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Creative Ideas for Shade Container Gardens

Do you have a shady spot either on your patio, deck or another outdoor living space? Or, perhaps you want to fill an empty spot in your shade garden with some color. Maybe, you have a dark corner that could use brightening up. Container gardening is also a great option for those who have limited space. Whatever your reasoning, we have lots of creative ideas for shade container gardens and all the information you need to keep them thriving.

Before we get started let’s define shade. For purposes of this article, shade is an area that gets less than 3 hours of sun per day and no hot, afternoon sun. Some of the plants suggested here will do fine in partial shade too, but again no direct sunlight especially in the afternoon.

Group of shade planters with colorful plants and flowers.

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Container Selection

When it comes to the success of your container garden, the size of the container matters. Like the saying, “go big or go home.” It’s equally important for the planter to have good drainage. Smaller containers are fine for individual plants, but think about how large that plant will get. The problem with small containers is that the roots of plants run out of space, plus they dry out very quickly.

Another important consideration is the color of the container. Will the color of your container detract from the flowers and plants, or will it compliment them. Sometimes, when you’re using mostly foliage plants in a container, it’s nice to have a bold colored container. I personally love cobalt blue containers and the color compliments just about any flower color.

Antique Milk Can with Fushcia plant in a shade garden.
Fuchsia in an antique milk can.

My favorite planters are upcycled vintage items like galvanized washtubs, old wheelbarrows, antique milk cans, or any large container that can be made into a planter.

Want to learn more about color combinations for your gardens and planters, check out this article.

Tips for Choosing Shade-Loving Plants

It’s a good idea to select plants that will thrive in low-light conditions. Don’t expect full sun flowering plants to thrive in shady areas. I don’t want to confuse you, but there are many full sun foliage plants (especially spiller plants) that grow just fine in the shade.

Here are some tips for making the best flower and plant selections:

  • Always read the plant tag or label. It contains valuable information.
  • Select plants that are labeled as full shade or part shade plants.
  • It’s best not to mix plants that like it dry, like succulents, with plants that like moist soil.
  • Make sure to choose both flowers for pops of color and plants with interesting foliage to add texture to your planter.
  • Including plants with varying heights and shapes will go a long way to create a visually appealing planter.
  • Play around with arranging your plant choices right in your cart at the garden center.

Before you head out to the garden center, read this article on plant shopping to get the most for your money.

Bright magenta colored double impatiens and caladium plants in a shade container planting.
Double impatiens and caladium

Check out these creative planters on Gingham Gardens’ Amazon Store.

The Best Soil for Container Gardens

Equally important as container and plant selection, is a good potting mix. Don’t go cheap and definitely don’t use ground soil for your shade container gardens. Cheap potting soil usually includes mostly peat moss, which doesn’t hold any moisture or nutrients. And, ground soil is too heavy and doesn’t allow for adequate drainage. The best soil is a mix of compost or top soil, peat moss or coir, and sand or perlite, along with an extended release fertilizer.

Pro Tip: Never fill the bottom of large planters with junk like Styrofoam peanuts or cans. Plants do their best growing in fertile soil. If you feel the need to fill the bottom of your planter with anything other than fresh soil, use old potting soil; or a combination of leaves, grass clippings and small twigs which will break down into compost.

Trailing torenia plant in a galvanized pail hanging from a shepherd's hook in a shade garden.
Trailing torenia

Maintenance for Your Shade Planters

To keep your containers looking their best all season long, it’s important to maintain them. Here are some maintenance tips for shade planters:

Don’t let your shade containers dry out! Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. This is especially important as your plants mature and during the hot summer months. Using a drip irrigation system for planters is a great way in ensure your plants are receiving adequate moisture.

Fertilize your planters on a weekly or bi-weekly basis. Even if you used a slow-release fertilizer in your soil. Regular watering washes those fertilizers out of the soil. I like to start fertilizing my container gardens about a month after they are planted. Be sure to follow directions on your fertilizer of choice and keep in mind that more fertilizer is not better. Too much fertilizer will burn the roots of your container plantings. This is my favorite fertilizer for flowers in planters.

To keep your container plants happy and healthy, deadhead and prune your container plants. Deadheading simply means to pinch off spent blooms. Pruning is more like giving a plant a haircut to keep its shape looking good. Here are my favorite gardening shears for pruning potted plants.

By following these simple maintenance instructions, you can keep your shade container gardens looking beautiful and healthy all season long. 

Shade planter vignette with purple fountain grass, pink impatiens and ivy.
Purple fountain grass, polka dot plant (hypoestes), impatiens and ivy

The Best Container Plants for Shade Gardens

We’ve already discussed plant selection for your shade container gardens, but now we’ll discuss some shade annuals and perennials that are a great choice for planters.

