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Best Shrubs for Dappled, Partial, and Deep-Shade Gardens


Shade shrubs add great interest, color, attraction, and privacy to your yard. Several shrub varieties would go well with light to dense shades, and many would do absolutely well in domestic yards. Here, we have pulled together ten shrub varieties that would thrive in your yard beautifully and are easy to care for. Some of these varieties yield berries, while others have an awesome blossom or foliage.

Which Shrubs Grow Best in Shade?

  • American Holly: Goods things take time, and so does this shrub. It is slow-paced but will grow up to a handsome height. It has prickly leaves that serve as a great security shrub if planted along the boundaries. It yields lovely yet inedible red berries. 
  • Azalea: A verdant shrub with glossy green leaves and pretty mauve, white blossoms. This thirsty shrub demands a lot of water.
  • Forsythia: A fast-paced shrub that is deciduous in nature and blossoms with yellow flowers during late winters.
  • Leatherleaf Arrowwood: As the name evidences, this shrub has leather-like glossy leaves the whole year. It can survive in the most neglected nooks of your garden, too.
  • Inkberry: The shortest heightened and the slowest growing shrub among all others, the Inkberry is a compatible shrub that will survive very low sunlight as well. 
  • Japanese Andromeda: A focal piece of drama, the Japanese Andromeda blooms with fragrant, white flowers and glossy green leaves that take a red tint during spring.
  • Japanese Holly: As compared to the American variant, this shrub is relatively friendlier and harmless. It has rounded leaves that are devoid of needle-like spikes. It yields blackberries.
  • Mahonia: A very unique shrub with an extraordinary drought tolerance level and edible berries.
  • Japanese Kerria: Compatible with shady areas and deciduous, the Japanese has a heart-warming yellow blossom.
  • Rhododendron: One of the most commonly discussed shrubs with more than 1000 variants grown around the world.

What is Partial or Full Shade?

  • A spot that gets less than six hours of direct sunlight, we call it a partially shaded spot. Plants that can strive in a partially shaded spot are tricky to find.
  • A spot that gets less than three hours of direct sunlight is known to be a fully shaded spot, and only a very few plants can survive in such spots.
  • Some spots are not open to direct sunlight, but they do receive a lot of indirect sunlight filtered through the leaves of fellow trees, dappling the plants below. Such spots get dappled or indirect light.
  • A deeply shaded spot is a spot that is shaded the entire day with variant degrees of indirect sunlight on and off throughout the day.
  • Bright shaded spots are those that receive indirect or dappled shade the whole day.
  • Full sunlight means exposure to sunlight for more than six hours each day.

How much sunlight do these shade-tolerant shrubs need?

  • American Holly (Scientific name: Ilex opaca)

American Holly is a broad-leafed shrub that is native to the US. It grows up to a medium size and is an excellent shade shrub for winter and fall. It has stunning autumn foliage – plant it alongside deciduous shade shrubs to restore the interest and beauty of your yard.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light Shade
  • Growth Rate: Slow, around a foot per year
  • Growth Period: Spring and summer
  • Lifespan: Average; not too long
  • Maximum Height: 60 feet at maturity. Up to 20 feet only for 20 years
  • Blossoming Period: Mid-spring
  • Blossom: Greenish white to yellowish flowers, small in size.
  • Fruiting Period: Late Summers till Fall
  • Fruit Description: Inedible Small, red berries
  • Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Broad and stiff, sharp-edged, yellowish-green leaves
  • Water Requirements: Medium, can stand swampy soil
  • Azalea

Azaleas belong to the family of Rhododendron – they are excellent flowering shade shrubs. Initially, they were classified as a different genus, however, later, they were identified as a sub-genus of Rhododendron. These shrubs can prove toxic to dogs, so it is better to not plant them if you have a pet dog or to be very careful if you do.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light Shade
  • Growth Rate: Medium
  • Growth Period: Spring and summer
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: 10 feet upon maturity, (about six inches per annum)
  • Blossoming Period: Late spring
  • Blossom: White and purplish showy, fancy flowers, terminal blooms
  • Fruiting Period: Summer till Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Black conspicuous seeds, small in size
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen or deciduous
  • Foliage Description: Verdant, thin, pointed yet soft
  • Water Requirements: High; need plenty of water to survive
  • Forsythia

Forsythia shrubs belong to the olive family and being flowering shrubs, they are one of the most attractive and beautiful shade shrubs. The Forsythia family consists of 11 different variants most of which belong to Easter Asia. The cool name of this shrub comes from a Scottish botanist, Mr. William Forsyth.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light Shade
  • Growth Rate: Fast
  • Growth Period: Spring up till summer
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: Grows up to 10 feet
  • Blossoming Period: Late winter till mid-spring
  • Blossom: Bright Yellow precede leaves with petals connected at the base; small in size
  • Fruit Description: Small capsule-shaped fruits with winged seeds
  • Foliage Type: Deciduous
  • Foliage Description: Serrated small green foliage
  • Water Requirements: Medium watering requirements. Avoid overwatering
  • Leatherleaf Arrowwood (Scientific name: Viburnum Rhytidophyllum)

