Best plants for a shaded balcony – container plants to enliven shady outdoor terraces

A balcony with limited light is still full of possibilities – make the most of the shade with these recommendations from garden designers

plants and herbs grown on a balcony with table and chairs
(Image credit: Getty Images)

No one would blame you for assuming that a shaded balcony isn't the optimal place for creating an urban oasis. And, admittedly, it does require us to choose our plants more carefully, considering which varieties will cope in a container and in limited sunlight.

But as the saying goes, a good garden grows where a good gardener goes, and there are plenty of balcony plants that thrive in shady spots. In fact, having a shaded balcony can be a blessing in disguise because it narrows down your choices – a bit like only choosing the veggie options on an extensive restaurant menu.

A small, shady balcony garden has so many benefits – less risk of plants burning on scorching summer days, cooler conditions for gardening, and fewer slugs, to name a few. And, as with any container gardening, you can move plants around easily as you get to know the space.

balcony garden with planters and bistro set

(Image credit: Jacky Hobbs)

Best plants for a shaded balcony

As a rule of thumb, plants with thick, soft, and large leaves tend to do well in the shade, so they are good ones to look out for when buying plants for a shaded garden. Avoid those with narrow, hard, and subdivided leaves, as these will do less well in shady conditions.

We spoke to gardening experts for their recommendations when it comes to the best plants for a shaded balcony, to help you create a soothing retreat on hot days. We hope this will provide a jumping-off point for your garden ideas, inspiring you to get outside and see what works and what doesn't in your space.

1. Bright blooms

flowering fuchsia Dollar Princess in fall container

(Image credit: Clickmanis / Shutterstock)

'Shade is the perfect foil for bright colors,' says Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development with Terra Nova Nurseries. 'Consider the scale and space available, be adventurous, and play up the colors.'

It's your space, so choose the colors you truly love – you might like to go all-purple with blue daisies, cascading Lobelia, hydrangeas, or geraniums, available at Nature Hills. Or maybe you'd prefer to mix and match different pinks, whites, and yellows to create a playful and uplifting display with busy Lizzies, fuchsia and angel's trumpet.

If you want something unusual, Michal Kapitulnik, principal at Surfacedesign recommends planting a unique, flowering vine: 'Akebia quinata (chocolate vine) can be planted in either sun or shade and has an amazing waxy deep burgundy flower,' she says. 'For long winter blooms, we love Japanese anemones. The Honorine Jobert cultivar has prolific white blooms and can be grown in containers in the shade,' says Michal.

We have listed some of the shade-tolerant plants below that are sure to bring bright color to shaded balconies.

  • Busy Lizzies (impatiens)
  • Fuchsia
  • Trailing Lobelia
  • Geranium wargrave pink
  • Begonia
  • Hydrangea
  • Angel's trumpet
Chuck Pavlich
Chuck Pavlich

As Director of New Product Development at Terra Nova Nurseries, Chuck is responsible for new ideas for the breeders as well as overseeing the breeding process and shepherding new products to the world perennial market. His current breeding projects include Begonia and Coleus.

Surfacedesign principal michal
Michal Kapitulnik

Michal Kapitulnik is principal at Surfacedesign, a landscape architecture and urban design firm based in San Francisco, California. Her interest in horticulture and the potential didactic qualities of the landscape inform her work. Michal has managed multiple complex projects at Surfacedesign, ranging from small-scale residential to commercial and public open-space networks.

2. Herbs

shaded balcony with containers of herbs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Given that many herbs grow well in the shade, you might like to grow a balcony herb garden. Nothing beats the simple pleasure of cutting your own fresh herbs from the garden while cooking dinner, and wild garlic, mint, chives, parsley, wasabi and dill will all be just fine in a shaded spot. 

As well as being convenient and helping you to be more sustainable at home, herbs bring a lovely fragrance and rustic feel. Herbs such as chives, mint and parsley are very hardy, and are among the best plants for beginners. If you want something a little different, however, you could follow Michal Kapitulnik's lead and try growing Corsican mint: 'Corsican mint (mentha requienii) is an amazing highly scented ground cover that loves shade, and is used to make crème de menthe.'

Whether growing on a shaded balcony or in a kitchen window, you can pick up herb seeds from Amazon. Attach herbs to your railings to get them up off the ground, making them easier to water – black pots with detachable hooks, at Amazon are good for this.

3. Hostas and ferns

Balcony garden ideas example with different colored plants and a wicker pot with a lampost.

(Image credit: Future / Colin Poole)

Hostas and ferns are popular, shade-tolerant choices for enlivening outdoor spaces, and a shaded balcony provides the perfect conditions. 'Your shaded balcony is going to place you ahead of most gardeners when it comes to beating the slugs and snails so you have the perfect chance to grow hostas, which come in a staggering range of sizes, colors, and textures – plenty to choose from if you become a bit fanatical,' says garden designer Susan Hampton.

'Team the bold, architectural leaves of one such as Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans' with a softer and more feathery texture from hardy ferns such as Polystichum setiferum 'Herrenhausen',' Susan suggests. 

Michal Kapitulnik recommends maidenhair ferns (adiantum) for their delicate structure and says tiarella is also a beautiful addition thanks to its flowers. 'When planted in masses it creates a diaphanous edge to a balcony planter,' she says. Read up on how to grow hostas in pots and how to grow ferns, to keep them looking their best.

4. Bulbs

balcony with table and spring bulbs

(Image credit: Getty Images)

You'll be surprised how many spring bulbs will grow in full or dappled shade, and they never fail to bring a joyful, lively feel to an outdoor space. 'Lift your spirits in spring with some bulbs such as snowdrops, hyacinths, narcissi, and tulips,' says Susan Hampton. 

'You can use the same pot for a summer flowering cascading begonia, which will flower until the frosts arrive.' For advice on growing begonias for beautiful blooms and foliage come the summer, you can head to our guide.


What are the plants to avoid growing on balconies?

Of course, some plants will be out of the equation. 'Cactus (sun lovers), hedera (invasive plants), xeric plants (plants that like sunny, dry locations), and plants with silver foliage (they’ll turn green in the shade),' explains Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development at Terra Nova Nurseries.

What are the best low-maintenance plants for a shaded balcony?

If you're looking for plants that will be easy to care for, Chuck Pavlich, director of new product development at Terra Nova Nurseries, recommends the following plants: fatsia, begonia, coleus, heuchera, heucherella, tiarellla, acanthus, brunnera, impatiens, viola, sweet potato vine, polka dot plants, caladium and fuchsia.

If you are overlooked on your balcony and therefore want to create more garden privacy, you could consider growing ivy, star jasmine, or Japanese laurel. These will also soften the harsh edges of your balcony and create the impression that your outdoor space has always been there.  

Millie Hurst
Section Editor

Millie Hurst is a freelance lifestyle writer with over six years of experience in digital journalism. Having previously worked as Solved Section Editor at Homes & Gardens and Senior SEO Editor at News UK in London and New York, Millie has written for an array of homes brands including Livingetc and Real Homes and was formerly Senior Content Editor at Ideal Home. She has written and edited countless features on home organization, decluttering and interior design and always hopes to inspire readers with new ways to enjoy their homes. She lives in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, and loves to weave nature-inspired decor and nods to time spent in Italy into her own home.