Photo by Melody

Shrubs for Shade

By Toni Leland (tonilelandApril 13, 2009

A magnificent spreading maple tree towers over the house and back garden, providing relief from the summer sun--a refreshing spot to relax and enjoy the floral scenery. But even moderate shade poses a challenge for planning a garden or flower bed. Annuals and perennials are easily tucked here and there, but what if you want a nice woody ornamental as a focus piece, or to provide privacy to your restful spot? Here are some tried-and-true shrubs for shady gardens.

Gardening picture

For many species of plants, moderate to dense shade inhibits proper growth; for others, it is a definite requirement. Unless you’ve already studied the sun path across your property, the first thing you’ll need to do is document the number of hours for which each area receives full sun. Make note of the spots that never get any, as well as those where dappled sunlight (considered light shade) is the heaviest.

Look at what already grows in these areas. If some plants have not performed well in the past, consider moving them to an area with more sun exposure. When a mature tree of 30 feet is fully leafed out, its shade-producing capabilities can extend much farther than you might think.

Always choose shrubs that are suitable and proven in your hardiness zone. Shade-loving species usually also want plenty of moisture and cool temperatures, yet some of the hardiest shrubs will also tolerate sun. Other species will not be able to compete for water and nutrition with the root systems of large trees.

Lastly, remember to consider the long-term size of the shrub you want to plant. Choose a spot where it can reach full size without crowding or interfering with the light requirements of nearby plants.

A List of Shrubs for Shade

Zones 2 to 6:      Bog or Marsh rosemary (Andromeda polifolia), light shade
Zones 2 to 7:      Dwarf Bright Gold yew (Taxus cuspidata 'Dwarf Bright Gold'), heavy shade to full sun
                         Highbush cranberry (Viburnum trilobum), light shade to medium shade
Zones 2 to 8:      Pagoda dogwood (Cornus alternifolia), light to medium shade, full sun
Zones 2 to 9:      Bayberry (Morella pensylvanica), light shade to full sun
                         Bog myrtle (Myrica gale), light shade to full sun
                         Gray dogwood (Cornus racemosa), light shade
                         Holmstrup arborvitae (Thuja occidentalis 'Holmstrup'), light shade
                         Red-twig dogwood (Cornus sericea), heavy shade to full sun
Zones 3 to 7:      Northern Lights azaleas (Rhododendron Northern Lights series), light to medium shade
Zones 3 to 8:      Dwarf European viburnum (Viburnum opulus 'Nanum'), light to medium shade
                         Hemlock Aurea compacta (Tsuga canadensis 'Aurea Compacta'), heavy shade to full sun
                         Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia), medium to heavy shade
Zones 3 to 9:      Hydrangea (Hydrangea arborescens), light shade
                         Panicle hydrangea (Hydrangea paniculata), light to medium shade
                         Winterberry holly (Ilex verticillata), medium shade to full sun
Zones 4 to 6:      Garden Glow dogwood (Cornus hessei 'Garden Glow'), medium to heavy shade
Zones 4 to 7:      Lace shrub (Stephanandra incisa), light to medium shade
                         Nannyberry  (Virburnum lentago), light to medium shade
                         Snowberry (Symphoricarpos albus), light to medium shade
                         Taunton Yew (Taxus x media 'Tauntonii'), medium to heavy shade
Zones 4 to 8:      Bush honeysuckle (Diervilla sessifolia), light shade
                         Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa), medium to full sun
                         Fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica), light shade to full sun
                         Green Velvet boxwood (Buxus 'Green Velvet'), light shade
                         Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), heavy shade to full sun
                         Jetbead (Rhodotypos scandens), medium shade to full sun
                         Tiger Eye sumac (Rhus typhina 'Bailtiger'), light to medium shade
Zones 4 to 9:      False cypress (Chamaecyparis spp.), light to medium shade
                         Honeysuckle (Lonicera), medium shade to full sun
                         Mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), light to dense shade
                         Rhododendron (Rhododendron), light to medium shade
                         Weeping forsythia (Forsythia suspensa), light shade to full sun
                         Witch alder (Fothergilla gardenii x major), light to medium shade
Zones 5 to 9:      Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), medium shade
                         Witch hazel (Hamamelis), light shade
Zones 6 to 9:      Chinese privet (Ligustrum), medium shade to full sun
                         Salal/Oregon Wintergreen (Gaultheria shallon), light to dense shade
                         Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus), light shade to full sun
Zones 8 to 10:    Japanese pittosporum (Pittosporum tobira), medium shade to full sun
Ohio State University Extension Bulletin, "Deciduous Shrubs for Ohio"
University of Illinois Extension Bulletin, "Shade: Shrubs"
This Old House, Trees & Shrubs, "15 Foolproof Shrubs" by Lynn Ocone
Dave's Garden Plant Files
The Garden Helper, "Trees and Shrubs Which Grow in the Shade"
Cornell Cooperative Extension, Nassau County, "List of Dwarf Shrubs and Low-growing Plants Suitable for Foundation Plantings"

  About Toni Leland  
Toni LelandToni Leland has been writing for over 20 years. As a spokesman for the Ohio State University Master Gardener program, she has written a biweekly newspaper column and is the editor of the Muskingum County MG newsletter, Connections; she currently writes for GRIT, Over the Back Fence, and Country Living magazines. She has been a gardener all her life, working soil all over the world. In her day job, she scripts and produces educational DVDs about caring for Miniature Horses, writes and edits books about them, and has published five novels.

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