Leatherleaf Arrowwood is a shade shrub that belongs to Viburnum and is native to Asia. These shrubs are known all around the world for their excellent shade tolerance and are often grown for ornamental purposes as they have stunning green foliage. If you have had your hands on other shrubs for the shady corners of your yard and they have left you disappointed, try planting a Leatherleaf Arrowwood. It has a track record of surviving in all those shady areas where others have miserably failed.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Medium paced
  • Growth Period: Summer
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: Grows up to a height of 15 feet
  • Blossoming Period: Mid to late spring
  • Blossom: Large, showy, scented flowers that are vanilla white in color
  • Fruiting Period: Late summer to early Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Red, oval-shaped berries that mature to a black color
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Leathery dark green leaves that have a pointed apex
  • Water Requirements: Medium demand. Best suits to well-drained soils
  • Inkberry (Scientific Name: Ilex glabra)

Also known as the Evergreen Winterberry, the Gallberry, and Dye-leaves, Inkberry is a priceless shrub to the people of Eastern and Southern United States. Being one of the prettiest shrubs, it is grown for ornamental purposes and can even stand in deep shade situations. They do not lose their leaves over the year and excellently compliment deciduous varieties.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Slow-paced
  • Growth Period: Summer and Autumn
  • Lifespan: Long-lived shrubs
  • Maximum Height: Grows up to 8 feet on maturity, but will only reach a height of 5 feet in the first 20 years
  • Blossoming Period: Spring
  • Blossom: Unspectacular white flowers; small in size
  • Fruiting Period: Summer up till Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Small blackberries that are hardly noticeable
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Glossy dark green leaves that are broad and may develop a purple tint during winters.
  • Water Requirements: High – these shrubs would need a lot of water to survive and thrive.
  • Japanese Andromeda (Scientific Name: Pieris japonica)

The Japanese Andromeda is native to Eastern Asia and is a shrub from the heath family. Widely cultivated in domestic gardens, these shrubs are relished for their attractive foliage, beautiful appearance, and showy flowers. They are super easy to grow, maintain and care for because they are tolerant to drought and shade. Planting them in pair with deciduous shade shrubs is a great way to add year-round interest to your garden.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Slow-paced
  • Growth Period: Spring till summer
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: Matures up to 12 feet, but will only grow up to 8 feet in the first 20 years
  • Blossoming Period: Early to Mid-spring
  • Blossom: Slightly scented small white flowers that are urn-shaped. Winters exhibit naked red flower buds.
  • Fruiting Period: Summer up till Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Small brown colored fruits that are capsule-shaped
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Clustered glossy green leaves with shallow edges. New foliage takes a red color.
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Japanese Holly (Scientific Name: Ilex Crenata)

For gardens subjected to light to deep shade, the Japanese Holly is an excellent shrub. It is native to eastern China and Japan and is grown all around the world, particularly in Korea and Taiwan. Owing to its dense, pretty, and evergreen foliage, gardeners won’t stop growing this shrub as an ornamental plant.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Slow-paced
  • Growth Period: Spring and summer
  • Lifespan: Long-lived
  • Maximum Height: Matures up to 10 feet, but will only grow up to 4 feet in 20 years
  • Blossoming Period: Mid-spring
  • Blossom: Unspectacular clusters of 3-4 small dull-white flowers
  • Fruiting Period: Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Dominated by the foliage. Not conspicuous or ornamentally significant.
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Verdant, lustrous, broad foliage that is shiny during the winters.
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Mahonia

There exist 70 different varieties of the Mahonia. Many of these species are excellent shade shrub trees that would survive well in domestic gardens and landscapes. They yield edible berries that are rich in Vitamin C – although the tart taste may not feel pleasant to most people. Mahonia was named after Bernhard McMahon, a horticulturist who introduced the Mahonia Genus. Mahonia plants compliment gardens during winters as their leaves tinge with purplish and copper tones.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Medium paced
  • Growth Period: Spring and summer
  • Lifespan: Long-lived
  • Maximum Height: Grows up to a height of 8 feet
  • Blossoming Period: Early to mid-spring
  • Blossom: Small-sized yellow flowers that appear in clusters and are more abundant to the top
  • Fruiting Period: Summer
  • Fruit Description: Similar to bunches of grapes that ripen from sharp green to Black
  • Foliage Type: Evergreen
  • Foliage Description: Glossy green leaves. New leaves take a reddish copper color and a purplish bronze tinge during the winter season
  • Water Requirements: Low – they will survive under drier soil conditions as well but still require occasional watering
  • Japanese Kerria (Scientific Name: Kerria Japonica)

The Japanese Kerria, commonly known by the name Japanese Rose is the only species of the Kerria family. It is one of the very rare deciduous shade shrubs that stand deep shade. The name Kerria came from a Scottish gardener, William Kerr, who also introduced the cultivar, Plenti fora.

