In addition to perennials for shade, there are many shrubs that grow very well in shade and partial shade – and even prefer it to sun. Plants grow more slowly in the shade so they require less maintenance in the way of pruning. Planting shrubs and perennials in a shady garden will keep weeds seeds from germinating by blocking light, so there’s less weeding. And because there’s less sun, the soil doesn’t dry out as fast. Just remember to water newly planted shrubs well until they’re established. They may need more water in the beginning if they’re competing with established trees.
Shade gardens have a special mystique and offer cool relief and a place to catch your breath on hot, sunny afternoons. For more on shade gardening and great plants, purchase the book, Top Ten Lists for Beautiful Shade Gardens – Seeing Your Way Out of the Dark. We carry it at Faddegon’s. So grab a cool drink and let’s explore some great shrubs for shade.
Diervilla (pictured above)
3 to 5 ft. tall and wide, also called Northern Bush Honeysuckle. This shrub has a profusion of small yellow flowers in summer, much loved by hummingbirds. ‘Cool Splash’ with its variegated leaves appreciates protection from the hot afternoon sun.
This versatile shrub will give you four seasons of interest – white bottlebrush flowers in April, lush foliage in summer, fall color that will knock your socks off, and gray winter bark. They will grow in wet areas, but are perfectly happy in normal garden conditions. Fothergilla gardenii is a smaller variety – 2 to 3 ft. tall; fothergilla major is larger – 5 to 6 ft. The variety ‘Blue Shadows’ has icy blue foliage, but only if grown in shady or morning sun areas; the foliage will be green in too much sun.
Smooth Leaf Hydrangea, this plant is your grandmother’s hydrangea, with white mophead flowers on 4 -5 ft. tall shrubs. ‘Annabelle’ was bred to have large white blooms and ‘Incrediball’ is touted as an improved Annabelle with stronger stems so it won’t flop. ‘Invincibelle Spirit’ and ‘Bella Anna’ are pink varieties. Flower color cannot be changed on these hydrangeas, but they will cover themselves in blooms and do it in more shade than other varieties.
Oak Leaf Hydrangea is another very shade tolerant hydrangea. The flowers are huge cones which bloom white and age to pink and then mauve. Although this hydrangea blooms on old wood, (stems that grew in previous years) the ones in my yard bloom reliably without any winter protection. The leaves are large, leathery and shaped like oak leaves – not a surprise considering the name. They turn a deep purple in the fall and stay on the plant into winter. Once the leaves fall, you can appreciate the exfoliating bark. What more could you want from a shrub?
Virginia sweetspire blooms in June with 4 to 6 inch drooping clusters of fragrant tiny white flowers. ‘Henry’s Garnet’ can form colonies of 4 to 6 ft. very attractive shrubs; while ‘Little Henry’ is smaller at 3 ft. This shrub is also a fall star when it’s leaves turn bronze, red and garnet. Like Fothergilla, Iteas are also very tolerant of wet conditions.
Mountain laurels grow naturally in the woods, so are well suited to shady conditions. Like rhododendrons, mountain laurels are broadleaf evergreens that are eaten by deer. Most varieties bloom in June in clusters of shades of pink, cupped shaped flowers. However, there are varieties with white and red flowers as well. Some varieties form large shrubs – 7 to 15 ft. – while others are more garden-sized at 4 to 5 ft.
While all rhododendrons will be happier in afternoon shade, some sun will help produce more flowers. The most shade tolerant variety is Rhododendron maximum ‘Rosebay Pink’ – this rhody blooms later than other rhododendrons (late June to July) and flowers well in light shade under trees with no direct sun. It is a large rhododendron – 8 ft. or more – but grows slowly in the shade. ‘Indepence’ is a newer, smaller variety – 5 to 8 ft. with bright pink flowers and ‘Compactum’ is smaller yet – 4 to 5 ft. with light pink flowers.