IN THE GARDEN: Shade Loving Perennial Plants for Alaska

Sunday, June 11, 2017 - 13:10

Finding the plants that grow well in shade can be challenging but is not impossible. There are many perennials that will grow nicely for us in the shade and this list is not exhaustive. Our particular lot has many birch trees and has posed a challenge to grow plants that need more light and it has become clear to me that shade plants love it here. It has taken a while to find the right fit of plants to these shadier areas and persistence has definitely paid off. The following plants grow well in Alaska and will grow well in shade and provide beauty and interest in the garden with just a little care:

Bleeding heart (Dicentra stectabilis, pictured at right) loves being in cool shady areas. This plant grows in zones 3-9 and needs regular watering to keep the soil moist. One of the first plants to grow and bloom early in the garden in spring, this plant is called ephemeral, which means that once summer comes, it evidently goes dormant, something I did not notice. Every year, it puts on a show, with delicate arching stems of heart-shaped flowers in red, pink and white. I absolutely love this plant and have all three colors!

False goat’s beard (Astilbe) Although considered to be zone 4-9, is grown successfully in Southcentral Alaska. Astilbe thrives in most shady parts of the garden with a display of beautiful foliage and frilly flower heads it can grow 2-3 feet high. Astilbe is a colorful addition and comes in the following colors of white, orange, red, pink and violet. I need to try this one.

Lily of the Valley (Convallaria majalis) is a delicate hardy shade tolerant zone 3 perennial. These plants are cold tolerant and have fragrant flowers making a great ground cover for woodland back yards. These plants multiply and are pretty in the garden under the trees. If eaten, these plants are a neurotoxin and can be deadly to dogs and cats according to the Vet at Pet Emergency.

Viola (Violaceae) grows and spreads easily in Alaska and hardy in zones 3-9. A delicate happy little plant, it will pop up in unusual spots in the yard. This plant comes in many colors and never disappoints. Growing 4-8 inches, these perennials are not to be confused with the annual pansies. I find them all over and dig them up and put them in the garden bed and next year they are surprisingly somewhere else.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria saccharata) grows like crazy in the shade and was one of the first plants up out of the ground this spring. An attractive, spotted-leaved plant with beautiful, graceful, bell-shaped pink flowers that eventually turn blue, lungwort is dependable to return in zones 3-8. My plant is in full shade for at least 15 hours and its thriving. My bees love this plant. Lungwort will grow 12-18 inches tall and will spread slowly throughout the garden and easily managed.

Our state flower, Forget-Me-Not, (Brunnera macrophylla) likes our shady woodlands. These tiny bright blue and pink and white flowered plants with light green foliage are a perennial that spreads easily in rich soil and likes it slightly moist. Growing 12-18 inches tall, these pretties are hardy in zones 3-8. Until this week I had never seen the white Forget-Me-Not and they are beautiful.

Plantain lilies (or hostas) are one of the best plants for shady areas of your garden. These plants provide a variety of green foliage with fragrant pendulous flowers in lavender and white. Hummingbirds love these flowers. Hostas are hardy for Alaska to zone 3 and will multiply and are divided easily. The moose like these and trim them every year to the ground and they amazingly come back.

Primroses (Primula) are by far my favorite grow-anywhere — including shade — flower. The first to bloom in the garden, this perennial is as tough as it is colorful. The blooms last a long time and are beautiful. These plants multiply and can be divided easily. Zones 3-8 and with hundreds of varieties, primulas are a must-have perennial. I just learned that Juneau has the largest collection of primula in North America at the Jensen-Olson Arboretum, 23 miles from downtown Juneau. A must see, I understand.

I could go on and on about shade perennials that work for us in Alaska. These above plants have proven themselves worthy time and time again. There are many more plants that we can grow here in shade or partial shade and I look forward to incorporating them in the garden. Remember we must, “Keep calm and Garden on”.

Invasive Plant Alert!

Hairy catsear (Hypochaeris radicata) is from the sunflower family. It is a perennial herb with a basal rosette and has dandelion-shaped leaves. Similar looking to the dandelion, but can grow two feet tall. Leaves are densely hairy on both sides. This plant will be found growing in meadows, roadsides and gardens and is common in Southeast. Be on the lookout.

Plant Sales:

Saturday June 10

Plant sales are about over for the year, but if you are on the Peninsula, the Central Peninsula Garden Club Plant Sale is at 10 a.m. until the plants are sold out. Look for the New Life Assembly of God Church Parking lot on the corner of Kenai Spur and Princess Road, 209 Princess Lane, Kenai. Details at:


Tuesday, June 13

Greater Eagle River Garden Club Meeting held at 7-8:30 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Eagle River in the annex across the street, behind Brown Jug.

Eric Unrein from P&M Gardens will be our speaker on The Planting and Care of Hardy Perennials.

Chris Wood is a certified Master Gardener from Eagle River. Send questions or comments to [email protected]

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