Shady spots can prove tricky for even the most green-thumbed gardener. But with these shade-loving shrubs, you can fully landscape a yard with patches of partial shade and permanent cover.
While most plants can't grow and flower properly without ample light, these shade shrubs thrive in partial sun and full shade conditions. Many varieties produce gorgeous blooms, lush green leaves and foliage, and delicious smells you can look forward to year after year.
To help you find the right shrub for your space, we've created a list of popular types of shade shrubs. Plus, we'll highlight the sun exposure needs, color varieties, and compatible USDA growing zones of each.
The Best Shrubs for Shade
Mountain Laurel (Kalmia Latifolia)
As the name suggests, mountain laurel is a flowering shrub native to shady woodland areas in North America. The hardy evergreen shrub can withstand cold temperatures, making it an excellent variety for areas with tough winters. Similar to rhododendrons and azaleas, mountain laurels prefer acidic soil conditions, so you may need to adjust the soil's pH with acid-enhancing fertilizer.
The shrub keeps its glossy, smooth-edged dark green leaves year-round and produces clusters of tea cup-shaped blooms in late spring. As it grows, it spreads to have a rounded shape ranging from 5 to 15 feet. Dwarf varieties grow to be a maximum of 3 to 4 feet tall.
It's important to note that all parts of the plant are poisonous to most animals and can cause severe digestive upset and other serious side effects if consumed by humans. This plant should only be used for gardening in areas without pets or small children.
Sun Exposure— Partial shade, but can tolerate some full sun conditions
Color Varieties— White, pink, red, and bi-colored
USDA Growing Zones— 5 to 9
Japanese Tree Peony (Paeonia Suffruticosa)
Japanese tree peonies are a woody shrub tree known for their massive blooms during late spring and early summer. Just one bush can produce up to 100 fragrant, colorful flowers in the spring!
Japanese peony shrubs are slow-growers, but they only get better as they continue to grow and produce a greater number of flowers. It may take your bush around 2 to 3 years after planting to become fully settled and produce a heavy amount of blooms. A full-size tree can grow upwards of 7 feet tall, but most top out around 3 to 5 feet.
This shade shrub prefers well-drained soil with a neutral pH. It'll need to be watered weekly (and potentially more often during extreme heat), especially during the first growing season while it's establishing its extensive root system.
Sun Exposure— prefer 4-6 hours of full sun or dappled sunlight per day
Color Varieties— Pink, red, white, purple, yellow.
USDA Growing Zones— 3 to 8
Witch Hazel (Hamamelis Virginiana)
Though witch hazel is best known for its medicinal properties and skin care benefits, it makes one of the best shrubs for shade. Unlike most plants, witch hazel produces colorful, fragrant flowers during the winter months. It's incredibly hardy and can tolerate a variety of soil conditions and growing zones.
Witch hazel plants can grow to be 10 to 20 feet high and wide at maturity but can be kept smaller with regular pruning. The shade shrub is virtually maintenance-free, making it a great choice for a hard-to-reach spot in your shade garden. Witch hazels are resistant to most pests and diseases too.
Sun Exposure— Filtered shade to full sun
Color Varieties— Yellow or red
USDA Growing Zones— 4 to 8
Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea Quercifolia)
Thanks to its gorgeous blooms and colorful fall foliage, oakleaf hydrangea is one of the most popular flowering shrubs for gardens with partial shade. It earns its name from its large leaves resembling that of an oak tree. Popular varieties include Snowflake, Ruby Slippers, and Snow Queen.
In the spring and early summer, hydrangeas produce large clusters of flowers that last longer than many other shade shrubs. With well-drained soil, dappled light, and an occasional dose of acidic fertilizer, your plant can bloom from May well into July. Its oak-like leaves become a colorful display of autumn colors like orange, bronze, red, and maroon during the fall.
Oakleaf hydrangea plants grow upright, maturing as a rounded, multi-stemmed shrub that's 4 to 8 feet tall. It spreads through suckering, so you'll want to trim any ground shoots to control its spread.
Sun Exposure— Partial shade to full sun
Color Varieties— White, pink, or purplish-pink
USDA Growing Zones— 5 to 9
Japanese Andromeda (Pieris Japonica)
These gorgeous flowering shrubs go by many names: Japanese Pieris, Japanese Andromeda, Lily of the Valley Bush, Fetterbush. But regardless of which type you choose, this shade-loving plant provides gorgeous blooms and evergreen foliage. The slow-glowing plant survives well in conditions with part shade but won't flower well in deep shade.
In late winter or early spring, Japanese Andromeda shrub varieties feature bell-shaped white flowers that bumblebees and other pollinators love. The flowers are incredibly fragrant, so it's great for using along the side of the house to cover up odors from your compost bin or trash can.
Sun Exposure— Part shade to full sun (flowering may be reduced in shade)
Color Varieties— White
USDA Growing Zones— 5 to 7
Azalea and Rhododendron (Rhododendron)
Rhododendrons are a category of woody plants and shrubs that includes azaleas and hybrid plants. While most prefer light shade with some dappled sunlight, some hybrids can withstand deep shade conditions. For your plants to thrive, you'll need to keep the soil acidic using sulfur or granular fertilizer. Most garden stores carry acidity-boosting fertilizers specifically designed for these types of plants.
There are a surprisingly large number of different azaleas and rhododendrons out there, so it should be relatively easy to find one that works for your garden. The evergreen shrub typically blooms in the spring with flower colors ranging from stark white to vivid purple to pale pink. They're often used as foundation plantings but can grow to be quite sizable depending on the type.
Sun Exposure— Light shade
Color Varieties— White to pink and red
USDA Growing Zones— 4 to 9 (depending on the variety)
Panicle Hydrangeas (Hydrangea paniculata)
Panicle hydrangeas have lush foliage and pyramid-shaped flowers with a unique color and texture. In the right conditions, they'll bloom from late spring until the end of summer.
Many begin to bloom white and change into a gorgeous pink or red throughout the season. While some types, like Bobo, top off at around 3 feet tall, others like Fire Light and LimeLight can reach heights of 7 to 8 feet.
They're relatively easy to care for and don't require special soil conditions or constant watering. For the best blooms, place your hydrangeas in a spot that gets at least four hours of sunshine or filtered light. Plus, they're hardy enough to survive cold winters and early springtime frosts.
It's important to note that deer love hydrangeas, so this may not be the best shade shrub in gardens frequently visited by local wildlife.
Sun Exposure— Light shade to deep shade
Color Varieties— White, pink, purple, red, or yellow
USDA Growing Zones— 3 to 8