20170805A Daderot, WC
Many azaleas (Rhododendron species and hybrids) will do fine in shade… in acid soil. Photo: Daderot, Wikimedia Commons

If you have a shady corner and want to add a few shrubs, it’s important to know which varieties to plant, because most shrubs are sun-loving plants or will tolerate, at best, only partial shade. Very few species will do well in a heavily shaded spot, that is, one that receives very little direct sunlight.

The following shrubs, though, have all that ability and also that of being able to tolerate the presence of abundant tree roots. Do note that even shade-tolerant shrubs will likely grow more slowly in the shade, may bloom less abundantly or appear a bit sparser than they would in a more brightly lit spot. Those are environmental comprises they made long ago to living in a situation where sunlight, their only source of energy, is rare. Even so, the shrubs listed below will all acclimatize and do well in shade.

Other Factors

To successfully grow shrubs in shade, you also have to respect their hardiness zone, given here following the plant’s name. In short, you can grow shrubs of your hardiness zone and of any zone with a smaller number. For example, if you live in zone 5, you can choose shrubs from zones 1 through 5.

Also, each species has its soil preferences: rich or poor, acid, neutral or alkaline, moist or dry, dense or light … but there was no room to include all that here, so this list can really only be a first step in your search.

It’s also useful to know how to plant in soil invaded by tree roots. For that purpose, I suggest you read A Laidback Gardener’s Guide to Planting in Dry Shade before you start.

That said, here is the list of tough shrubs that tolerate deep shade.

The Best Shrubs for Shade

20170804B Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz WC copy
Buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis) is well adapted to shade, but prefers moist soils. Photo: Krzysztof Ziarnek, Kenraiz, Wikimedia Commons
  1. Aucuba japonica (aucuba, spotted laurel) zone 7
  2. Buxus spp. (boxwood) zone 4 to 7, according to species
  3. Calycanthus floridulus (Carolina allspice) zone 5b
  4. Camellia spp.(camellia) zone 8
  5. Cephalanthus occidentalis (buttonwood) zone 4
  6. Chionanthus virginicus (fringetree) zone 5b
  7. Clethra alnifolia (summersweet) zone 4b
  8. Cornus alternifolius (pagoda dogwood) zone 3
  9. Cornus racemosa (grey dogwood) zone 3
  10. Diervilla spp. (bush honeysuckle) zone 3 to 5, according to species
  11. Dirca palustris (leatherwood) zone 4
  12. Eleutherococcus sieboldianus, syn. Acanthopanax sieboldianus (spikenard) zone 5

    Euonymus alatus
    Winged euonymus (Euonymus alatus) is an excellent shade shrub, but doesn’t take on its famous red fall color in deep shade. Photo: Matt Lavin, Wikimedia Commons
  13. Euonymus alatus (winged euonymus, burning bush) zone 3
  14. Euonymus fortunei (wintercreeper) zone 5
  15. X Fatshedera lizei (tree ivy) zone 8
  16. Fatsia japonica (fatsia, Japanese aralia) zone 8
  17. Fothergilla spp. (fothergilla) zone 5 to 6, according to species
  18. Fuchsia (fuchsia) zone 7 to 9, according to species
  19. Gardenia jasminoides (gardenia) zone 8
  20. Gaultheria procumbens (wintergreen) zone 2
  21. Gaultheria shallon (salal) zone 7
  22. Hamamelis virginiana (common witchhazel) zone 4b
  23. Hydrangea quercifolia (oakleaf hydrangea) zone 6
  24. Ilex spp. (holly) zone 3 to 8, according to species
  25. Itea virginica (Virginia sweetspire) zone 6
  26. Kalmia angustifolia (sheep laurel) zone 1
  27. Kalmia latifolia (mountain laurel) zone 5
  28. Kerria japonica (kerria) zone 5b

    20170805D Michael Wolf, WC
    Drooping leucothoe (Leucothoe fontanesiana)
  29. Leucothoe spp. (leucothoe) zone 5 to 7, according to species
  30. Lindera benzoin (spicebush) zone 5
  31. Lonicera spp. (honeysuckle) 2 to 7, according to species
  32. Mahonia spp. (grape-holly) zone 4 to 8, according to species
  33. Nandina domestica (heavenly bamboo) zone 7
  34. Microbiota decussata (Siberian cypress) zone 3
  35. Physocarpus spp. (ninebark) zone 3
  36. Pieris japonica (Japanese pieris) zone 6
  37. Pittosporum tobira (Japanese mockorange) zone 8
  38. Rhododendron (rhododendron, azalea) (some varieties, such as ‘Boule de neige’, R. carolinianum, R. catawbiense, ‘Elviira’, R. kiusianum, ‘Maid in Shade’ series, ‘Nova Zembla’, ‘P.J.M.’, ‘Ramapo’, R. schlippenbachii, ‘Snowbell’) zone 3 to 10, according to species
  39. Rhododendron groenlandicum, syn. Ledum groenlandicum (Labrador tea) zone 1
  40. Ribes alpinum (alpine currant) zone 4b
  41. Rubus odoratus (purple-flowerig raspberry, thimbleberry) zone 3

    20170805E Vikipeedia
    Red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa)
  42. Sambucus spp. (elderberry) zones 3 to 6, according to species
  43. Sarcocca spp. (sweet box) zone 6
  44. Sorbaria spp. (sorbaria) zone 2 to 5, according to species
  45. Staphylea spp. (bladdernut) zones 4 to 6, according to species
  46. Symphoricarpos spp. (snowberry) 3 to 6, according to species
  47. Taxus spp. (yew) zone 4 to 6, according to species
  48. Tsuga spp. (hemlock) zone 4 to 6, according to species
  49. Vaccinium (cranberry) zone 3
  50. Viburnum spp. (viburnum) zones 2 to 8, according to species20170805A Daderot, WC

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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