Japanese Kerria is very popularly used for ornamental purposes all around the world.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Medium paced
  • Growth Period: Summer to fall
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: Grows up to a maximum height of 6 feet
  • Blossoming Period: Mid-spring
  • Blossom: Yellow showy flowers that seem bleached if exposed to sunlight
  • Fruiting Period: Hardly yields fruits
  • Fruit Description: Not much significant
  • Foliage Type: Deciduous
  • Foliage Description: Bright green leaves of an ovulate shape that that crisp and prickly in texture
  • Water Requirements: Medium
  • Rhododendron

Sounds a little creepy, but literally, the word ‘Rhododendron’ only means ‘Rose tree’. This shrub has super attractive looks that make it stand out from all other shrubs. It is a large genus with more than 1000 reported varieties, each of which is unique and valued for its showy blossom and attractive foliage. Different varieties of Rhododendron are evergreen, while others are deciduous. However, being tolerant to shade is a mutual feature of them all. Planting Rhododendron varieties native to your region will bring on the best results.

  • Shade Tolerance Level: Light to deep shade
  • Growth Rate: Slow-paced
  • Growth Period: Spring and summer
  • Lifespan: Average
  • Maximum Height: 15 feet in some species. Most species won’t exceed 7 feet
  • Blossoming Period: Mid to late spring
  • Blossom: Showy fragrant flowers that grow in clusters and are light to dark pink in color
  • Fruiting Period: Begins from late summer up till Autumn
  • Fruit Description: Non-ornamental capsule-shaped fruits
  • Foliage Type: Can be Deciduous or evergreen, varies among different varieties
  • Foliage Description: Whorled-tips, Simple, dark green leaves that tinge with lovely red, orange, and yellow colors during fall
  • Water Requirements: Medium; not too demanding

Frequently Asked Questions

Which Shade Shrubs go best with Hardy Zones 4, 5, and 6?

Colder regions are left back with even lesser options for growing shade shrubs. However, there are still some wonderful options such as the following.

  • Selective varieties of Azaleas and Rhododendrons
  • Quince (scientific name: Chaenomeles japonica)
  • Daphne (Carol Mackie)
  • Hydrangea (particularly the panicle or arborescent varieties)
  • Forsythia (such as the Northern Gold)
  • Dogwood (scientific name: Cornus)
  • Mock orange (scientific name: Philadelphia virginalis)

In colder climates, winter mulching always comes in handy with shady shrubs. Help your shade shrubs thrive and survive by protecting them with an additional layer of winter mulch.

Which are the Tallest Shade Shrubs?

  • American Holly grows slowly but will reach a fine height upon maturity (around 60 feet).
  • Japanese Andromeda is a slow-paced plant but will reach a reasonable height upon maturity.
  • Rhododendron – not all but some varieties would grow up to a height of 15 feet.
  • Leatherleaf Arrowwood sustains a handsome height of 15 feet.

Which are some Fast-Growing Shade Shrubs?

While most shade shrubs are slow-paced in nature, Forsythia is one of the fastest-paced shrubs in terms of growth. If you have an empty dull corner in your yard that you want to be filled up quickly, plant in a Forsythia.

Which Shade Shrubs are Drought-Tolerant?

Mahonia is an excellent drought-tolerant shrub but would require a fine amount of water when in the establishment phase. American Holly can also be expected to do well with less water. However, do not plant in thirsty Azaleas or Inkberries if you live in a dry or water-troubled region.

Which Evergreen Shrubs would survive Shade?

Evergreen shrubs do not lose their leaves around the year. Some of these shade-tolerant shrubs are as follows.

  • American Holly
  • Inkberry
  • Leatherleaf Arrowwood
  • Japanese Holly
  • Mahonia
  • Some varieties of Azaleas
  • Japanese Andromeda
  • Some types of Rhododendron

What Are Shade Shrubs?

Shade shrubs can be evergreen or deciduous shrubs, both, which can survive with less than six hours of sunlight per day. The shade tolerance level among shrubs varies among different species. Some shrubs are less tolerant and would require a few hours of direct sunlight daily. While others can grow in deep shade i.e. even if they do not get direct sunlight or only a very little dappled sunlight, they will still be able to survive. However, this might mean that they won’t ever flower the way they would do under favorable sunlight levels.

How to Maintain Shade Shrubs?

Shade shrubs are often more sensitive and would require extra care in terms of rich, well-drained soil, frequent mulching, fertilizing when needed, and regular composting.

Which Shade Shrubs stand out as the best?

The best shade shrub will vary with the region you live in and the specific landscape. At first, you need to know the amount of shade your plants would be receiving. Next, you need to find plants that have a similar shade tolerance level. In addition to that, must also note the condition of your yard’s soil and the temperature of your region.

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