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A rain garden is a great way to manage excess runoff from the roof or driveway. Situated in a low area of the garden it absorbs and filters rainwater. Rain garden plants should be native species that tolerate moist soil. If the low area of your garden is shady, choose appropriate plants for a shade garden. 

Rain Garden Plants for Shade – Shrubs

Start with a shrub—or a few depending on the size of the rain garden—to deflect and slow down the rain coming into the garden. A larger plant also anchors the garden and serves as a focal point. Try these shade-tolerant species: 

  • Chokecherry. Choose red or black chokecherry depending on the color of berry you prefer. Red chokecherry grows a little taller, up to about 13 feet (4 m). It can tolerate partial shade. 
  • Elderberry. This tall shrub, sometimes a small tree, does well in shade and produces fragrant flowers and edible berries. 
  • American beautyberry. Named for its bright purple berries, this native shrub provides vibrant, interesting color. 
  • Virginia Sweetspire. This pretty shrub grows up to eight feet (2.5 m) tall and a little less wide. It turns striking shades of red and purple in fall. 
  • Oakleaf hydrangea. Native to the southeastern U.S., this hydrangea has interesting foliage and white flower clusters. It will do fine in partial shade. 

Perennial Plants for Shade Rain Gardens

Perennials should fill in most of the space in your rain garden. Go for a variety of heights to create visual interest. These species will tolerate or thrive in shade: 

  • Native ferns. Ferns do well even in serious shade. They love moisture too, making them perfect for a shady rain garden. Look for species native to your region. 
  • Bee balm. You can find bee balm in a range of flower colors. They like the moisture of the rain garden and attract pollinators. 
  • Cardinal flower. The bright red flowers on this perennial attract hummingbirds. 
  • Marsh marigold. Choose this perennial for eye-catching yellow blooms. 
  • Northern blue flag. This native iris adds a gorgeous shade of blue-purple to a rain garden. 
  • Woodland sunflower. This U.S. native sunflower is not as tall as other varieties, but it produces pretty yellow flowers and does well in shady conditions. 
  • Columbine. Columbine is an elegant flower with unique colors and striking foliage. 
  • Turtlehead. Turtlehead comes in two varieties with snapdragon-like flowers in pink or white. 
  • Green and gold. This is a groundcover that tolerates shade and does well in rain gardens. It produces bright green leaves and a scattering of yellow blooms. 
  • Sedges. Several types of sedges tolerate shade and add an interesting, spiky texture. 

Contact your county extension office for more rain garden ideas and details about what to plant in your area for the best results.

Mary Ellen Ellis

Mary Ellen Ellis has been gardening for over 20 years. With degrees in Chemistry and Biology, Mary Ellen's specialties are flowers, native plants, and herbs.