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Ten Backyard Landscaping Ideas for a Midwest Shade Garden

There is more to shade garden design than hostas!

Chances are, you’ve been spending a lot more time in your backyards these last few weeks and that may have led to thinking of the best backyard landscaping ideas. At Ryan Lawn & Tree, we work every day to create outdoor spaces you can enjoy year-round and we want to let you in on a little secret.

If you have had a backyard shaded by trees with hard-to-grow areas, you don’t have to rely on hostas to fill your need for a shade garden oasis! 

Sure hostas are great and many of them are ideal for warm, shaded areas. But there’s more to a shade garden than hostas! 

“If you have an area in your backyard under trees and you haven’t been able to get anything to grow there, that‘s a great place to add ground cover and shade perennials and make it enjoyable, instead of an eyesore,” said RYAN Pro Rebecca Hudson, part of RYAN’s outdoor living design team.

Hudson designs hardscapes and landscapes for homes in the Kansas City Metro area and pulled together her ten most favorite hearty plants and flowers for a shade garden to give you some backyard landscaping ideas.

Top Ten Shade-Loving Perennials


Slide Rozanne Hardy Geranium This beautiful purple violet blue beauty is perfect for adding soft color to your shade garden. It is one of the longest blooming perennials in the garden — from late spring into mid-fall. It grows 12-14” tall and spreads out almost the same width. 1 Slide Raspberry Splash Lungwort Perhaps a not-so-pleasant namesake, this lungwort is actually dazzling with its clusters of vibrant raspberry-coral flowers that bloom from early to late spring. The raspberry splash is a mounding flower for your shade garden that sports upright silvery-blotched leaves. It grows to 12” tall and may spread up to 18” wide. 2 Slide Winky Red & White Columbine Ryan Landscape Winky Red & White Columbine These striking, upward facing, red-purple and white bell-shaped flowers can bring a splash of color to your partial shade or shade garden areas — especially on border edges. The dwarf columbine blooms from late spring to early summer and grows to a height of 24 inches. As added benefits, it’s low-maintenance and self-seeding! 3 Slide Electric Plum Coral Bells This perfect perennial thrives just as well in full shade as full sun! The intense foliage of the electric plum coral bells transforms itself from almost black to deep purple with black veining. It sports dainty, bright fuchsia pink flowers you’ll find a beautiful idea for your backyard landscaping. When planning your shade garden design, remember it grows to a height of 10 inches and spreads 18 inches wide. 4 Slide Ostrich Fern Let your shade garden take a walk on the wild side with this beautiful, easy-to-care-for perennial. Officially called matteuccia struthiopteris, the ostrich fern will grow to a height of three to six feet and spread out equally as far in the wild. In your shade garden, you can expect a growth of more like two to three feet tall. Like most ferns, they love wet, cooler, moist weather but they do well in shady gardens of the Midwest. 5 Slide Blush Pink Nandina RYAN-Shade-Garden-Blush Pink Nandina The blush pink nandina is an impressive new shade garden flower — a version of the nandina firepower. This shrub displays glowing pink blooms throughout the growing season and then turns in to a spectacular fall and winter display of bright pink and red foliage giving you beautiful color in your shade garden year-round. The blush pink nandina grows about two feet high. 6 Slide PJM Elite Rhododendron Give your shade garden a little texture with this vigorous and showy evergreen shrub. The extremely hardy PJM Elite sparks showy lavender-pink blooms in late spring but is equally as beautiful in the winter with its purple-plum colored leaves. This shrub will grow four to five feet tall and spread almost that equally. 7 Slide Black Lace Elderberry The dramatic black lace elderberry will be a stunning addition to your backyard landscape ideas! You’ll love the sophisticated look of this dark purple-red plant with its ornate black lace leaves. It’s super easy to care for and grows fast in your shade garden. This versatile shrub is happy mixed with a perennial garden or lining your sidewalk as a stunning hedge. 8 Slide All Gold Hakone Grass All Gold Hakone Grass-Ryan-Shade-Garden Japanese all gold Hakone grass adds an easy-to-grow wonder of glowing color to your shade garden. The brilliant golden color of this ornamental grass practically glows in the dark of your shady oasis. It’s long life, easy-maintenance and upright, spiky look make this a shade garden favorite. The grass grows 15 to 18 inches in both directions! 9 Slide Blue Prince-Princess Holly Blue-Prince-Princess-Holly-Ryan-Shade-Garden This lovely shrub is a hearty hybrid holly with gorgeous dark green leaves, white dainty flowers and bright red berries. It can make a beautiful focal point in your shade garden. And, if you love birds in your backyard, they’ll love the blue prince-princess holly bush. It grows big — from five to 10 feet tall and three or four feet wide. The blue-green foliage is enjoyable through early fall. 10 keyboard_arrow_left keyboard_arrow_right


No more complaining about the lack of great plants for shade! Hudson went one step further by recommending plants that work best in shady locations with unique soil types. For super wet areas, Hudson suggests: pickerel rush, creeping Jenny, corkscrew rush, chameleon plant, forget-me-nots, and northern sea oats. And if your dirt has a high acidic content, consider: hinoki false cypress, hollies, Pieris japonica and rhododendrons.

Get Landscaping Design Ideas from Your RYAN Pro Today!

Whether you’re looking for various shades of green, textured plants that add personality or flowers for your shade garden, Hudson’s recommendations are sure to fit your needs. And, they’re hearty enough to last through hot, humid summers and harsh winters! If you have questions about what to plant in your shade garden to create a backyard oasis you can enjoy, Ask A RYAN Pro or reach out to our outdoor landscaping designers for the best backyard landscaping ideas in the Midwest!

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