15 Shrubs for Shade Gardens

See our favorite shrubs that flower and flourish in the shadows.

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August 26, 2019

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Photo By: ProvenWinners.com

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Photo By: Image courtesy of Proven Winners

Choose Your Shade Plant

Most of us dream of the day when our gardens mature. We envision tall, leafy trees and mounds of blooming perennials, moss-covered statuary and cool, sheltered spots to stroll or sit.

Then reality sets in. When those trees grow up, they shade everything underneath, and we can’t grow many of our favorites anymore. Many plants need more light than our gardens can offer, and we have to give up on roses, tropicals and other sun-lovers.

Luckily, we have alternatives, especially when it comes to growing shrubs in the shade. There are some spectacular standouts we can enjoy, including climbing hydrangeas, Euonymus, red and yellow twig dogwoods, elderberries, ninebark, spirea and others.

Keep in mind that some shrubs can take almost full shade, but others need so-called bright or high shade—in other words, dappled light or morning sun. Still others are versatile enough to grow even in the sun. Here are seven of our favorites for shady spots.

Oakleaf Hydrangea

For a nearly carefree shrub, you can’t beat this native hydrangea. Its leaves change from bright green in summer to stunning red, purple, burgundy and bronze in fall, and its white flowers take on a pinkish tinge as they mature. These shrubs will thrive in morning sun with afternoon shade (especially in hot climates) or in full shade. They prefer well-drained, slightly alkaline soil with lots of good organic matter. Keep them watered during the first year after planting. They’re hardy in zones 5b to 9.

'Pink Charm' Mountain Laurel

Mountain laurel is a go-to favorite when it comes to shrubs that thrive in shady conditions. This native shrub grows as an understory plant in forests east of the Mississippi River. The true native form opens white flowers. 'Pink Charm' brings on spring color with bright pink blossoms that attract hummingbirds. Evergreen leaves add to the landscape year-round. Plants grow 8' to 10' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Good to know: Light shade with some sun coaxes best flower color.


Shade tolerant "rhodies," as they’re also known, are hardy in zones 5 to 9 (some are hardy to zone 4). Azaleas — another great choice for shady spots — are in the same genus as rhododendrons. Both like filtered sunlight or part shade, acidic soil and moist, cool summers. Both also have shallow root systems, so don’t plant them under shallow-rooted trees that will compete for water and nutrients. They like deep, regular waterings, but should be planted where the soil drains easily. Pine straw, if available, is a great mulch for these acid-loving shrubs. Rhododendron 'Bloom-A-Thon' is shown here. 'Bloom-A-Thon' rhododendrons, commonly known as reblooming azaleas, produce white, pink, lavender or red blooms in spring. After a brief rest, the flowers start up again in summer and fall. These evergreen, drought-tolerant shrubs need shade to part-shade and are hardy in zones 6b to 9b.

Opening Day Doublefile Viburnum

This selection of doublefile viburnum earns its name from baseball size blooms that typically appear near the start of baseball season. Flowers begin greenish-white and finish pure white. Leaves add strong interest with a deeply pleated form and strong green hue through summer. Fall lights up the foliage in vivid shades of wine and burgundy. Plants grow 5' to 10' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Good to know: Full sun is the key to strongest flowering.

Virginia Sweetspire

Hardy in zones 5 to 9, this deciduous shrub grows 3' to 4' high and spreads 4' to 6' across. Fragrant, tiny white flowers appear in May and June, held on drooping stems. Sweetspire is easy to grow and tolerates many growing conditions, including heavy shade, clay soils and wet soils, so you can even use them in a rain garden. While they’re fine for part shade, they’ll also take full sun. 'Little Henry' is shown here.


Camellias steal the show when they burst into bloom, and the 'Pink Perplexion' is no exception. This is a sasanqua camellia, known for its small leaves and ability to grow well in containers and landscape beds. Pink flowers up to 3" across cover this beauty in fall. Those pink blooms boast a color that defies description, which is why it’s called Pink Perplexion. Give it a spot in part shade to full sun with acidic soil. Plants grow 4' to 5' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 7-9. Good to know: Sansanqua camellias take well to pruning and shearing. Best timing is after flowering, in spring, before new flower buds form on stems in summer.


