Shade Loving Shrubs: 11 Beautiful Bushes To Plant Under Trees

Looking for shade loving shrubs to plant under trees? This list has bushes for 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.

Need ideas for ground cover plants that grow well in the shade? Click here to find some great compact shade plants.

I rely on the glorious blooms 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 out more about shade loving shrubs you can plant under trees.

Flowering Bushes For Shade

flowering bushes for shade

Pieris Japonica

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

Zone: 5 – 8
Bloom Time: Early spring
Height: 3′ to 10′ (depending on the variety)

Pieris Japonica is the first bush on our list of shade loving shrubs. It is a shade tolerant evergreen with leaves that start out red, then change to pink and cream before becoming lime green.

Mountain Fire Pieris Japonica*

It likes acidic sandy soil which is characteristic of many of the shrubs that grow well in shade. When sited 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 whitish star-shaped clusters.

Learn more about growing Pieris Japonica HERE.
Buy Pieris Japonica HERE*.


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

Zone: 4 – 9
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 3′ to 12′ (depending on the variety)

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.

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

Rhododendron ‘Purple Passion’*

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.

Rhododendron and Azaleas
Rhododendron And Azaleas

Click HERE for some tips on growing Rhododendrons.
Buy the purple Rhododendron HERE.*


Northern Lights Azalea grows well in the shade
Northern Lights Azalea

Zone: 4 – 9
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 3′ to 6′ (depending on the variety)

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.

The Northern Lights series* is tough, no care and a particular favorite of mine.

Their blossoms precede their leaves in spring and are a joy to behold.
Buy the Northern Lights series Azaleas HERE.*

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 Encore Azaleas HERE.*

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


Learn more about growing Azaleas HERE.

Tree Peony

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

Zone: 4 – 8
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 3′ to 8′ (depending on the variety)

I hesitate to include Tree Peonies (Paeonia suffruticosa) in a list of shade loving shrubs because the horticultural literature states it should be grown in full sun. As an example of ‘it is sometimes okay to break the rules’, I can attest that I have been growing Japanese tree peonies in the dappled shade for years.

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. It produces huge luncheon plate sized ruffled blooms 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 of tree peonies for sale (including ‘Pluto’) HERE.

Mountain Laurel

Mountain Laurel
Mountain Laurel

Zone: 4 – 9
Bloom Time: Late Spring / Early Summer
Height: 4′ to 15′ (depending on the variety)

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 Mountain Laurel HERE.*


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

Zone: 3 – 9
Bloom Time: Summer to Fall
Height: 3′ to 8′ (depending on the variety)

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.

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* is an understory plant indigenous to the southeastern United States and is poplar in the home border for its all-season interest.

The summer blooms change from white to dusty pink and are very long lasting.

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: Hydrangea paniculata ‘peegee’ and Hydrangea aborescens ‘Annabelle’ usually do better in sunny locations, and may not bloom as well if planted in the shade.

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


Pink flowering Camellia

Zone: 6 – 10
Bloom Time: Late Fall, Winter, Early Spring (depending on the variety)
Height: 18″ to 25′ (depending on the variety)

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.

You Might Also Like: How To Grow Camellias
Buy Camellias HERE.*

Foliage Bushes For Shade

Japanese Maples

The Japanese Maples at either end of the path
The Japanese Maples at either end of the path

Zone: 4 – 9
Height: 6′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)

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.

Japanese Maple

Japanese Maple*

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 Japanese Maples HERE.*



Zone: 4 – 8
Height: 5′ to 25′ (depending on the variety)

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

Helen Corbet Japanese Yew
Helen Corbet Japanese Yew, via Spring Meadow Nursery

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 Yews HERE.*

Red Twig Dogwood

Red Twig Dogwood
Red Twig Dogwood ‘Elegantissima’

Zone: 3 – 8
Bloom Time: Spring
Height: 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
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 Red Twig Dogwood HERE.*



Zone: 4 – 8
Height: 2′ to 20′ (depending on the variety)

The final plant on our list of shade loving shrubs 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.

Wedding Ring boxwood
Wedding Ring Boxwood*

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 Boxwood HERE.

Shop These Shade Loving Shrubs

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

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45 Responses

  • Living in Florida with Live Oak trees is a challenge. Not too much lives under live oaks. Can you give me some ideas? We are in Clearwater.

    • Hi Tracy…I haven’t had a Live Oak tree in my yard, but I love the look of them! I think you would need to find shade plants with shallow roots that like acid soil. I would try ferns, azaleas and gingers. If you can find native ones, they are usually easier to get growing in tough conditions. Start with small plants…it will probably be easier to get them in the ground without having to dig up too many roots and where you are, I’m guessing it doesn’t take too long for them to get big anyhow 🙂 Hope this helps!

  • I live in East Texas with Sugar Sand. It is like beach sand high in acid. I plant air plane plants(spider plants) under my trees. They freeze in the winter but come back in the spring. They do better than ferns or hosta. They were originally from Africa used as a ground cover.

  • I live in southeast central Ohio. My husband and I purchased a new home in the country last spring and are looking for ways to jazz up the 3 acres of cleared land. Thanks for sharing these great suggestions. Looks like we will have our work cut out for us next spring!

    • Thanks, Teri! I haven’t had much luck getting Annabelle to bloom very well in the shade, but it’s good to know it is possible 🙂

  • Susan, boxwood is definitely deer resistant. My parents’ rhododendrons got eaten by deer this winter, but the boxwood shrubs right next to the rhododendrons were left untouched. Not even nibbled!
    They live right across the road from a state park and protected wetland, so they get plenty of deer and other wildlife on their property.

