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University of Illinois Extension Master Gardener Q&A – Great Annuals for the Shade

It’s spring! The University of Illinois Extension Master Gardeners are here to help you with your gardening questions! Lots of us will be home this spring, and what better way to be outside, stay healthy and enjoy the results of your work then to get outside and work on your garden. If you have a gardening questions, please email us at and we’ll answer them here in this article. Be sure to put “Gardening Question” in the subject line. Today, we will discuss some beautiful annuals that are easily grown in containers in the shady areas around your house.

Gardeners often struggle to bring colorful interest to the shady spots around their house, including decks, front porches, and door steps. Luckily, there are many beautiful annual flowering and leafy plants that not only tolerate shade and grow well in containers, but also add interest and color to these difficult areas.

Begonia – There are several types of begonias, including Angel Wing, Tuberose, and Wax begonias that thrive in part to full shade. These easygoing plants also offer interesting foliage, and come in a variety of colors to fit your taste.

Caladium – While caladium, also known as “elephant ear”, is not a plant with showy blooms, it does offer colorful, shapely leaves. Cultivars vary widely, and can have heart, arrow, or lance shaped leaves that come in pink, white, red, green, and even chartreuse.

Coleus – Another plant with no significant flower, this beautiful annual offers stunning serrated leaves on a branching plant. There are numerous varieties of this plant that include large to small variegated leaves in purple, red, orange, pink, green and yellow. Be careful what cultivar you choose, as some are adapted to full sun.

Lobelia – The dainty white, blue, or lavender flowers of the lobelia are one of my personal favorites. The leaves are also small, and offer a nice backdrop for these colorful blooms. Lobelia does best in part shade.

New Guinea Impatiens – These easy to take care of annuals come in a huge variety of colors. Some hybrids offer variegated and bicolored flowers. These annuals do best in part shade, typically found in an eastern exposure location.

Salvia – This interesting flowering annual has spike like flowers atop clean looking foliage. Colors include red, white and purple. Although Salvia enjoys full sun, it will tolerate part shade.

Sweet Alyssum – The tiny flowers of sweet alyssum are densely packed at the top of flowering stems. This annual comes in white, purple, and pink, and offers continuous blooms. Sweet alyssum is not only nice in a mixed container near the edge, but also does well as a ground cover. It is tolerant of cool temperatures and does best in part shade.

Wishbone Flower (Torenia) – Another one of my personal favorites, the dainty, single flowers on this annual are reminiscent of snapdragons. The plant itself is compact and bushy, and does well in part to full shade. Colors available include blue, pink, purple, red and white.

To learn more about these and other annuals that are suitable for shady locations, visit the University of Illinois Extension’s “Beyond Impatiens and Petunias” website at

Do you have some additional questions for us? Remember you can email us at, or call our University of Illinois County Extension Unit Office at 815.224.0889. Please note that due to the COVID-19 epidemic, offices are closed until further notice.

Happy Gardening!

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