Shade Loving Shrubs: The Best Bushes To Plant Under Trees

Looking for shade loving shrubs to plant under trees? This list has bushes that brighten up shade gardens in every season – some with beautiful flowers, evergreen leaves as well as stunning foliage and stems.

Shade Loving Shrubs: 11 bushes to plant under trees

The shady space between taller trees and bushes and low growing perennials lends itself to an array of blooming bushes and interesting foliage plants. These are the shrubs that are at eye level in the border. While some draw your attention to focal points, others anchor the perimeter.

The mid-story is the ideal place for plants that provide all-season interest. I search for shade tolerant shrubs and bushes that can be trimmed to keep the heights between 3 and 6 feet.

I also like to echo the colors of the foliage in the ground cover and aim for a succession of bloom.

I rely on the glorious flowers of rhododendrons, azalea and mountain laurel in the spring, the magnificence of hydrangeas in the summer, Japanese maple foliage in autumn, and evergreen foliage and bark in the winter.

Keep reading to find our best shrubs for shade that you can plant under trees.

Flowering Bushes For Shade

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flowering bushes for shade

When I’m planting in the shade, I’m always looking for ways to add some color that brightens it up a little.

So I love shrubs for shade gardens that have beautiful flowers.

Luckily there are more of them than you might think! These are my favorites.

Pieris Japonica

Pieris japonica white blooms

Zones: 5 to 8
Light: Shade to Part Shade
Bloom Time: Early spring
Height: 3′ to 10′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 10′

Pieris Japonica is a shade tolerant evergreen shrub with leaves that start out red, then change to pink and cream before becoming lime green.

It likes acidic sandy soil which is characteristic of many of the shrubs that grow well in shade.

Pieris Japonica is an evergreen shrub to plant under trees
Pieris Japonica ‘Forest Flame’

When planted with rhododendrons, azaleas and yews, the chartreuse colored leaves add contrast and interest to your garden all year.

In early spring, the stems are crowned with white or pink star-shaped clusters.

Learn more about growing Pieris Japonica HERE.

Buy it HERE*.

Rhododendron

Rhododendron 'PJM' is a beautiful shade loving shrub
Rhododendron ‘PJM’

Zones: 4 to 9
Light: Shade to Part Shade
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 3′ to 12′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 12′

As long as the soil conditions are acidic and regular moisture is provided, rhododendrons are the perfect shade loving flowering shrub for the mid-story.  They thrive in the dappled shade under trees.

Rhododendrons need shelter from winds and the sun, and require little or no pruning.

Mulch is important to protect the shallow roots and replace nutrients in the soil.

I like the contrast in shape of the broadleaf evergreen leaves among the needled yews.

Rhododendron’s range of colors and spring bloom times provide a succession of fabulous blossom from April to June.

When the early Rhododendrons are covered in magenta or fuchsia flowers, my heart sings and my soul recovers from the blight of winter.

Click HERE for some tips on growing Rhododendrons.

Buy them (including the purple one) HERE.*

Azalea

Rhododendron and Azaleas blooming in the garden

Zones: 2 to 9
Light: Part Shade to Sun (depending on the variety)
Bloom Time: Spring, some re-bloom in the Fall
Height: 2′ to 6′ tall
Spread: 2′ to 4′ wide

Azaleas are members of the Rhododendron family and have the same acidic soil and protected growth requirements. And also make the list as one of the best shrubs for shade.

The difference is that azaleas are generally smaller plants and can be either deciduous or evergreen bushes.

Northern Lights Azalea grows well in the shade
Northern Lights Azalea

The Northern Lights series is tough, no care and (as the name suggests) is bred to survive the cold.

Their blossoms precede their leaves in spring and are a joy to behold.

Buy the Northern Lights series HERE.*

Encore Azalea ‘Autumn Twist’

The Encore series is evergreen and not as hardy, but blooms a second time in the fall.

They are available in a wide range of colors.