Undemanding serviceberries are natives that grow almost anywhere, even in damp soils and deep shade. Look for white blooms in early spring followed by edible berries in summer, and orange, red and gold foliage in fall. These plants — also called mountain blueberries, shadbushes and Juneberries — need moist, well-drained soil that ranges from neutral to acidic (a pH of 5.5 to 7.0). The more sun you can give them, the more berries they’ll produce. Serviceberries are deciduous and can grow into small trees if left unpruned, maturing at 10' to 25' tall. Grow them as a screen or use them as specimen plants. They’re ideal for woodlands and natural areas.

Japanese Pieris

Happy in full sun or in part shade with protection from the afternoon sun, Japanese pieris is a broadleaf evergreen shrub that grows 4' to 8' tall. Hardy in zones 5 to 8, the plants need rich, acidic, moist soil that drains easily. White blooms with an unusual upside-down, vase-like shape open in spring. After the flowers finish, the new leaves that grow are bright red. But be warned: leaves and nectar from the flowers are highly toxic. Do not grow these plants around pets or children.

Hydrangea Macrophylla

Give your yard’s shady spot a splash of color courtesy of Dear Dolores hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla 'Wyatt LeFever'). This bigleaf or mophead hydrangea opens 8" flower heads all season long — pink in alkaline soil, blue in acidic. (Add aluminum sulfate to soil to make it acidic.) The first wave of flowers appears in spring, followed by blossoms from summer to fall. Prune after flowering and/or in early spring to shape the plant. This classic bloomer grows 5' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Good to know: Mulch soil around hydrangea to help maintain moisture and keep weeds down.

Bottlebrush Buckeye

Native to the southeastern U.S., these deciduous plants are showstoppers in the summer. That’s when they produce their showy, white flowers, studded with red anthers (the part of the flower that makes pollen). In fall, the green leaves turn yellow and inedible nuts called buckeyes are formed. The plants are nearly carefree, fine for growing in borders or natural areas. They’re hardy in zones 4 to 8 and mature at 8' to 12' high with an 8' to 15' spread.


Brighten a part shade to full sun setting with colorful, deer-resistant Golden Rule St. John’s wort (Hypericum calycinum). Also known as hypericum, this plant has a form that falls between a small shrub to ground cover. As it establishes, it fills in a planting area with its gold leaves. Yellow flowers appear in summer, beckoning bees and butterflies. Fall color includes orange and gold shades. Plants grow 12" to 18" high by 12" to 24" wide. Hardy in Zones 6-8. Good to know: For best growth and color, prune plants in spring and again after flowering.


For fragrant, shade-tolerant shrubs, you can’t beat Daphnes. Depending on your climate, they may lose their leaves in fall or stay semi-evergreen. Daphnes like moist soil that drains easily and a neutral to acidic pH. Keep them well mulched. 'Carol Mackie' is a popular cultivar that grows 2' to 3' high and 3' to 4' across. Its pale pink or white flowers open in spring and form small red berries. You’ll get more blooms if you give the plants part sun, but the foliage, which is gray-green with creamy-white edges, is attractive in itself.


'Kodiak Orange' diervilla is a shrub for the ages. This native plant delivers bright leaf color all season long, drought tolerance, deer resistance and non-stop blooms. It’s also versatile, growing in sun or shade, including the tough environs of dry shade. Diervilla is undemanding — no pruning is needed to keep it in bounds. Leaves emerge orange and hold color through summer. Yellow flowers appear all summer long. Fall winds up the show with blazing orange-red leaves. Plants grow 3' to 4' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-7. Good to know: Diervilla isn’t picky about soil, thriving in moist or dry locations. It’s a good choice for erosion control on slopes.


Embrace the new 'Wedding Ring' boxwood that’s hardy, deer-resistant and beautiful. Variegated leaves sport green with a lime margin that deepens to gold as summer unfolds. This winter-hardy boxwood adapts well to formal gardens, shrub borders or containers. Or use it as a hedge or foundation planting. Evergreen leaves provide good winter interest. Plants grow in sun or shade, reaching 1' to 3' tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Good to know: This boxwood tolerates heavy pruning but doesn’t require any pruning. If desired, clip to shape in summer.

'Black Beauty' Elderberry

The pink flowers on the "Black Beauty' pair artfully with this elderberry’s purple-black leaves. Blossoms appear in midsummer, attracting all kinds of pollinators. Flowers fade to edible berries, tasty in jams and pies, although native elderberries have better flavor. Tuck elderberry into partial shade. This shrub tolerates clay soil. Hardy in Zones 4 to 8.

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