Native Plants for Shade: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

Use of Native plants in the garden has become more important to gardeners as we consider climate change and a need for more biodiversity.

Plants are Native or Indigenous to a region if they have originated and are naturally occurring in the same region.  Wild Plants that might be thought of as “native” have been introduced from European settlers and may have become invasive over time.  English Ivy (Hedera helix) and Periwinkle (Vinca minor) are two such plants.

Native plants have adapted to our climate and soil and the insects and animals that rely on them for food and shelter.  Native plants help attract songbirds and pollinators.

They grow naturally in a particular region’s ecosystem which improves growth, provides resistance to insect and disease problems as well as protection against the effects of heat and winter stress.

In choosing native plants for your garden, climate and soil influence the types of plants that will grow naturally in your region.

Cultural Considerations

When considering purchasing native plants it is important to choose ones that have been grown locally.


Consider the following light requirements in your garden when considering which plants to choose:

  • Deep shade: refers to the absence of sunlight, even during the daylight periods.
  • Partial Shade: is filtered light found beneath trees with high limbs. Partial shade usually offers some protection from the direct afternoon sun.
  • Full Sun: refers to six to eight hours of direct sun per day.


Whether you want to plant in containers or directly in your garden you will need to consider individual soil requirements for the plants you chose to grow.  Soil types can include sand, loam, or clay or a combination.

Soil preparation is extremely important.  Add organic matter such as well-rotted manure or compost by topdressing the area to be planted. This improves moisture retention and adds nutrients without disturbing the soil structure.

Further information about improving your soil can be found in another of our Gardening Guides:

Soil Fertility: A Toronto Master Gardeners Guide

How & Where to obtain native plants

Best bets for obtaining native plants in your area include shopping at local reputable garden nurseries,  plant or seed sales at local botanical gardens and plant swaps through your local garden or native plant societies. Always ask about the source of their plants and where they have been grown.

Credit Valley Conservation ( lists natives by preferred habitat and provides an up-to-date list of Native Plant Nurseries in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

The following chart provides some examples of native plants for shade that can be grown in the GTA..  There are many more options available which can be found by referring to the sources listed at the bottom of this guide.

Common Name Botanical Name Light Requirements Soil Requirements Description Comments
Bunchberry Cornus canadensis Part shade Rich, acid soil or peat moss Groundcover;

white tiny flowers in summer, followed by red berries

Woodland gardens


Canada Anemone Anemone canadensis Part Shade-Shade Moist sandy soil White buttercup flowers in late spring Spreader

via underground rhizomes

Purple Coneflower Echinacea purpurea Sun – Part Shade Well-drained, organically moist Violet flowers in summer Grows 23-35 inches;

Pollinator friendly

Starry False Solomon’s Seal Maianthemum stellaltum Part shade-shade Average Moisture Star-shaped white flower in spring Wild lily-of-the-valley
Wild Columbine Aquilegia canadensis Sun – Part Shade Average soil Yellow, red flowers in early summer Attracts butterflies, hummingbirds and bees
Wild Geranium Geranium maculatum  Part shade Dry to Moderate, sand or clay soil Pink or magenta blooms,  late spring/early summer Groundcover for shady woodland garden;

attracts hummingbirds

Woodland Sunflower Helianthus divaricatus Part shade Dry soil Yellow flowers in summer Grows 35-99 inches tall
Aster (Large-leaved) Eurybia macrophylla Shade Dry soil Large white or blue/violet flowers in summer/flall Grows 12-24 inches tall
Buttonbush Cephalanthus occidentalis Shade Moist soil white one-inch globe-like  flowers. Shrub

Nectar source for Humming- bird moth

Highbush Cranberry Viburnum trilobum Shade Moist, well-drained clusters of whitish flowers in spring followed by red berries. Provides shelter for birds



Resources and References:

Cullen, Mark. (with Marette Sharp) The New Canadian Garden, (2016). Dundurn, Toronto

Credit Valley Conservation 2021.

Ontario Native Plant Council (2017): Grow Me Instead.  Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for your Garden

Ontario Wildflowers: 

Urban Forestry:  How to Select and Buy Native Plants

Toronto Master Gardeners’ Gardening Guide to Soil Fertility:

Date Prepared: February 2022

Prepared by the Toronto Master Gardeners, these Gardening Guides provide introductory information on a variety of gardening topics.  Toronto Master Gardeners are part of a large, international volunteer community committed to providing the public with horticultural information, education and inspiration.  Our goal is to help Toronto residents use safe, effective, proven and sustainable horticultural practices to create gardens, landscapes and communities that are both vibrant and healthy.

Statement on Invasive Plants: When choosing plants, avoid invasive plants, which can spread quickly and dominate gardens.  Invasive plants are sold by nurseries, big box stores or even at community plant sales.  Invasives may already be present in your garden.  They can invade gardens by spreading from under a neighbour’s fence or may be transported by wildlife.  For beautiful, sustainable options to invasive plants, see the Ontario Invasive Plant Council’s “Grow Me Instead – Beautiful Non-Invasive Plants for your Garden” at purchasing or accepting “gifts” of plants.

Statement on Home Remedies: The Toronto Master Gardeners do not recommend home remedies, as these have not been proven effective through scientific investigation, and may even damage other living organisms in the soil or plants in your garden.  There are other garden friendly options you can use.

If you have further gardening questions, reach us at our gardening advice line 416 397 1345 or by posting your question here in the Ask a Master Gardener section.  To book Toronto Master Gardener volunteers for talks, demonstrations, advice clinics, or other services, please contact us at 416 397 1345  or