This article gives you details on the growth habits, appearance, and care of 17 tall shrubs for shade gardens. These plants grow well in shady garden areas and some provide exceptional shade and privacy to adjoining yards and buildings.
People have been growing shade-loving shrubs around their homes and communities for centuries, and in the process, advice comes down to us from experienced gardeners about the best tall shrubs for shade and how to grow them.
Tall shrubs that do well in shade can be harder to find than sun-loving shrubs. Finding the right shade-tolerant shrubs for your particular climate and location can feel overwhelming.
But many gardeners have sorted out the possibilities, coming up with recommendations for shade-tolerant shrubs and trees, and we can benefit from their collective experience.
Here are 17 of the highest gardener-recommended tall shade plants and shrubs that grow well in shady conditions.
17 Best Tall Shrubs for Shade
This list is divided into three categories:
- Flowering Shrubs for Shade,
- Evergreen Shade Tolerant Shrubs, and
- Large Shrubs for Shade and Privacy.
The numbers on the list do not represent any ranking and are only for reference.
Many species of plants that grow best in the sun have particular varieties that prefer shade. Which shade-loving shrub is best for you depends on your climate, soil type, planting site, and personal preference.
Many flowering shrubs are deciduous, meaning they lose their leaves in winter. However, many deciduous shrubs thrive in low-light environments even when they don’t have leaves during cold months. Evergreens retain their leaves all year-round, and many evergreen shade-loving shrubs flower abundantly.
Before selecting a shrub to plant, be sure to check your USDA growing zone number. Then match your grow zone number to a shrub variety that thrives in your zone. Once you know your grow zone, it’s easier to narrow down which plants are suitable where you live.
A pH soil test to determine the acidity or alkalinity of your soil helps you further narrow down the best choice for your planting site when choosing new shade-tolerant shrubs.
Flowering Tall Shrubs for Shaded Areas
The flowering shrubs in this list are deciduous or have deciduous varieties.
1. Azaleas species
- Appearance: Funnel-shaped, single flowers with showy, long-lasting blooms.
- Size: up to 20 feet
- Climate Zones: 4-9
- Care: Needs slightly acid soil or plants yellow.
2. Oakleaf hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia)
- Appearance: Large white flower clusters appear from stems in summer. Large, oak-shaped leaves with a fuzzy surface. Leaves turn orange and red in autumn. Attractive bark with a furry texture.
- Size: Up to 12 feet tall.
- Climate Zones: 5-9 with frost protection in colder zones, especially for young plants.
- Care: Easy to grow in fertile, moist soil with good drainage.
3. Viburnum acerfolium
A low-maintenance, easy to grow shrub with pleasant flower clusters appearing in spring and dark berries later in summer. Leaves turn an attractive yellow in fall. Colonies can grow from suckers.
- Appearance: Clusters of small white flowers in spring, red to black berries in fall, colorful foliage in fall.
- Size: Up to 8 feet and 4 feet wide.
- Climate Zones: 3-8
- Care: Likes dry, slightly acid soil. Leave suckers to let plants form a dense colony.
4. Serviceberry (Amerlanchier species)
- Appearance: Upright tree with white flowers, dark berries, and attractive silver-shaded trunk.
- Size: 15 to 20 feet
- Climate Zones: 2-9
- Care: Likes moist, well-drained soil.
5. Summersweet Clethra (Clethra alnifolia)
- Appearance: Scented, white blossoms in summer, attractive, yellow leaves in fall, thick branch structure.
- Size: 4 to 8 feet high, 4 to 6 feet wide
- Climate Zones: 4-9
- Care: Well-drained, moist soil. Tolerates salt spray. Low-maintenance. Grows faster with some sun exposure.
6. Japanese kerria (Kerria japonica)
- Appearance: Bright-yellow blossoms with five petals resembling a rose. Dense, upright, green-stemmed branching structure.
- Size: Up to 6 feet
- Climate Zones: 4-9
- Care: Tolerates poor soil. Benefits from summer water in hot areas but somewhat drought tolerant. Don’t overwater. Prune after flowers finish.
7. Slender deutzia (Deutzia gracilis)
This shrub produces brilliant, long-lasting blossoms in mid-spring. While not very tall, it is still among the best of shade-loving shrubs for planting in low-light areas.
- Appearance: White or pink blooms, multiple, upright stems. Arching branches, attractive dark-green leaves but no exciting fall colors.
- Size: 5 to 6 feet tall and wide
- Climate Zones: 5-8
- Care: Water regularly in hot weather, and prune dead branches yearly.
8. Flowering Dogwood (Cornus Florida)
The blossoms on Flowering Dogwood are actually a tight clump of small, inconspicuous flowers with an outer ring of bracts, which look like four big flower petals. These small trees grow quickly, attaining a full height in as little as ten years.
- Appearance: Single or multi-stemmed trunk and broad, pyramid-shaped branch structure with a rounded top. Spectacular floral displays in spring. Reddish-colored leaves in fall.
- Size: 15 to 30 feet tall
- Climate Zones: 3-8
- Care: Moist, well-drained soil fertilized with compost or other decomposed organic matter. Does not need regular pruning. Keep watered but not soggy in dry months.
Evergreen Shade Tolerant Shrubs
Evergreen shrubs don’t lose their leaves in winter, helping them provide more shade and privacy all year round compared to deciduous shrubs. These evergreen shrubs also grow well in low-light conditions when planted outdoors.
9. Camellia species
- Appearance: Showy white, pink, or red blossoms, some types with fragrance.
- Size: 10 to 20 feet tall, 5 to 7 feet wide
- Climate Zones: 6-10
- Care: Likes well-drained, slightly acidic soil.
