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10 Must-Have Shade Shrubs

By Staff Writer
Share to Pinterest10 Must-Have Shade Shrubs
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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.

01

Japanese aralia

Share to PinterestFatsia japonica, commonly called Japanese aralia
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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.

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02

Camellia japonica

Share to PinterestJapanese Camellia (Camellia japonica) in sunny spring day

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.

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03

Dwarf Sweet Box

Share to Pinterestclose up of flowering dwarf sweet box shrub

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.

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04

Azalea

Share to PinterestAzalea bush
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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.

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05

Cherry laurel

Share to Pinterestgreen cherry laurel in garden

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.

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06

Mapleleaf viburnum

Share to Pinterestmapleleaf viburnum shrub leaf and flowers

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.

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07

Pachysandra

Share to PinterestClose-up of pachysandra
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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.

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08

Daphne

Share to PinterestDaphne odona / Japan daphne / Daphne indica
Photos from Japan, Asia and othe of the world / Getty Images

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.

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09

Fuchsia

Share to PinterestFuchsia flowers
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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.

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10

Hydrangea

Share to PinterestHydrangea Blooming On Plant
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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.

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11

Rhododendron

Share to PinterestMacro closeup of many pink rhododendron flowers showing closeup of texture with green leaves in garden park
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Rhododendrons love dappled shade but not full shade, and they enjoy high humidity and acidic soil. These deer-resistant shrubs are real showstoppers and come in tall 20-foot skyscrapers and dwarf varieties that hug the ground. When in full bloom, enormous clusters of rich color add magic to exterior spaces-the showy flowers are often pink and purple and have a distinct fragrance.

Rhododendrons attract birds and can be deciduous or evergreen. They are suitable for USDA hardiness zones 5 to 8.

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12

Skimmia

Share to PinterestSkimmia plant with red fruits in spring
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Charming Japanese skimmia is quite adaptable. It prefers light shade but will be okay in deep shade or sunny spots too. This evergreen shrub will make your yard look attractive and colorful for most of the year. It grows to 4 feet tall and 5 feet wide and has an appealing scent, from its flowers to its leaves.

Skimmia's red berries ripen in fall and add a pop of brightness during winter. Plant this shrub on slopes or in beds, borders, and containers. It is hardy in USDA zones 6 to 8.

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13

Leucothoe

Share to Pinterestleucothoe bush
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Leucothoe, AKA Mountain Dog Hobble, hails from Japan and is not for everyone. It's subtle, a little droopy, and poisonous. But it grows well even in full shade and tolerates a variety of soil mediums. Bell-shaped almost-fluorescent white flowers show up in spring—they look fabulous and smell like honey. Leucothoe is suitable for USDA zones 5 to 8.

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14

Yew

Share to Pinterestyew bush
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The yew shrub will thrive in deep shade in zones 4 to 8. It can grow up to 40 feet tall without pruning and stretches to 20 feet wide. Yew's foliage is tinged with blue or gold, and its spring blooms add drama during the warmer seasons. This low-maintenance shrub can be used as groundcover and still looks interesting during winter.

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15

Boxwood

Share to Pinterestshaped boxtree garden
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The stuff of landscaping and topiary dreams, boxwood is a shade-loving shrub you can shape like Edward Scissorhands. It can grow to a height of 20 feet and gets just as wide. This deer-resistant plant is great for privacy and fantastic in containers. It is suitable for USDA zones 4 to 8.

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16

Mahonia

Share to PinterestMahonia aquifolium flowers
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Mahonia, AKA grape holly, is native to western North America and grows quickly. This evergreen shrub has perfumed yellow flowers that perk up outdoor spaces during spring. These make way for tart, edible blackish-blue berries—perfect for jam.

Mahonia is a magnet for beneficial wildlife like butterflies. It grows up to 12 inches and does wonderfully in zones 6 to 9.

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17

Pieris

Share to PinterestSelective focus shot of delicate Pieris japonica, the Japanese andromeda blooming in a garden
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Pieris shrubs tolerate partial shade. Also known as Lily-of-the-Valley Bush, this plant is so gorgeous in spring with its pretty-in-pink flowers. Lily-of-the-Valley Bush is adorable in containers and suitable for zones 4 to 8. It can grow to a height of 8 feet.

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18

Aucuba

Share to PinterestThis spotted leaved aucuba grows slowly as a dense rounded evergreen shrub. It prefers rich, moist well-drained soil in partial to full shade. Flowers appear in the in early spring and the foliage , crotonifolia
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Aucuba, or spotted laurel, is another evergreen shrub from East Asia that does well in sheltered partial shade. It won't be the star of your garden, but it adds welcome color and lushness. It can also tolerate nutritionally deficient soil and urban air pollution.

Great for a screening hedge or background, aucuba grows up to 10 feet tall and 9 feet wide and is winter hardy in USDA zones 6 to 9. In addition, you can grow spotted laurel as an indoor plant in cool rooms or in patio containers and window boxes.

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19

Kerria

Share to PinterestKerria japonica shrub
Photos from Japan, Asia and other of the world / Getty Images

Japanese kerria will brighten up a dim corner of your garden with sunny yellow flowers. It flourishes even in full shade and appears at full force for about three weeks in spring or randomly throughout summer. The green leaves stay green even in fall and drop off late in the season, but the stems that stick around in winter are green too and add visual interest during the colder months.

This deciduous shrub prefers moist, well-drained soil and will look great in USDA hardiness zones 4 to 9.

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20

Fothergilla (Witch Alder)

Share to Pinterestfothergilla shrub
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You won't need to go leaf-peeping if you grow fothergilla, a relative of witch hazel, in your garden. Observing this deciduous shade-tolerant shrub as the seasons pass will give you great joy. In spring, white bottle-brush-shaped flowers emerge with a sweet fragrance. When the heat gives way to a nip in the air, the foliage transforms into a stunning sunset palette of purple, red, orange, and yellow.

Place fothergilla in a mixed border or as a foundation plant that brushes against your home. It grows to 10 feet tall and is hardy in zones 5 to 9.

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