Yew hedges (Taxus x cuspidata ‘Hicksii’) create an intimate corner in this semi-shady garden. Source: www.instanthedge.com
Gardeners often wrongly believe that conifers are for sunny spots only and won’t grow in the shade, but in fact there are some species that are perfectly at ease in part to even full shade. Here are some examples:
Yews (Taxus spp.) are probably the conifers best suited to shade. There is a wide range of cultivars, large or small, with upright, spreading or creeping habits. Some are even variegated! Also, yews are one of the rare conifers that can be pruned harshly, yet regenerate completely, making them invaluable for hedging.
However, winter hardiness of many yews makes them a marginal choice in very cold regions. Cold climate gardeners could try the Canada yew (Taxus canadensis, zone 2), a creeping variety, or the Japanese yew (T. cuspidata, zone 4), which comes in all shapes and sizes. The anglojap yew (Taxus x media), which also comes in a wide range of forms, is almost as hardy: zone 5. In cold climates, plant even hardy yews in a spot protected from the wind.
Yews are slow-growing in any climate: you may want to buy a larger plant for faster results.
In more temperate regions (zones 7 to 9), plum yews (Cephalotaxus spp.) can replace yews. They look much like yews, but are faster growing.
Hemlocks (Tsuga spp.) grow naturally in deep forests and tolerate partial shade and shade particularly well. The species most commonly offered is the eastern hemlock (T. canadensis, zone 4). It comes in a wide range of forms (upright, creeping, weeping, etc.) and sizes (from miniature to tree-size) and some varieties are variegated (green with white stem tips). Like yews, though, hemlocks like protection from drying winter winds, so place them with care.
The Russian Cypress (Microbiota decussata, zone 3), with its distinctly creeping habit, looks a lot like the popular but sun-loving creeping juniper (Juniperus horizontalis and its cultivars) and can easily replace it in shade to partial shade.
In Partial Shade
Your choice of conifers improves significantly in partial shade and you can dare to try spruces (Picea spp.), false cypresses (Chamaecyparis spp.), arborvitaes (Thuja spp.) and firs (Abies spp.), among others. Be forewarned, though, their growth in partial shade is often less dense than it would have been in full sun.
Use these conifers in shady spots where you want greenery 12 months a year, as the great advantage of conifers is, of course, that they look beautiful in all seasons.