10. Japanese Andromeda (Pieris japonica)
Mildly fragrant flowers appear in the early spring and are popular with bees and other pollinator insects. This shrub is also called lily-of-the-valley and Japanese pieris.
- Appearance: White or pink, bell-shaped, hanging flower clusters. Bushy growth habit and dark-green leaves.
- Size: 9 to 12 feet tall, 6 to 8 feet wide
- Climate Zones: 5-9
- Care: Well-drained, moist and fertile soil with a slightly acidic pH. Responds well to camellia fertilizer. Does not like alkaline soils.
11. Rhododendron species
The sizes of these plants vary considerably, depending on the variety. Larger types grow to tree-sized heights. Some varieties grow slowly and others much more rapidly.
- Appearance: Showy flowers and dark-green leaves on multiple, upright woody stems.
- Size: Up to 20 feet
- Climate Zones: 5-11, depending on the variety
- Care: Protect from strong winds. Low-maintenance once established. Prefers acidic, loamy soil. Low water requirements.
12. Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)
The attractive, thick leaves stay on the plant all year, giving it a pleasing appearance when the flowers have faded.
- Appearance: Smooth, glossy, dark foliage and large flower clusters with white, pink, purple, and multicolor blooms.
- Size: 8 to 10 feet tall, 5 to 15 feet wide
- Climate Zones: 4-9
- Care: Needs well-drained, moist and fertile soil with low pH. Exposure to filtered sun produces more blooms.
13. Glossy abelia (Abelia x grandiflora)
Abelia is actually a semi-evergreen with leaves that turn a stunning bronze shade in late fall and winter without the shrub ever going completely bare of leaves. Some varieties are especially cold hardy and flower later in the season.
- Appearance: Rounded shape with arching branches. Small tubular white flower clusters in spring.
- Size: 3 to 6 feet tall
- Climate Zones: 6-9
- Care: Prune out old stems to invigorate growth. Water regularly in hot, dry weather, especially when first planted.
14. Yew (Taxus baccata)
Yew plants are easy to clip and train into all sorts of shapes, making them useful as hedges and decorative plantings in shady areas. People use sprigs of Yew as Christmas decorations in many places around the world.
- Appearance: Conical shaped branch structure. Small, evergreen needles and small, red berries in summer turn into tiny cones in the fall.
- Size: Up to 20 feet, depending on the variety
- Climate Zones: 2-10, depending on the variety
- Care: Prefers a loamy, medium-moist, well-draining soil. Tolerates sun but also grows well in shady locations.
Large Shrubs for Shade
The first two on this list are small trees, but they are tall shade plants worth considering for garden areas with low-light levels.
15. Witch hazel (Hamamelis spp.)
Flowers bloom in late fall and early winter after the leaves drop. Seed capsule fruits mature slowly over the winter and following season, then burst open, ejecting the seeds up to 10 yards.
- Appearance: Multiple-stems, upright, V-shaped branch structure. Flowers yellow sometimes with tinges of red and orange. Fruits green to brown.
- Size: 15 to 20 feet high, 15 to 20 feet wide
- Climate Zones: 3-8
- Care: Does best with filtered sun exposure but also tolerates shade. Medium water requirements, prefers rich, acidic soil.
16. Canadian Hemlock tree (Tsuga Canadensis)
This plant is entirely unrelated to the poisonous hemlock plant. Canadian Hemlock is a full-sized tree that grows well in shady areas, providing beauty and protection to the garden.
- Appearance: Christmas tree-shaped, tan to light-brown bark, small needles and attractive small, woody cones.
- Size: 40 to 70 feet
- Climate Zones: 3-7
- Care: Medium water requirements. Needs well-drained soil. Protect from harsh winds and drying conditions. Does not tolerate drought. Mulch around the base to conserve moisture or let needles collect on ground around the tree.
17. Bamboo (Bambusoideae species)
Clumping bamboo varieties tend to stay put where you plant them, growing in non-invasive clumps. Some gardeners also plant bamboo in containers to restrain its growth. The bamboo variety known as umbrella bamboo (Fargesia robusta) is a clumping variety that grows particularly well in shady garden locations.
- Appearance: Grows in patches of tall, slender stems with small
- Size: Up to 18 feet
- Climate Zones: 6-9
- Care: Prefers moist, slightly acid, well-drained soil.
Planting and Caring for Shade-Loving Shrubs
You can buy shrubs in containers, with roots wrapped in burlap, or bare-root. Most shrubs benefit from adding compost and other soil amendments to the planting site before planting. You can ask at a plant nursery about what to add to the soil for the shrub you are growing.
How much water and fertilizer a shrub need depends entirely on the species and variety. When you buy shrubs in containers for planting in the garden, look for a plastic tag in the container with information about the requirements for that plant, and follow these instructions for best results.
Many shrubs are low-maintenance and need only a small amount of granular fertilizer once a year in spring during their first few years. After that, many shrubs do fine without further fertilizing provided they are planted in the correct soil to start.
Water requirements also vary considerably between species of shrub. The best way to know how much to water is to research specific watering needs of the variety you are planting and consider this along with how much water your area gets in rain and snow.
- There are many varieties of tall shrubs that grow in the shade.
- Look for shade-loving plants that match your USDA growing zone and local soil type.
- Most shrubs are low-maintenance if planted in the right conditions to start.
If you have a shady garden and love tall shrubs, take heart. You have many choices among the flowering, evergreen, deciduous, and fast-growing shrub cultivars out there.
Start by learning about your USDA grow zone and soil type in your garden. Then find the right shrub to match with one of the many shade-tolerant shrub varieties available online and at plant nurseries.
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