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20 Plants To Grow In Your Moonlight Garden

20 Plants To Grow In Your Moonlight Garden

Often, gardens are planned with only the daytime in mind. Under the light of the sun, many plants show off their rich colors, gorgeous textures, and stunning shapes. A world in miniature, this is typically the time of day when the garden is abuzz with activity – the birds are singing, the bees are darting from flower to flower, the butterflies are basking in the sunshine, and the breeze is heavy with delectable fragrances. But if you are like most Americans, you are far and away from this daylight ambrosia between the hours of nine and five and are missing out on the prime time of garden pleasures, perhaps only relishing it on the weekends.

And yet, the garden doesn’t necessarily slumber as soon as the sun disappears beneath the horizon. Under the celestial realm, a whole different cast of creatures alight the scene. Long into the night, chorusing cicadas and crickets, honking geese and basso toads, break up the stillness of the evening, while the understated beauty of the luna moth, along with bats, owls, and fireflies, flit and flap about. Plants, too, have nocturnal habits, and there are many that spring to life after dusk.

Moonlit gardens are a wonderful option for those who prefer to take their evenings outdoors – dining al fresco, entertaining, or taking serene strolls through the backyard landscape – while still enjoying the captivating wonder of glowing foliage, textures that play on light and shadow, and intensely sweet aromas.

Creating a moonlight garden is all about selecting plants that make their presence known after dusk. Between flowers that only begin to bloom in the twilight, fragrant plants that deepen their scent into the night, and foliage and blossoms that will brighten under the moon, there are many choices you can make to add night-time interest to your outdoor spaces. Rather than carving out a solitary area for these nocturnal curiosities, it’s best to pepper them throughout your garden landscapes to foster a good balance between day and night plants.

Night-Blooming Plants

Shy during the day, these plants wait until night falls before opening up and showing off their beautiful blooms.

1. Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)

A member of the morning glory family, moonflower is a twinning vine that originated in tropical and subtropical regions of the Americas. Blooming 5-inch wide pure white flowers, moonflower is the nocturnal counterpart to the morning glory, with fragrant blooms that open after dusk and close at dawn.

Hardiness: USDA zones 8a to 11

Light Requirement: Full sun

Height / Spread: 6 to 15 feet

Attracts: Hummingbirds and moths

2. Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis)

As its name implies, evening primrose flowers only bloom after dusk. The common variety features large yellow flowers that emit a lemony fragrance, but Oenothera speciosa ranges from dark pink to white. While evening primrose oil is known for its medicinal properties, the plant’s fleshy, succulent roots are edible and its seeds can be used for bird feed.

Hardiness: USDA zones 5a to 8b

Light Requirements: Full sun

Lifecycle: Biennial

Height: Up to 3 feet

Spread: From 8 inches to 2 feet

Attracts: Birds, butterflies, bees, moths

3. Night Phlox (Zaluzianskya capensis)

Also dubbed midnight candy due to its powerfully sweet fragrance that is reminiscent of freshly baked goods, night phlox is a must-have in a moonlight garden. In shades of white, purple, and maroon, night phlox unfurls its pinwheel-shaped blooms once the sun sets.

Hardiness: USDA zones 9 to 11

Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Height / Spread: 12 inches

Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies

4. Four O’Clock (Mirabilis jalapa)

Native to Peru, four o’clocks are bushy perennials that bloom aromatic trumpet-shaped flowers in shades of red, magenta, pink, violet, yellow, or white, though sometimes different colored flowers will blossom on the same plant. Closed for most of the day, the flowers will bloom come 4 p.m. and close up again the following morning.

Hardiness: USDA zones 7b to 11

Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Height / Spread: 1.5 to 2.5 feet

Attracts: Hummingbirds, moths

5. Queen of the Night (Epiphyllum oxypetalum)

A species of cactus, queen of the night hails from Central and South America and is typically found growing on rocks or trees in its natural setting. Producing 12-inch wide, exotic white flowers with undulating petals that open only at night, it looks a little like a water lily set upon upright green fronds.

Hardiness: USDA zones 9 to 11

Light Requirements: Partial shade

Height: 5 to 8 feet

Spread: 3 to 5 feet

Attracts: Moths and bats

6. Night Blooming Jessamine (Cestrum nocturnum)

Under the sun, night blooming jessamine is an inconspicuous woody shrub. Toward the evening, its bunches of slender corollas open up with tiny star-shaped white blossoms. Powerfully sweet in scent, this average-by-day number is well worth the late night wait.

Hardiness: USDA zones 8b to 11

Light Requirements: Partial to full sun

Height: 8 to 10 feet

Spread: 3 feet

Attracts: Moths, bats

Caution: All parts of night blooming jessamine are toxic when ingested

Night-Fragrant Plants

While still emitting a scent during the day, night is the time when these plants unleash the full force of their fragrance in order to lure in beneficial nocturnal pollinators.

7. Angel’s Trumpet (Brugmansia)

An evergreen shrub with huge, funnel-shaped flowers that droop lazily downward, angel’s trumpet is a gorgeous addition to the garden both day and night. The blooms can grow to 20 inches in length and up to 12 inches across, in white, yellow, or pink, and radiate an intoxicating scent that is most fragrant on warm summer evenings.

Hardiness: USDA zones 7b to 11

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height: 6 to 10 feet

Spread: 5 to 10 feet

Attracts: Birds, hummingbirds

Caution: All parts of angel’s trumpet are poisonous if eaten

8. Evening Stock (Matthiola longipetala)

A wildflower originating in Portugal and Spain, evening stock is a pretty little number that is prized more for its fragrance than its good looks. Tending to wilt under the heat of the sun, the purplish pink petals perk up after sunset when they release their heady perfume, described as a mix of vanilla, rose, spice, and cloves.

