Brighten Your Early Fall Shade Garden

Brighten Your Early Fall Shade Garden

Late summer is the ideal time to take stock of various garden spaces and see what’s lacking. Maybe your shade gardens are rocking the color early in the season, but by August, the show’s pretty much over. While not as rich in options as in spring and summer, fall offers plenty of gorgeous shade lovers that add color to borders, woodland gardens, under trees, in the dim shadow of tall walls, or on the less sunlit sides of the house.

Shade can be confusing. We get that. So, here are some examples of the more common situations you might face–partial shade, filtered sun, and full shade–and a few plants that perform well there, with the added bonus of killer early fall color. You will find many more options in our plant catalog (just use the filters to search by light and zone). Find these plants or other great ideas at your local garden center.

Questions? Please feel free to ask in the comments section!



Partial Shade

If your garden looks like this in the afternoon (it receives up to 6 hours of direct sun, with four or more of those hours being in the morning, and the rest of the day being in shadow) its considered partial shade. Lucky you! This is the most beneficial type of shade condition for a variety of plants.

Here are a few plants with fall color that thrive in partial sun.


Black Negligee Snakeroot
Zone: 3 – 9

Fragrant, creamy-white, slender bottlebrush flowers top foliage that matures to dark purple is a standout in the shaded border or woodland garden.


Honorine Jobert Japanese Anemone
Zone: 4 – 8

Volume of pure white flowers on graceful branching upright stems. Lovely massed in a woodland setting, spotted into wild rock gardens, and an excellent cut flower.


Little Rocket Leopard Plant
Zone: 4 – 9

Long, purplish-black spikes are encrusted with bright yellow, daisy-like flowers over large leaves. Mass in a shady or part sun space, or plant in a large container.



Filtered Sun

If your garden looks like this for some or most of the day its considered filtered sun (sometimes called “dappled sun”). Sunlight filtering through the canopy of open tree branches or through latticework structures with the pattern of light shifting all day, creates this condition. This state is a bit more challenging, but many plants love this kind of light.

Here are a few plants with fall color that thrive in filtered sun.


Redstone Falls Trailing Foamy Bells
Zone: 4 – 9

Such a great new groundcover! Ruby-splashed, ruffled foliage changes colors with the seasons. Thrives in dappled shade; takes sun in cool summer areas.


Quick Fire® Hardy Hydrangea
Zone: 3 – 9

Flowers open white then turn pink in fall. Very hardy, perfect in filtered light situations such as containers, mass plantings, hedges, or as a cut flower.


Pink Elf® Saxifrage
Zone: 6 – 9

An excellent border plant to brighten up shady gardens with stunning sprays of pink flowers and colorful foliage. Ideal for a shaded garden or woodland setting.



Full Shade

If your yard looks like this all day, it’s considered full shade. This is the dense kind of shade found under evergreens and trees that does not allow any direct light to penetrate. It’s dim and cooling, but can be a challenge to find plants that will bloom here. Instead, we turn to foliage with lovely color and interesting leaf structure.

Here are a few plants with fall color that thrive in full shade.


Jeepers Creepers Tiarella
Zone: 4 – 9

Shapely leaves topped in spring by tall spikes of lightly fragrant, creamy-white flowers adds dramatic color to the shaded garden. Exceptional shade tolerance.


Chiri-san Sue Mountain Hydrangea
Zone: 7 – 9

Valued for abundant summer into fall bloom and shade tolerance. Fertile flower clusters are encircled by florets, which can be blue or pink depending on soil.


Regal Red Japanese Painted Fern
Zone: 4 – 9

Striking violet-red fronds are contrasted by bright silver edges, giving an overall tapestry effect. Can tolerate dense shade while keeping its vivid color.