20 Tall Shrubs for Shade Gardens
Count on shrubs to add height to planting areas in the shade. This collection of shade-loving shrubs includes heirloom bloomers, native plants and lots of low-maintenance gems.
'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 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Good to know: Light shade with some sun coaxes best flower color.
Learn More: How to Grow Mountain Laurel
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 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Good to know: Full sun is the key to strongest flowering.
Dear Dolores Hydrangea
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-inch 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 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Good to know: Mulch soil around this hydrangea to help maintain moisture and keep weeds down.
Learn More: How to Plant, Grow and Care for Hydrangeas
Golden Rule Hypericum
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 inches high by 12 to 24 inches wide. Hardy in Zones 6-8. Good to know: For best growth and color, prune plants in spring and again after flowering.
Discover the native shrub with an odd name — Fothergilla — and wonderful multi-season interest. Fothergilla opens the year with fragrant white flowers in early spring. These blooms resemble bottlebrushes and provide a vital source of food for early pollinators. Flowers appear with leaves, which boast a pleated, strongly veined surface that’s eye-catching. Fall leaf color is stunning, with a single plant showcasing shades of orange, burgundy, purple and gold. Fothergilla thrives in part shade to full sun. Plants grow 6 to 10 feet tall by 5 to 9 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8. Good to know: Fothergilla tends to send up many shoots and, if happy, forms colonies. Remove suckers as soon as they appear to keep your shrub to a modest footprint.
‘Flaming Silver’ Japanese Pieris
This evergreen shrub is a workhorse in a shrub border, delivering strong year-round color. Evergreen winter leaves provide a beautiful backdrop to white, bell-like blooms that appear in spring. New leaves emerge fiery pink, fading to white-edged green in summer. Plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-9. Good to know: This pieris doesn’t need pruning, but accepts it easily if you need to keep it a certain size or shape. For best results, prune after flowering.
Pink Perplexion Camellia
Camellias steal the show when they burst into bloom, and 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 inches 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 feet 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.
Kodiak Orange Diervilla
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 feet 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.
Scarlet Beauty Sweetspire
For summer bloom, turn to native, easy-care shrub sweetspire. Scarlet Beauty sweetspire (Itea virginica ‘Morton’) unfurls long white flower clusters mid-June to early July, flooding summer days and nights with luxurious fragrance. Blossoms buzz with pollinator activity, including bees, butterflies and beneficial insects. This is a must-have plant for wildlife gardens. The fall color season unfolds slowly with leaves in shades of vibrant scarlet-reds and deep oranges that hit their peak in early November. Plants thrive in sun to shade, tolerate moist soil and grow 3 to 4 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Good to know: If pruning is needed, do so immediately after flowering, before blossom buds form on mature stems. In early spring, remove any stems that fail to leaf out.
Wedding Ring Boxwood
Embrace a new 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 feet 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.
Julie Martens Forney
If you’re passionate about heirloom plants, set your sights on adding fuzzy deutzia (Deutzia scabra) to your yard. This charming shrub dates to 1822. Fragrant flowers blanket branches from late spring to early summer, beckoning bees and butterflies. Low-maintenance and long-lived, fuzzy deutzia makes a terrific informal hedge and thrives in a woodland setting. Give it morning sun in warmer regions with shade during the hottest part of the day. This bloomer grows 6 to 10 feet tall and 4 to 10 feet wide. Look for several varieties of this old-fashioned shrub, including ones with pink tinted blooms. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Good to know: Pruning is rarely needed. If you must prune to remove old, weak or dead stems, the right time to do it is after flowering.
Black Lace Elderberry
One look at the leaves and you know why this elderberry earns the name “Black Lace.” Botanically it’s called Sambucus nigra ‘Eva.’ Gardeners crave this plant for the deep, dark leaves that resemble a Japanese maple. This is a cultivated variety of the North American native elderberry plant. It does form edible elderberries of flu-fighting fame after spring flowers fade, although berries only form on old stems. This is an adaptable plant, growing well in moist or dry soils and in pots or planting beds. Prune to shape after flowering. Plants grow 6 to 8 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-7. Good to know: You can grow this shrub as a perennial by cutting plants to the ground in early spring. You won’t get berries, but you’ll have those gorgeous dark leaves all season long.
Give late winter and early spring a boost of bold color with the bright yellow blooms of witch hazel (Hamamelis x intermedia). This variety, ‘Arnold Promise,’ delivers intense fragrance in its heavy crop of cold-weather blossoms. Native to North America, witch hazel thrives in moist, well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic. Use this shrub in a woodland garden or as an informal hedge. Pair it with evergreens to help winter blooms stand out. This shrub is deer and rabbit resistant. Plants grow 12 to 15 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 5-8. Good to know: Witch hazel readily suckers, spreading slowly to form a thicket. Remove suckers as soon as they appear to keep the plant in bounds.