Light Requirements: Full sun

Lifecycle: Annual

Height: 12 inches

Spread: 10 inches

Attracts: Bees, butterflies

9. Ever-Flowering Gladiolus (Gladiolus tristis)

Resembling Hippeastrum, ever-flowering gladiolus has buttery cream petalled flowers perched atop a twisty stalk. They release a strong almond fragrance after dusk.

Hardiness: USDA zones 8a to 11

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height: 2 feet

Spread: 8 inches

Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies

10. Lilac (Syringa vulgaris)

Nothing signifies the coming of spring quite like the unique fragrance of the lilac, which blooms for only two weeks in early May. This short window can be prolonged by planting mid- and late-blooming varieties along with the common lilac, so you can enjoy its wonderful aroma – that seems so much stronger at night – for about six weeks.

Hardiness: USDA zones 3 to 7

Light Requirements: Full sun or partial sun

Height: 5 to 15 feet

Spread: 6 to 15 feet

Attracts: Butterflies

11. Flowering Tobacco (Nicotiana)

Continuously in bloom all season long, flowering tobacco is indeed part of the tobacco family and contains high concentrations of nicotine. With tubular, five-pointed florets that open in the late afternoon, flowering tobacco begins to release its potent fragrance – which smells like jasmine – all evening long.

Light Requirements: Full sun to partial shade

Lifecycle: Annual

Height: 20 inches to 2 feet

Spread: 1 to 2 feet

Attracts: Hummingbirds

Caution: All parts of flowering tobacco are toxic if ingested

Luminous Foliage & Blooms

Along with night-blooming and night-fragrant flowers, adding plants that will shine under the stars is the crowning touch of the moonlight garden. You’ll want to select showy flowers in white or other cool colors like light blue, soft yellow, and lavender. Be sure to include reflective non-flowering plants to create a diverse range of textures, shapes, and sizes.

12. Summer Snapdragon (Angelonia angustifolia)

Angelonia received the common name, summer snapdragon, because its long-blooming upright 8-inch spikes resemble those of the popular dragon flower. Available in several hues, the “serena white” variety is the best choice for a moonlight garden. With apple-scented foliage, summer snapdragons will stay in bloom from June to September.

Hardiness: USDA zones 9 to 11

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height: 12 to 18 inches

Spread: 12 inches

Attracts: Birds, butterflies

13. Matilija Poppy (Romneya coulteri)

Native to the hot and sandy regions of California and Mexico, the matilija poppy is a large shrub that blooms with enormous nine-inch wide crinkled white petals and an orangey-yellow center. Sometimes called the fried egg poppy, it can spread indefinitely when left to its own devices so regular pruning is recommended.

Hardiness: USDA zones 7 to 10

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height: Up to 8 feet

Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies

14. Silvermound (Artemisia schmidtiana)

A fast growing perennial, silvermound is finely textured and dense with silver-green needle-like foliage that will shimmer under the light of the moon.

Hardiness: USDA zones 3 to 9

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height: 6 to 12 inches

Spread: 12 to 18 inches

15. Japanese Painted Fern (Athyrium niponicum ‘Pictum’)

As a good ground cover and border plant, Japanese painted fern adds a note of grace and softness to the flower bed. The willowy fronds are blue-green with silver edges, perfect for brightening up a shady spot in the garden by day and illuminating pathways by night.

Hardiness: USDA zones 5 to 8

Light Requirements: Full to partial shade

Height / Spread: 18 inches to 2 feet

16. Jack Frost (Brunnera macrophylla)

The heart-shaped leaves of jack frost are a grey-silver color contrasted with numerous light green veins, making this clumping ground cover plant an excellent pick for moonlit summer evenings.

Hardiness: USDA zones 2 to 9

Light Requirements: Full or partial shade

Height: 12 to 16 inches

Spread: 12 to 18 inches

17. Climbing Hydrangea (Hydrangea petiolaris)

Clinging to trees and rock faces with its small aerial roots, climbing hydrangea has glossy ovate leaves. In June and July, it will bloom with a ring of white florets surrounding a cluster of tiny blossoms.

Hardiness: USDA zones 5 to 9

Light Requirements: Full to partial sun

Height: Up to 50 feet

18. Alba Plena Camellia (Camellia japonica ‘Alba Plena’)

With exquisite overlapping petals in snowy white, the alba plena camellia is commonly referred to as the rose of winter since it blooms from late fall until early spring.

Hardiness: USDA zones 7 to 10

Light Requirements: Full to partial shade

Height / Spread: 6 to 8 feet

19. White Trillium (Trillium grandiflorum)

Found in the woodlands of North America, white trillium features a trio of white oval petals that eventually turn pink as the plant matures. An early bloomer, white trillium thrives in the shade and prefers a rich growing medium like humus soil.

Hardiness: USDA zones 3a to 9b

Light Requirements: Partial to full shade

Height: 1 to 3 feet

Spread: 6 to 12 inches

Attracts: Butterflies

20. Lamb’s Ear (Stachys byzantina)

Soft and fuzzy, lamb’s ear is one of those plants that you just have to reach out and touch. Forming a dense array of 4-inch long silver-grey leaves that will gleam on moonlit nights, the flowering varieties of lamb’s ear will grow tall spikes dotted with teeny violet blossoms.

Hardiness: USDA zones 4a to 10b

Light Requirements: Full sun

Height / Spread: 1 to 3 feet

Attracts: Birds, bees, butterflies