wing' Begonias have lush green leaves shaped like dragons’ wings and loose clusters or red or pink flowers.  They grow up to 24 inches tall by the end of summer and bloom until the first frost.  'Dragon Wing' Begonias are easy to grow and add some height to shady garden beds.  Hanging baskets and container gardens are also great places to use 'Dragon Wing' Begonias.  Plant after the last frost and keep plants moist but not soggy.  I noticed pots and hanging baskets full of 'Dragon Wing' Begonias on my last trip to Walt Disney World.  'Dragon Wing' Begonias are very heat-resistant and a great choice for the Southeast or Mid-Atlantic regions. Easy to grow.

Bedding Begonia

Bedding Begonias
Credit: Iris Dragon

Bedding Begonia (Begonia semperflorens)

Bedding Begonias are hard-working, versatile members of the shade garden.  The flower colors available include white, pink, and red. Plantings with mixed colors look very attractive and refreshing on a hot summer day.  In addition to colorful flowers, the plants are available with bright green leaves or reddish-bronze foliage.  The bronze-leaf bedding begonias will tolerate full sun but are quite comfortable in the shade garden.  Plant from six packs or four-inch pots after all danger of frost has passed.  Space plants 6-8 inches apart.  Most varieties will reach about 12 inches tall by the end of summer.

Shade Plants Grown for Colorful Foliage

Persian Shield

Persian Shield
Credit: Daryl Mitchell

Persian Shield (Strobilanthes dyerianus)

Persian Shield is famous for its beautiful iridescent purple leaves with flashes of silver and green. The foliage stays neat and attractive all season and really adds an exotic feel to the garden.  Once uncommon, this plant is now grown by Proven Winners and are found in big box retailers and garden centers in quart containers in the spring. Persian Shield will grow 18 to 24 inches tall and spread about 24 inches wide.  Plant Persian Shield in garden soil amended with ample amounts of compost or other organic matter and give them average water during times of drought. Persian Shield prefers partial shade but will tolerate full sun.  Also, use Persian Shield in the center of a mixed container planting for height and drama.  Easy to grow.

Pink Polkadot Plant

Credit: David Houston

Pink Polkadot Plant (Hypoestes phyllostachya)

Pink Polka dot Plant has stunning foliage spotted with bright pink or white polka dots.  The foliage is colorful and adds a bright splash of color to the shade garden.  Plant masses of Pink Polka dot Plant to create drifts of color under trees or among Hosta or other shade perennials or use it in shady container gardens.  The Pink Polka Dot Plant grows to 12 inches tall and spreads up to 9 inches.  Plants are available in the spring from garden centers in 4 inch pots or six packs or start from seed indoors.  Space plants 6 to 8 inches apart for the fastest coverage and best color.  Pink Polka Dot Plant performs best in bright shade; the color tends to fade in direct sun. Keep the plants moist and use a mild water-soluble fertilizer (like MiracleGrow) weekly. As an added bonus, you can dig up a plant or two in the fall and grow the Pink Polka Dot Plant indoors as a houseplant during the winter. Combine Pink Polka Dot Plant with Caladiums and Coleus to create an ideal shady summer garden.


Caladium In the Landscape
Credit: Natalie Maynor


Caladiums are tropical plants that lend a truly exotic feel to the summer shade garden. Caladium leaves are white, pink, or green and have attractive spots or stripes in a contrasting color. Unlike other plants discussed above, you can plant Caladiums from 4 inch or 1 gallon containers or from bulbs purchased in the spring. Purchase bulbs from you local nursery or a mail order supplier like the Caladium Bulb Company. Plant in the shade of trees with other shade garden plants or grow them in containers or window boxes for a bold, colorful statement that is sure to make the neighbors green with envy. 


Coleus Alabama Sunset
Credit: Daryl Mitchell

Coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides)

Coleus offers some of the most dramatic foliage for the shade garden at an affordable price.  Advances in breeding recently expanded the range of leaf forms and colors.  You can get leaves with green, pink, orange, bronze, acid yellow, and other mixtures of colors with spotting and splashes.  Plants grow 12 to 24 inches tall and spread about 12 inches.  Coleus will produce small purple flowers towards the end of summer.  Most people pinch off the flowers so they do not detract from the spectacular foliage. Proven Winners offers several fine varieties. Amend the soil with compost to increase moisture retention. Coleus thrives in the heat and requires average water during times of drought. 

Tips for a Successful Shade Garden

Shade Garden Overview
Credit: Daryl Mitchell

Shade, Soil Preparation, and Watering

A shade garden has morning sun and afternoon shade or dappled shade all day.  Hot, scorching sun will burn the foliage. Plant these beautiful shade garden plants after all danger of frost has passed.  Amend the soil with compost to improve water retention, fertility, and drainage. Healthy soil leads to healthy plants.  Water enough to keep the soil moist if there is not enough rain or the plants look wilted. Provide extra water if your shade garden if tree roots compete with your shade garden for water and nutrients. With proper preparation and the right plants, your shade garden is bound to be a colorful success.