You’ve probably heard the old adage when referring to planters of “thriller, filler and spiller.” I don’t always follow rules (lol) and I don’t necessarily follow this one. Sometimes planters with just one variety of plant look great when you have just a small space to fill. Or, if you’re creating a grouping of planters, it’s fun to put a thriller (tall) plant in one, a spiller (trailing) plant in another and a single variety of filler plants in another. 

Shade container with purple fountain grass, caladium, white new guinea impatiens, pink begonia, boston fern and creeping jenny

Check out these creative planters on Gingham Gardens’ Amazon Store.

Colorful Flowers for Shade Containers

  • Impatiens are the quintessential shade garden annual. They thrive in shade or partial shade in moist, but well-draining soil. They are self-cleaning meaning that you don’t have to deadhead them, thus making them a low maintenance plant for shade. The plants are covered with all shades of pink, coral or orange, red or white flowers.
  • Browalia (a/k/a marine bells)
  • Tuberous Begonias
  • Lobelia
  • Viola
  • Pansies
  • Wishbone flower (Torenia)
  • Fuchsia
  • New Guinea Impatiens
  • Calla Lilies
  • Canna Lilies
Bright orange angel wing tuberous begonia.
Angel wing tuberous begonia

Colorful Foliage Plants for Shady Planters

Some of these plants have such beautiful foliage that they can stand alone in a planter all by themselves, but they also look amazing mixed with any of the other plants mentioned here.

  • Polka dot plant (hypoestes)
  • Rex Begonias
  • Coleus
  • Caladium
  • Joseph’s Coat (Alternanthera)
  • Coral bells*
  • Hosta*
  • Ferns (Boston Fern, Asparagus fern, Maidenhair fern, etc., etc.
  • Ornamental Grasses

*Perennial container plants for shade. In cooler climates, any perennial plant you have in a container will likely not survive winter unless you remove it from the container and plant it in the ground. Some have luck with moving the container into an unheated garage. Here in my zone 4 gardens, that has not worked for me.

Shade container garden with caladium, coleus, impatiens, torenia and creeping Jenny

Trailing Plants for Shade Planters

  • Trailing variety of torenia
  • Lamium*
  • Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)* 
  • Common English Ivy (hedera helix)*
  • Licorice plant (Helichrysum petiolare)
  • Sweet potato vine
  • Vinca vine*

*Be careful with these groundcover plants. In certain areas they can take over a garden if they escape from their planters.

Planter in a shade garden

Shade loving Plants for a Hanging Basket

Go ahead and experiment with the lists of plants above to create stunning hanging baskets for shade. Some ideas for hanging baskets for shade:

  • Tuberous begonias
  • Impatiens – taller varieties that will drape over the sides of a hanging pot. Or, impatiens in the middle of the pot with trailing plants like sweet potato vine, creeping Jenny or ivy around the edges.
  • Trailing torenia – see the picture above with trailing torenia in a galvanized pail hanging on a short shepherd’s hook.
  • Fuchsia plants look amazing in a hanging basket and hummingbirds will love them too.

Creative Ideas for Shade Container Gardens – Photo Gallery

Most of my shade planters are simple and I tend to use my favorites over and over. 

I cannot take credit for the beautiful arrangement of shade containers below. I snapped this picture many years ago when I was on a garden tour, because I thought it was such a great idea.

Flower planters elevated on posts in a shade garden.

Nothing fancy about this planter, but the bright shades of pink really brighten up a shade garden full of just green.

Beautiful planter with caladium and impatiens for a shade garden.
Caladium, impatiens and variegated ivy.

Using unique planters in my gardens is one of my specialties.

Wrought iron chair planter in a shade garden.
Wrought iron chair planter is filled with New Guinea Impatiens and Licorice Plant

In the planter below, two of the plants can be overwintered – caladium and maidenhair fern. Be sure to see the tips further down for cutting costs on your shade planters.

Colorful shade container garden.
Caladium, Maidenhair Fern, impatiens and wishbone flower.

A few more examples of using antiques or vintage items for planters.

An antique wagon with pots of shade plants.

Visit flea markets, yard sales, thrift stores or estate sales to find items you can use as planters, like the old coal bucket below.

Antique coal bucket used as a shade planter with colorful plants.
Joseph’s coat, impatiens and ivy

Watering cans make charming planters! This one had a major leak, but that made it perfect to use as a planter.

Collage of galvanized watering cans with plants for shade.

Coleus are very cost effective plants to add to your shade containers and they are great as standalone plants in a container by themselves. They can be grown very easily from seed and they can be propagated from stem cuttings. Coleus plants pack a punch of color in a shade garden and there are many, many varieties to choose from. 

Collage of coleus plants

When late summer hits and your containers are looking a little worse for wear, learn how you can transition them into a fall planter.

With a little creativity, you can create unique and beautiful containers that will thrive in the shade. Don’t be afraid to experiment with different plants and designs to find the perfect combination for your outdoor space. 

What do you think? What are your favorite plants or flowers for shade containers? Please leave a comment below to share your ideas.

Happy Gardening,
Julie

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