Buy the Encore series HERE.*

Rhododendron 'Bollywood' with variegated leaves and pink flowers
‘Bollywood’ Azalea

‘Bollywood’ is an evergreen variety that has variegated leaves with pretty red to fuchsia flowers (which you can find HERE*.)

Azalea 'Gibraltar'  ©Peter Turner Photography - shutterstock.com
Azalea ‘Gibraltar’  ©Peter Turner Photography – shutterstock.com

And there are even a few Azaleas with bright orange flowers like this one called ‘Gibraltar’ (you can find it HERE*).

Azalea
Azalea

In my opinion, no spring garden should be without this bright, glorious, shade loving flowering shrub.

Learn more about growing Azaleas HERE.

Buy more varieties HERE.*

Tree Peony (Paeonia suffruticosa)

Japanese Tree Peony 'Pluto'
Japanese Tree Peony ‘Pluto’

Zones: 4 to 8
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 3′ to 8′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 6′

Unlike their full-sun cousins (perennial peonies), Tree Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) thrive in the dappled shade under trees.

This deciduous, shade loving flowering shrub (it is not a tree!) likes acidic to neutral soil.

A much tougher plant than it looks, it is definitely low maintenance – requires only regular watering and mulching.

Tree peonies produce huge luncheon plate sized ruffled flowers in mid-spring. I counted 15 blossoms on the tree peony ‘Pluto’ in my front shade border this year.

Click HERE if you want to learn more about how to grow tree peonies.

You can find a lot of different varieties for sale (including ‘Pluto’) HERE.

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Mountain Laurel

Zones: 3 – 11
Light: Full shade to Part Sun
Bloom Time: Late Spring to Early Summer
Height: 3′ to 12′ tall (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 12′ tall

Another fabulous late spring/early summer bloomer is the Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia).

It is another one of the evergreens for shade that requires acidic soil, sheltered conditions, and mulch for moisture retention.

The pink blooms take your breath away with their beauty.

Click HERE to learn more about how to grow Mountain Laurel.

Buy it HERE.*

Shade Hydrangeas

Hydrangea macrophylla "Twist 'n Shout"
Hydrangea macrophylla “Twist ‘n Shout”

Zones: 3 to 9
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Time: Summer to Fall
Height: 3′ to 5′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 5′

Big green leaves and prolific magnificent blooms describe this entry in the shade loving shrubs list.

Hydrangeas, as the name (hydra) implies, need to be kept well watered.

They are deciduous bushes that blossom from July through September.

The pruning care requirements are dependent on the type.

Cityline Bigleaf Hydrangea Macrophylla

Hydrangea macrophylla (bigleaf, hophead, lacecap, and florist hydrangea) should only have dead and weak stems removed immediately after the blooms fade. Otherwise, it will not flower next year.

It blooms on old wood, so resist the urge to trim the dead looking stems in the spring!

With the exception of the white bloomers, and some new introductions (e.g. ‘pistachio’), the color of Hydrangea macrophylla flowers is dependent on the pH of the soil—blue in acidic and pink in alkaline.

Buy Hydrangea macrophylla HERE.*

Oakleaf Hydrangea ©hcast - stock.adobe.com
Oakleaf Hydrangea ©hcast – stock.adobe.com

Oakleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea quercifolia) is an understory plant indigenous to the southeastern United States and is poplar in the home garden border for its all-season interest.

Its distinctive oak-shaped leaves turn bright red in the fall and the exfoliating bark of its stems is interesting in the winter and early spring.

It likes acidic soil and needs no pruning.

Buy Oakleaf Hydrangea HERE.*

Note: While most Hydrangea varieties do well in the shade, Hydrangea paniculata grows better in the sun, so be sure to check what kind you are buying.

Click HERE to get some tips on how to get the best blooms from your Hydrangea.

