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15 Favorite Shrubs for Shade Gardens

See our favorite shrubs that flower and flourish in shady areas.

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Choose Your Shrubs for Shade

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 azaleas (pictured above), 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 some of our favorite shade shrubs.

buy: autumn azaleas

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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.

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'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 feet to 10 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Good to know: Light shade with some sun coaxes best flower color.

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Photo: Image courtesy of Proven Winners


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.

Buy: Violet Rhododendron

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