Shade Loving Shrubs
The Complete Guide to Shrubs for Shade
Creating gardens in shady locations can present challenges for the home gardener. While all gardeners deal with some aspect of shade--whether it’s from neighboring buildings, a large tree, or the shade cast by living in a forest—shade gardens aren’t limited to hostas and ferns. Even with limited sun, you can still grow shrubs sporting beautiful blooms and fabulous foliage.
We offer dozens of shrubs that thrive in shade, producing gorgeous flowers and foliage to brighten your garden and add interest to your landscape.
Whether you wish to add privacy to your garden or create a bright focal point in your landscape, our vast collection of shrubs can help solve your garden challenges and create a lovely, peaceful oasis that adds curb appeal and value to your home.
The Top Shrub Varieties for Shade
Your choice of shrubs depends on many factors. Do you receive morning sun and afternoon shade? Do the trees in your garden provide dappled shade or deep shade? Are you looking to create a privacy hedge to block the view of your neighbor’s garage? Are you seeking a little aromatherapy next to your deck? Do you need a burst of bright spring color, or does your landscape lack winter interest? Whether you wish to harvest blooms for bouquets or block prying eyes, we offer perfect plant specimens to complete your landscape.
When deciding which shrubs to add to your garden, you’ll find both deciduous and evergreen shrubs. Most gardens need a marriage of the two, with a hedge of evergreen boxwoods surrounding blooming hydrangea bushes, for instance. Each type of shrub also comes in a wide array of varieties, sizes, and bloom colors. Before you buy, examine your space in the garden. Also, look carefully at the plant information to make certain the bloom time, color, or foliage is what you expect.
With thousands of shrubs available, the options can overwhelm. Here are a few of the best performers and top sellers for gardens with shade:
Encore® Azaleas offer a full year of interest, with a fantastic burst of blooms both in spring and fall. While the flowers offer spectacular color, the foliage provides seasonal interest, adding color and texture to the garden throughout the year. The ‘Autumn’ series is a best seller: ‘Autumn Royalty,’ ‘Autumn Angel,’ ‘Autumn Embers,’ ‘Autumn Belle,’ and ‘Autumn Debutante.’ 4-5’ height, 4-5’ width, zone 6- 10.
Another fabulous reblooming evergreen azalea to consider is ‘Conversation Piece.’ With white blossoms appearing in spring, the flowers unfurl to reveal pink blooms with deep crimson centers. The large, 4-inch wide flowers reappear again in fall, making this a perfect addition to the garden. 2-3’ height, 2-3’ width, zones 6-9. For a burst of brightness in the shade garden, ‘Delaware Valley White’ azalea offers a florific specimen with a lovely, light fragrance. It’s perfect for a moon garden. 3-4’ height, 3-4’ width, zones 5-8.
Fabulous spring blooms of rhododendrons bring your garden to life. We offer specimens in lavender, red, and white, with sizes ranging from 3’ to 8’. Zone 3-8.
Who doesn’t love the scent of old-fashioned gardenias? Now, breeders have introduced new varieties that tolerate those late spring frosts that can kill buds. Frost Proof gardenia is unaffected by cold snaps and thrives on neglect. It’s highly adaptable to all types of soil, performs well in sun or partial shade, resists insects and disease, and even is deer-proof. It’s such a fabulous performer that it won the Garden Writers Award for Best Plant in 2007. Its compact size works well as a short hedge or as a specimen in the garden. 3-4’ height, 3-4’ width, zones 7-10. ‘Kleim’s Hardy’ gardenia is the most cold tolerant variety on the market, ensuring you’ll have many blooms to enjoy regardless of frost. Plant these beauties near a porch or entranceway to enjoy the delicious fragrance. 2-3’ height, 2-3’ width, zones 7-11.
For a great groundcover or low shrub to create a layered effect with other, taller shrubs, ‘Dwarf Radicans’ Gardenia is a perfect choice. With spectacular double, fragrant blooms and a low, spreading growth habit, it’s ideal to use as a border, as a single specimen, or as a container planting for patios. 1-2’ height, 3- 4’ width, zones 7-10.
Just as the garden winds down for the season and blooms fade, camellias save the day with brilliant blooms and lush foliage. ‘Yuletide’ bursts into bloom in September and provides four months of flowers to add color to drab fall days. 8- 10’ height, 6-8’ width, zone 7-9. ‘Shi-Shi Gashira’ Camellia presents enormous, bright pink blooms that look like giant roses in the winter. While the rest of the garden is dormant, the camellia adds a perfect splash of color. 5’ height, 5-6’ width, zones 7-9.
