Adding shrubs to your landscaping introduces interesting shapes, abundant flowers, and eye-catching focal points, bringing depth, maturity, and structure to even the smallest garden.
If your backyard is shady, you may worry that every bush in the garden center needs full sun to grow. Fortunately, there are plenty of beautiful shrubs that have evolved to fill up the spaces in the shadows cast by trees so they thrive away from intense light.
With its glossy, evergreen leaves, this compact shrub will help to carry your garden aesthetic through winter, then produce sweet-smelling white flowers to lift your spirits from February to April.
Originating in southeast Asia, dwarf sweet box prefers moderate climates, such as those found between USDA hardiness zones 7 and 9. It grows to around 2 feet in height, making it perfect for non-invasive ground cover in smaller spaces. Plant it in neutral, well-drained, humus-rich soil, somewhere it can enjoy the shade. As this species is fairly disease-resistant and rarely requires pruning, it’s perfect for busy folks.
This evergreen architectural plant has sturdy stems, dense white flowers, and shiny, eight-fingered leaves. It can reach up to 16 feet tall and enjoys warmer climates where temperatures don’t fall below -15 degrees, such as between USDA hardiness zones 8 to 10.
Known in botanical circles as Fatsia japonica, it’s ideal for adding interest to your space in autumn and winter, and it's happy in full shade or even indoors. Well-drained, moist, neutral soil works best, but it will need regular watering in the warmer months. Spring and autumn are suitable seasons for planting outside — place them about 6 feet apart.
These ornamental varieties of the tea plant produce abundant flowers that range from deep pink and red to yellow and white. Most cultivars have dark green, shiny, serrated evergreen leaves.
Camellias flourish in partial shade with a temperate climate, such as USDA hardiness zones 7 through 9. They can grow up to 40 feet tall in their preferred acid-, humus-rich soil. Great for those who are new to gardening, Camellia japonica is both low-maintenance and quick-growing. Plant them in autumn or spring, allowing each plant around 15 feet to spread out.
Native to Asia and North America, the azalea is a popular flowering shrub in the rhododendron family that produces eye-catching blooms throughout April and May. Azaleas like living under trees in well-drained, acidic soil, usually between USDA hardiness zones 7 and 9. Deciduous varieties can grow to 4 and a half feet tall and tend to form a broad, bushy shape, so leave at least 4 feet across for the plant to grow.
These shrubs can grow in full shade but will be more attractive if they receive at least a few hours of sunlight each day. Although they’re beautiful and resistant to most pests and diseases, they’re also highly toxic, so be aware of this if you have young children or curious pets.
This ornamental species of the cherry tree is named for its laurel-like appearance. It makes for a shade-tolerant and resilient shrub that can be pruned easily and looks spectacular as it blossoms in the spring.
Soil that’s slightly acidic and well-drained, yet still moist, will help this shrub flourish, especially in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9. Be aware that this species of cherry is toxic to humans and pets. Cherry laurel works best for larger spaces as it can grow up to 26 feet wide and 50 feet high.
This delicate plant resembles a small maple tree and has large, fuzzy, lobed leaves, clusters of white flowers, and blue-black berries that provide a great food source for wildlife in the fall. Native to North America, it’s happy in a wide range of climates between USDA hardiness zones 2 and 9 and loves even deep shade. It favors mildly acidic to neutral, dry soil but will need some watering to help it settle in its early months.
Mapleleaf viburnum can grow up to 6 feet in height, but more often only reaches around 2 feet, making it an excellent low-maintenance understory plant if you already have lots of trees.
This evergreen member of the boxwood family has alternate leathery leaves and green-white flowers. It provides excellent groundcover because it spreads by putting out runners, and it rarely grows above 3 feet high.
Pachysandra is very easy to cultivate, resistant to deer, and loves shade. Pachysandra prefers moist soil with lots of organic matter mixed in and will grow best in the mid-range temperatures of USDA hardiness zones 5 to 9. Plant it in the spring or fall, and water it thoroughly to help it establish.
Like many woodland shrubs, daphne tends to prefer partial shade. Most varieties have evergreen alternate leaves, upright stems, and clusters of highly scented flowers — they’re a great choice for adding interest to a smaller outdoor space.
Daphne can tolerate full shade, but for optimum flowering, it’s best to ensure it gets at least some sunlight. Take care, as all varieties are poisonous. Water these shrubs regularly but don’t allow the ground to become too wet. Daphne can be planted year-round, except during frost, and suits the mild climates of USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Originally found in central and South America, fuchsias have distinctive, colorful, bell-shaped flowers that are great for attracting pollinators. They do best in partial shade in the warmer climates — hardiness zones 6 to 11 — depending on the variety.
This shrub can reach up to 6 feet in height. Choose hardy varieties either for large containers or the ground. The former will require more regular watering and feeding. Plant them out in late spring into well-drained soil and apply a regular fertilizer.
These ever-popular "mop head" flowered shrubs are mainly deciduous and native to Asia and the Americas. They’re great for providing a robust shape, bringing a garden together, and producing blooms that will last for up to seven months of the year. Macrophylla and serrata cultivars have flowers that can change from pink to blue depending on the soil ph. Some species thrive in colder temperatures as low as USDA hardiness zone 3.
Hydrangeas can grow up to 12 feet in height and width, so allow for plenty of space when you situate them. Plant them in dappled shade in well-drained, moist soil in the fall.