  • I would love to plant shrubs under my trees but the trees have been there a long time and the limbs grow everywhere. How can I plant bushes under the trees when the limbs get in the way?

    • Hello Regina, It can be difficult to plant under mature trees. Sometimes, I limb the trees up so that I can plant under. It depends on the shape of the tree and if they can still retain their look. I do this with ornamental pears for example, but not with dogwoods. Most often the tree roots will not allow much room for planting. A root can be pruned to allow space for a bush or a perennial. I augment the soil with triple mix and build the soil up higher to take the new bush. There are times when a well placed pot filled with annuals or perennials is the best option.

      • People around here add soil to allow for planting around/under trees — and it’s slowly killing many of our village’s old, large trees. A local expert sees decline in as little as 6 months when the tree roots (especially the all-important ‘root flare’) are suffocated with soil. Of course, the same goes for too-thick mulch.

        Last year, they treated a 100+ yr old oak, noting that the owners were wise to notice die-back starting at the top and outsides. Arborists excavated nearly a foot of soil before locating the flare!

        • Thank you Mary Ann for bringing an important point to our attention. I agree that soil depth should not be increased in the root flare area.

    • Please do a LOT of research before digging into established ground under trees. For sure, stay away from the trunk, but planting anywhere within the ‘drip line’ area can be risky. Our neighbors had a lovely native garden planted well away from the trunk, but the tree is failing now. It’s a magnificent oak — at least 65 yrs old — and it’s so sad to think they’ll lose it. They’re paying $$$ for special treatments now, but huge limbs have already had to be removed, as they could’ve easily fallen onto the sidewalk.

      (Understory planting at the same time as the tree is fine — they’ll happily grow together over the years.)

  • I have a tree line that separates my neighbors yard and mine. His yard is trashy and I’m trying to find something that would grow about 4-5 ft tall to hide it, even in the winter. I’m at a total loss please help.

    • Hello Rachel,
      The classic privacy screen for the property line can be created by planting emerald arborvitae(Thuja occidentalis ‘Smaragd’) every 3 feet on center. They will require minimum pruning and are evergreen. For a lower evergreen hedge, I suggest PGM Rhododendrons. They will put on a gorgeous blooming show in the spring.
      In the deciduous category, you might like a row of Bridal wreath spiraea which will be covered in white blossoms in early summer. Another easy to grow spring bloomer is the common lilac. A row of them along the fence would block eyesores. I hope these suggestions help.

  • Hello, we live south of Lexington,ky
    Out place has 60-year-old mature trees in the front and back of her home,
    I have wasted so much money on plants nothing ever lives.
    It seems unlimited too hostas and Liriope. So boring!!!
    I do get color from my impatience on my front porch.i think we are zone 6b
    Any suggestions?

    • Hi Angela…Bushes with shallow roots that are native to wooded areas (like Rhododendrons, Mountain Laurel and Japanese Maples) usually grow pretty well in those conditions. However, to be successful, you will need to make sure they get watered well since those large tree roots usually take a lot of moisture out of the soil.

  • I’m looking into planting a limelight Hydrangea tree 5 feet out from my house. This is along one side of my house. I already have a boxwood bush that grows up to 5 feet tall along the porch. Also a small round boxwood bush that will grow on the outer side. These two bushes are closer to the house. Allowing one foot of clearance from the house as it grows to maturity. The limelight Hydrangea will be 5 feet out from the house. Will these plantings be compatible? How do you think it will look as a finished design? I appreciate your professional opinion. Thank you! Amy

    • Hi Amy…I think the Limelight Hydrangea and the Boxwoods will do quite well together. The architectural shape of the Boxwoods will provide structure all year round that contrasts with the form of the Hydrangea, while the Hydrangea adds beautiful flowers in the summer. It sounds very pretty!

  • Our trees practically impossible due to so many roots. But I so appreciate your reply. I do have an area on the side of my house My husband made a bed and it’s beautiful it’s approximately 15 ft long 4 ft deep it will get maybe less than an hour of sun in the morning. Any suggestions for perennials that would give us color? You do see this as you’re pulling up our driveway

  • I live in Ontario, Canada Zone 5. I have a flowering willow shrub that i need to move because it doesn’t like the shade. I also have deer! What would you suggest I repace it with?

    • Hello Daryl, My first choice would be Doghobble (Leucothoe ‘Rainbow’)– a gorgeous variegated evergreen native to NE United States.
      You might also like Japanese Holly (I. crenata), Oregon grape (Mahonia aquifolium), or one of these Evergreen Barberries (B. x stenophylla ‘Corallina Compacta’) or (B. x gladwynensis ‘William Tell’). All are deer resistant.

    • Hello Grace,
      I have Solomon’s seal, Hosta, Bleeding heart and yellow Sedge edging planted under one old lilac. Under my French lilacs, which are limbed up, I have bushes like azalea, rhododendron, a boxwood, and a spirea. These are underplanted with Hosta and Hellebores. I have Cranesbill and Colchicum around the periphery of my Korean lilac. Hope these suggestions help.

  • Located in Sarasota, FL, I have a large area just off our lanai and around to our master bedroom- shaded like mad from 50 foot live oaks. It’s overgrown from past owners & we want some color & texture variation if possible. About 10 feet of gorgeous ginger will stay but need suggestions for the filtered light.

    • Hello Joni, I would choose plants native to Florida and have some white or off white leaves in the mix. You may like dwarf azalea, variegated arboricola, star jasmine, underplanted with royal fern, spiderwort and anise. Hope these suggestions are useful.

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