The classic evergreen hedge for gardens. Used both in formal landscapes to highlight features, such as sculptures or fountains, or as individual plantings in perennial beds to add texture and color. ‘Dwarf English’ boxwood is slow growing, with the added benefit of being pest and deer resistant. It’s perfect for formal knot gardens. 2-3’ height, 2-3’ width, zone 5-8. ‘Wintergreen’ boxwood is ideal for borders and hedges. 2-4’ height, 3-5’ width, zone 5-8. ‘Green Velvet’ offers fragrant spring blooms, a rarity in boxwoods. Excellent foundation planting, as well as practical for hedges and borders. 4-6’ height, 3-5’ width, zone 4-9.
One of the biggest challenges for a garden with minimal sun is to find plants that will thrive and add color to the landscape. ‘Heavenly Bamboo’ Nandina solves the challenge. The low maintenance plant begins with green leaves in the spring, changing to deep purple and vibrant red throughout the seasons. Not only does it offer beautiful, colorful foliage, delicate white blooms also appear in the summer. 4-6’ height, 3-4’ width, zones 6-10. For a smaller, colorful specimen, ‘Fire Power’ Nandina adds dramatic impact in areas with low sun. Deep green foliage appears in the spring, turning rich red in fall and maintaining its color all winter. The compact shrub is perfect for smaller areas or containers. 2-3’ height, 2-3’ width, zones 6-10.
Deciduous (some shrubs remain evergreen in southern zones):
A perfect multipurpose plant in the garden, hydrangeas offer architectural interest, beautiful blooms, and fabulous foliage. ‘Endless Summer’ changed the game with hydrangeas. No longer is frost a concern. These plants are cold hardy, while performing well in extreme heat. Their 8-10-inch blooms last six months, changing color depending on the soil’s pH, and blooming on new growth. Because the plant blooms on new growth, a late spring freeze no longer means a summer without blooms. 3-4’ height, 3-4’ width, zone 4-9. ‘Vanilla Strawberry,’ with its white, cone-shaped blooms that mature to blush then age to strawberry red, was selected as the top plant in 2010 by the American Nursery and Landscape Association. The flowers make excellent additions to bouquets. 4-6’ height, 4-6’ width, zone 4-8. ‘Nikko Blue’ Hydrangea is one of the most famous hydrangeas on the market. With its enormous, 6-inch wide, pom-pom like blooms, the deep indigo blooms adds interest and color to the shade garden. Blooming from June through September, it’s the perfect addition to a shady garden. 6’ height, 4-5’ width, zones 6-9.
Background Information on Shrubs for Shade
Shrubs and hedges are integral design features in the garden, offering privacy, defining property lines, and enhancing the beauty of the landscape. While there are hundreds of options available, including evergreens with lush foliage or highly florific shrubs that provide color and fragrance, you need to choose carefully if your garden only receives limited sun. Many flowering shrubs require full sun, but we offer dozens of varieties that bloom in shade or that provide unique foliage to brighten dark corners in your landscape.
Shrubs provide year-long interest in the garden. Most shrubs are low- maintenance, as well as disease and pest-resistant. Plus, shrubs can turn your garden into a Backyard Wildlife Habitat, as many provide food and shelter for birds and other wildlife.
How to Select the Right Shrubs for Shade
When designing your garden, the first step is to assess the amount of sun it receives. Look at the garden during different times of the day. Do you have morning sun but deep afternoon shade? Does a bit of dappled light reach your garden through the trees? Or is your garden ensconced in deep shade? Also, check the amount of light available to your garden at different points throughout the year. A sunny winter garden might actually become deeply shaded in the summer, when the leaves fill out in the trees.
Before you purchase your shrubs, look carefully at your site and decide how you want the plant to perform. Do you intend to grow a privacy screen along your property? Need a wind screen to reduce your energy costs? Are you looking to make a statement at the entrance of your home or along the driveway? Also, what is your hardiness zone? Many shrubs tolerate a wide range of climates, but check the growing information carefully prior to purchase.
Whether you love the beauty of blooms, want to attract bees and butterflies to the garden, or hope to hide your neighbor’s unsightly chain-link fence, there are a wide variety of shrub options for your garden. Shrubs range in size from small trees to short, compact ground covers. Consider foliage color, texture, and blooms when selecting shrubs. Read the plant’s information, paying particular attention to the plant’s mature height. While most shrubs are typically low- maintenance, you may need to groom hedges to maintain their shape. Also, plan the site so that the width of the mature shrub does not encroach on pathways.
As always, if you need assistance selecting the shrub that is right for your garden, we’re happy to help. Just give us a call at 800-399-9514.
How to Plant Shrubs for Shade
As soon as you receive your shrub, give it a good drink, particularly if you plan to wait a day or two to plant it.
Proper site selection and preparation will help grow a happy plant. Check the plant’s specifications for light and soil needs. Good drainage and adequate airflow are all ingredients for a healthy shrub or hedge.
Most shrubs can tolerate a wide variety of sites and soils. However, amending heavy, compact clay soils with compost will improve the health of your shrub, allowing water to drain adequately so it won’t rot the plant’s roots.