Julie Martens Forney
When a rhododendron flowers in spring, it literally buzzes due to bees visiting blooms. These evergreen plants grow best with acid soil and part shade. Root systems are shallow; keep plants mulched to help conserve soil moisture and protect roots. Depending on variety, rhododendrons can grow 3 to 20 feet tall and up to 25 feet wide. Look for rhodies that are native to North America or East Asia. Hardy in Zones 3-9. Good to know: Rhodies open flowers in a rainbow of hues, including purple, red, orange, yellow and white. To ensure you get the flower color you want, buy a plant with open blooms. Choose one with at least four stems at the base for the fullest look in the landscape.
Learn More: How to Grow and Care for Rhododendron
‘Pink Frost’ Florida Anise Tree
If gin and tonic is your highball of choice, make room for ‘Pink Frost’ in your garden—its spring flowers have a distinct GNT scent. This evergreen shrub is a cultivar of the native Florida anise tree (Illicium floridanum) with red blossoms that appear for four weeks in spring. Leaves offer green and white variegation that shifts to hues of rosy-pink in cold weather. ‘Pink Frost’ leaves release an anise scent when crushed, making it deer and insect resistant. Plants grow 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 7-9. Good to know: Plants grow best in rich, organic soil that’s consistently moist. Leaves turn yellow if plants receive too much sun.
Julie Martens Forney
A beauty bush (Kolkwitzia amabilis) in full bloom can stop traffic. The rest of the year, it’s rather unremarkable, although in a part shade location the yellow fall leaves are eye-catching. Beauty bush is an heirloom plant, popular in gardens planted in the 1930s and 1940s. It grows like a fountain, with straight stems that reach up and then cascade down, forming a waterfall of color in mid-spring. This shrub is low-maintenance and pest-free. Newer varieties offer a more modest size. Plants grow 6 to 10 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 4-8. Good to know: Beauty bush tends to develop a dense cluster of stems over time. Remove dead stems at any time. Prune to thin or shape the shrub immediately after flowering.
Julie Martens Forney
If you need some spring color in a spot with full shade, consider Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica ‘Pleniflora’). Also known as Easter rose, yellow blooms appear on branches in mid-spring. Arching stems are evergreen, adding a dose of color to winter scenes. Kerria is a natural for a woodland garden or shrub border, and over time can form a hedge. Prune to shape after blooming. Plants grow 4 to 8 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet wide. Hardy in Zones 4-9. Good to know: Kerria suckers and quickly forms a thicket if left untended. Pull suckers when they appear to keep the plant in bounds.
Incrediball Blush Hydrangea
Stout stems and massive blooms are the hallmarks of Incrediball hydrangeas. These new shrubs were developed to improve native smooth hydrangea (H. arborescens, also known as ‘Annabelle’ hydrangea), giving it stronger stems that don’t flop under the weight of the flowers. This variety is Incrediball Blush, which has silvery-pink blossoms. Plants grow and flower from shade (best in warmer zones) to full sun (best in cooler zones). New flowers continue to form on plants until fall frost. Largest blossoms don’t appear until root systems are well established (typically 3 years after planting). Plants grow 4 to 5 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8. Good to know: To get the biggest flower heads on the strongest stems, give plants a minimum of six hours of sun a day. In warmest zones, this should be morning sun.
Summer flowers steal the spotlight when bottlebrush buckeye (Aesculus parviflora) bursts into bloom from June to July. Each flower spike stands 8 to 18 inches tall and is irresistible to pollinators and hummingbirds. Aesculus is in the horse chestnut family, and these flowers fade to form small nuts, although they rarely form in Zones 5-6. Leaves shift to butter yellow in autumn. Native to the Southeast, this shrub was first grown in gardens in the late 1700s—it’s a true heirloom. Plants grow 8 to 12 feet tall and 8 to 15 feet wide. Give this beauty a little elbow room, because it tends to spread over time. Hardy in Zones 4-8. Good to know: Use bottlebrush buckeye in part shade beneath tall trees, at the edge of a woodland garden or massed as an informal hedge.
Julie Martens Forney
Nostalgia comes to life in the snow white blooms of mock orange (Philadelphus). Flowers open in early summer and release a citrusy fragrance. Place your plant near a walkway or patio so you can enjoy the scent on a warm evening, or cut a few stems to display indoors. Mock orange is resistant to Japanese beetles and deer. Plant it in a shrub border or as an informal hedge. Prune annually after flowering to remove leggy stems and shape the plant. Mock orange grows 2 to 10 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-8, depending on variety. Good to know: New varieties offer many different features, including double flowers, smaller size, gold leaves, more intense fragrance and repeat flowering in spring and summer.