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"