Late fall or early spring are ideal times to plant shrubs, allowing the plants to settle in without severe heat stress or impending freezes before roots establish in their new home.
Dig a hole approximately twice as large as the plant’s root ball. A well-dug hole gives you the opportunity to breakup any compacted soil, add amendments, and give your plant a good start without overcrowding its roots. Your plant will thank you.
Loosen the plant in the container, carefully removing it, and massaging the root ball. Place in the center of the hole, making certain the soil lines of both the root ball and the hole align. You want to ensure that you don’t plant the trunk too deep in the hole. Back fill the hole, pressing the soil into place. Water well. Add a layer of mulch over the site, but avoid the “volcano” effect—simply spread mulch over the site to conserve moisture. Never mound mulch around the plant’s trunk, which can promote disease. If planting as a privacy screen, align plants along the border and space accordingly to the plant’s recommendations. Remember to consider the mature width of the shrubs when planting to ensure they don’t encroach on your neighbor’s property.
Each spring, add a layer of compost over the planting site, as well as a good, organic fertilizer. However, do not over-fertilize flowering shrubs, as too much fertilizer will provide lush foliage—and few blooms.
Keep the shrub or hedge well watered through the first growing season, approximately one inch per week. As it becomes established in your garden, normal rains should suffice. Most shrubs are fairly drought tolerant once established.
While most shrubs we offer are pest and disease resistant, some pests can sneak into a garden. Aphids and powdery mildew can easily be eliminated with organic controls as needed. Deer can be trickier, but selecting deer resistant varieties of shrubs can help.
Most shrubs we carry require little pruning when planted in the correct space and location. New spring growth can be clipped to keep plants tidy, but flowering shrubs require care. Prune inappropriately, and you risk losing next year’s blooms. A good rule for pruning flowering shrubs is to snip and shape just after the plant finishes blooming for the season. To keep your shrubs healthy, remove dead, sick, and injured stems, as well as any stray stems, to maintain a clean shape. Check the plant’s growing guide for additional information about pruning.
In Ancient Greek, Rhododendron means “rose tree.” Rhododendron is the national flower of Nepal, where it is considered edible and enjoyed for its sour flavor. Pickled flowers last for months, and the flower juice is also marketed. Rhododendron flowers are also added to fish curry.
Rhododendrons are symbolic of caution.
The largest collection of camellias in North America resides at Descanso Gardens in Southern California. In Chinese tradition, camellias express long- lasting devotion. The petals of the camellia symbolize the spirit of a young lady, while the calyx (which holds the blossom) symbolizes a young man entrusted to care for and protect the lady. Unlike most flowers, the calyx of the camellia falls with the petals and symbolizes perfect unity and everlasting devotion.
Nandinas are native to eastern Asia, growing in Japan and China for centuries. William Kerr introduced the nandina to western gardens in 1804, sending it to London in his first consignment from Canton. In Japan, nandina is called “Sacred” or “Heavenly” bamboo, although it is not related to bamboo. Nandinas are planted by front and back doors of Japanese homes. If the family experiences domestic troubles, they are to tell their troubles to the nandina, and the problem will be resolved.
One of the oldest and largest collections of azaleas is found at Magnolia Plantation and Gardens near Charleston, South Carolina. The azalea was first introduced as an outdoor feature at the rice plantation in the 1830s. Previously, it was only grown in greenhouses.
Azaleas are toxic. The toxicity of azaleas was so infamous that a bouquet of azalea flowers in a black vase signified a death threat.
In Chinese culture, azaleas are known as the “thinking of home bush.”
The largest hedge in the world is the Meikleour Beech Hedge, planted in autumn of 1745 by Jean Mercer and her husband, Robert Murray Nairne, on the estate of the Marquess of Lansdowne. The hedge is the tallest and the longest in the world, reaching 100 feet in height and 1/3 mile in length. It’s cited by the Guinness Book of World Records as the largest hedge.
The largest hedge maze is found at Longleat in Warminster, England. Planted in 1975, the maze contains 16,000 English yews, covers 1.48 acres, and contains 1.69 miles of pathways.
The first gardenia in America was planted in 1762 in the Charleston garden of Dr. Alexander Garden, a Scottish physician and naturalist—and the gardenia’s namesake. Although he did not discover the gardenia, his friend, English merchant John Ellis, who found the plant growing in a garden outside London, convinced the famous Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus, to name the plant for Dr. Garden. Blossoms are used as a yellow dye for fabric and food in China and Japan. Fruits of gardenia are used in traditional Chinese medicine for their clearing, calming, and cooling properties.
In France, gardenias are traditionally worn as a boutonnière in men’s evening dress.
Hydrangeas denote friendship, devotion, and understanding. According to folklore, hydrangeas could be used to break a witch’s spell. The Native Americans used the roots as a diuretic and detoxifier, while the bark was used to ease muscle sprains and burns.