Camellia

Pink flowering Camellia

Zones: 6 – 10
Light: Part Shade to Shade
Bloom Time: Fall, Winter, or Spring (depending on the variety)
Height: 18″ to 25′ tall
Spread: 18″ to 8′ wide

Camellias are another of the evergreen shrubs that grow well in the shade.

The big difference with this bush is the time of year that it flowers. Depending on the variety, it can bloom any time between October and April. And those blooms are stunning!

Even better? Once established, Camellias require very little maintenance to keep them healthy.

Learn how to grow Camellias HERE.

Buy them HERE.*

Daphne

Shade loving shrub: Daphne

Zones: 5 to 10
Light: Shade to Part Shade
Bloom Time: Late Winter to Early Spring
Height: 3′ to 5′
Spread: 3′ to 5′

Next on our list of shade loving shrubs is Daphne.

Most varieties have evergreen leaves and produce very fragrant pink or white blooms in late winter or early spring.

In my garden, it’s one of the plants that lets me know spring is coming. When I open the front door and can smell the Daphne’s perfume (even before I see the flowers), I know winter is almost over!

It can be a little tricky to get started, but once it is established, Daphne is a very low maintenance plant.

Click HERE to find out more about Daphne. 

Buy it HERE.*

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

Zones: 5 to 9
Light: Shade to Sun
Bloom Time: Late Spring, Early Summer
Height: 3′ to 8′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 8′

Virginia Sweetspire is a native plant with long fragrant white flowers (that pollinators love!) and gorgeous autumn foliage in the fall.

It is easy to grow in pretty much any garden conditions – dry, wet, poor soil, shade or sun.

Look for the dwarf variety ‘Little Henry’ if you want one that doesn’t take up a lot of space in your garden.

Buy it HERE.*

Spotted Laurel (Aucuba japonica)

Aucuba japonica 'gold dust' ©simona - stock.adobe.com
Aucuba japonica ‘gold dust’ ©simona – stock.adobe.com

Zones: 7 to 9
Light: Shade
Bloom Time: Foliage Only
Height: 6′ to 10′
Spread: 6′ to 10′

Spotted Laurel is a broad leaf evergreen bush that makes a great hedge or back-of-the-border shrub in deep shade.

It produces clusters of maroon flowers in the spring that turn into bright red berries if you have both a male and female version planted together.

But most people grow it because of its beautiful foliage.

Even without the flowers and berries, this shrub’s gorgeous green and yellow leaves add interest to your deep shade garden.

Find out more about Aucuba HERE.

Buy it HERE.*

American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Witch hazel blooming

Zones: 4 to 8
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Time: Late Fall to Early Winter
Height: 10′ to 20′ tall
Spread: 15′ to 20′ wide

American Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana) is a large deciduous shrub with clusters of citrus-scented yellow flowers that appear in the late fall and early winter.

As the name suggests, it is a native bush to North America. And like many native plants, it is low maintenance, fairly deer resistant and disease resistant once it is established.

Although Witch Hazel grows quite large naturally, it can be pruned to keep it smaller. This should be done before summer starts to prevent cutting off the buds.

Buy it HERE*.

Foliage Bushes For Shade

While flowering bushes are beautiful, to have a lush, relaxing shade garden, shrubs that are known for their foliage is also a must.

With the different leaf textures and colors, they add interest to your shade garden for the whole growing season.

Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum)

Japanese maples growing in a shade garden beside a flagstone path

Zones: 5 to 9
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Time: Foliage Only
Height: 6′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 6′ to 25′

Japanese Maples (Acer palmatum) are dwarf trees that create outstanding focal points in the shady border under trees.

My front border is anchored by two other Acers, one at each corner of a curved path.

Although they are different varieties of Japanese maple, the foliage provides focal interest and intense color.

They like dappled shade and do not like to dry out, so provide a deep layer of mulch.

Prune, if necessary, in summer after the leaves are established.

