Although your favorite nursery probably has several rows of sun-loving shrubs, you're not completely out of luck if you're looking to dress up a shadier spot in your yard. Shade-loving shrubs come in all shapes and sizes and you also have a choice as to whether or not you want a profusion of colorful blooms or bold foliage. Most will do better with filtered sun or a little bit of morning sun than complete shade, although a few will grow in deep shade.
You don't need a big showstopper shrub to make an impression. Many smaller shrubs love shade and can add interest. Longleaf Oregon grape (Mahonia nervosa) reaches about 2 feet tall. This Pacific Northwest native grows in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 6 through 8. Oregon grape features yellow flowers and a short, spreading shape and is best suited to dry shade. If you love forsythia but only have a small space, consider the 2- to 3-foot-tall, 3- to 4-foot-wide dwarf Show Off Starlet forsythia cultivar (Forsythia x intermedia "Minfor6" ), which grows in USDA zones 4 through 8. This forsythia produces masses of bright yellow flowers at the beginning of spring. For something fragrant, consider "Chardonnay Pearls" deutzia (Deutzia gracilis "Duncan"), which grows in USDA zones 5 through 8. This cultivar grows 3 feet tall and wide and produces tiny buds that open up into fragrant white flowers in spring.
There's no shortage of medium-sized shrubs -- those that grow between 3 and 10 feet tall. Hydrangeas (Hydrangea spp.), which grow in USDA zones 3 through 9, have lots of variety in flower head shape and color, as well as bush size and form. Most, but not all, do well in moist, filtered-sun or with morning sun only, while full shade will result in fewer -- or no -- blooms. Another choice for added interest is Japanese laurel (Aucuba japonica) and its cultivars. These evergreens grow in USDA zones 6 through 10 and have bold foliage. Several varieties are speckled or variegated with bright gold and green. "Picturata" Japanese laurel (Aucuba japonica "Picturata") grows slowly to 6 feet tall and has dark green leaves with bold yellow in the centers.
If you're looking to fill a large space with a shrub, a few shade-lovers still fit the bill. Camellias, such as the 12-foot-tall "Winter's Snowman Ice Angels" camellia (Camellia x "Winter's Snowman"), which grows in USDA zones 6 through 10, offers winter flowers in light pink to white. This is an evergreen with year-round interest. Its new leaves start out a deep wine color before turning green. Another choice is "Charity" mahonia (Mahonia x media "Charity"), which grows in USDA zones 8 through 9. This mahonia reaches 10 to 15 feet tall and has large, cone-shaped yellow flower heads in late fall and early winter. Although it doesn't happen every year, the leaves of this cultivar sometimes are deep red instead of green.
Hollies (Ilex spp.), which grow in USDA zones 5 through 11 depending on species, often do best in filtered sun or with sun during the morning hours, particularly those with solid-colored leaves. Many species of rhododendron (Rhododendron spp.), which grow in USDA zones 4 through 9, depending on species, are known for their prolific flower displays and love of partial shade.
- Fine Gardening: Mahonia Nervosa (Longleaf Oregon Grape)
- Monrovia: Show Off Starlet Forsythia
- Monrovia: Chardonnay Pearls Deutzia
- Fine Gardening: Genus Hydrangea
- Fine Gardening: Aucuba Japonica (Japanese Laurel)
- Monrovia: Picturata Aucuba
- Monrovia: Winter's Snowman Ice Angels Camellia
- Fine Gardening: Mahonia x Media "Charity" ("Charity" Mahonia)
- Fine Gardening: Genus Ilex
- Fine Gardening: Genus Rhododendron
- Photo Credit VikaRayu/iStock/Getty Images
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