What Shrubs Grow in the Shade?

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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.

Smaller Shrubs

  • 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.

Medium-Sized Shrubs

  • 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.

Large Shrubs

  • 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.

Evergreen Choices

  • 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.

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