Japanese Maple "Crimson Queen"
Japanese Maple “Crimson Queen”

I love the way my cut leaf ‘Crimson Queen’ forms a canopy of scarlet lacy foliage from spring until fall. Even in the winter, the branches arch dramatically.

Click HERE to find out more about growing Japanese Maples.

Buy them HERE.*

Yews (Taxus)

Yew
Yew

Zones: 4 to 9
Light: Part Shade
Bloom Time: Foliage Only
Height: 1′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 3′ to 25′

Yews (Taxus) are very reliable drought tolerant evergreens for shade that have inch long needles and red berries in the fall.

Unlike conifers, they don’t mind being pruned, so their size and shape can be easily maintained.

But if you don’t want to do diligent pruning, avoid ‘Hills’,’ Hicks’, and ‘Browns’ yews because they grow too large for a border.

Yews provide all season interest and stand out in the winter garden as a green respite among the deciduous branches.

It should be noted that the berries and needles are poisonous to humans and animals.

Yews generally do not like wet conditions.

Taxus x media ‘Tauntonii’ is a dwarf yew that is perfect: it grows slowly, is very tidy and has a very dark green hue.

Yew "Emerald Spreader"
Yew “Emerald Spreader”

Taxus cuspidate ‘emerald spreader’ is another good bright green choice that gets denser if pruned annually.

Taxus Canadensis is a tough, small native that will grow in dense shade.

Click HERE to learn more about growing Yews.

Buy them HERE.*

Red Twig Dogwood (Cornus Alba)

Red Twig Dogwood
Red Twig Dogwood ‘Elegantissima’

Zones: 3 to 8
Light: Part Shade to Shade
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 8′
Spread: 8′

The red twig dogwood (Cornus Alba) is a shade loving shrub with very attractive variegated gray-green deciduous leaves that provide a bright light in the shaded border.

Red twig dogwood

It has insignificant white flowers in the spring, followed by white berries, but the compelling reason to plant this shrub is for the winter interest of its red stems. It can be most appreciated if sited from a window where the splash of red in the snow only needs a cardinal to complete a perfect vignette.

The red twig dogwood can be kept small and brighter by pruning out 1/3 of the old stems in the winter, otherwise, it will reach 8’ tall.

Click HERE to find out more about caring for Red Twig Dogwood.

Buy it HERE.*

Boxwood (Buxus)

Boxwood hedge around a tree
Boxwood

Zones: 4 to 10
Light: Shade to Sun
Bloom Time: Foliage only
Height: 1′ to 12′ (depending on the variety)
Spread: 2′ to 8′

The next plant on our list of shrubs for shade is Boxwood.

We most often associate Boxwood (Buxus) with clipped hedges and balls in formal gardens.

However, it is such an easy plant to grow I think it deserves a place in any kind of border, especially since it is evergreen and grows so well under trees.

Adequate water and 3” of mulch take care of its maintenance needs.

Pruned boxwoods growing under a tree ©EDEN - stock.adobe.com
©EDEN – stock.adobe.com

Aesthetically, Buxus looks much better pruned so that its small evergreen leaves become denser.

It grows slowly, so once the desired shape is established it only needs an annual shearing.

Click HERE to learn more about growing Boxwood.

Buy it HERE.*

Anise (Illicium parviflorum)

Anise ©Arsgera - stock.adobe.com
©Arsgera – stock.adobe.com

Zones: 7 to 10
Light: Shade to Part Shade
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 5′ to 15′
Spread: 5′ to 10′

The last shade loving shrub in our list is Anise.

With its heat resistance, yellow-green evergreen leaves and small star-shaped fruit, it’s a stand out in the Southern shade garden.

Anise is an easy to care for bush that likes moist soil but will tolerate some drought once established.

Find out more about Anise HERE.

Buy it HERE.*

Other Shade Garden Ideas You Might Like

Do you have comments or questions on our list of shade loving shrubs? Tell us in the section below.

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Shade Garden Bushes to plant under trees

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