Gardening Basics

Q and A: Shrubs for Shade

Follow these tips on which flowering shrubs do well in the shade.

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Q: What flowering shrubs do well in shade? I want lots of color in the garden.
— B.P., East Falmouth, Mass.

A: Azaleas and rhododendrons fill the bill for bold splashes of flower color, but many great shrubs offer distinctive characteristics other than color. In your Zone 7 shady garden you have several nice choices, depending on the pH of your soil.

  • Purple beautyberry (Callicarpa dichotoma) has lovely purple berries in fall so that the branches appear jewel-laden. Give it dry to moist acid soil in sun or partial shade. Mature height is four to six feet tall.

  • Dwarf fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii) offers outstanding fall colors. Acid soil, partial shade, can handle boggy conditions. Two to five feet tall.

  • Bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora). Showy upright inflorescences at the ends of branches make this a knockout in bloom. Adaptable, sun or shade. Needs room.

  • Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia). Architecturally interesting form with large flower panicles in late summer which are good for drying. Acid soil, sun or partial shade, moist to dry. Demands space; six to eight feet tall.

  • Virginia sweetspire (Itea virginica). Fragant white flower spikes occur in midsummer. 'Henry's Garnet' has reddish-purple fall color. Moist to wet soil, sun or shade. Three to four feet tall.

  • Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia) has highly fragrant midsummer flowers. 'Ruby Spice' has rose flowers. Acid, moist, well-drained soil.

  • Mountain pieris hybrids (Pieris floribunda). White panicles in spring. Moist, acid soil, although mountain pieris doesn't need as much acidity as Pieris japonica does. Two to six feet high, depending on cultivar.

  • Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana). Graceful, fountain-like shrub with drooping foliage. Acid, moist, well-drained soil. 'Scarletta' has burgundy fall foliage, and 'Girard's Rainbow' has colorful new leaves.

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