12 Ideal Shrubs for Shade

Koichi Yoshii / Getty Images

The list of shade-loving shrubs is quite extensive: there are climbing plants, evergreen bushes, small flowering trees, and shrubs known for their unique foliage. Some of them can tolerate a few hours of direct sunlight while others thrive under larger canopies. Most prefer well-draining soil with ample room to reach adulthood and others are good at sharing space. Explore our selection of shrubs for shade to find the perfect addition to your garden.

Before buying a landscape shrub, always check if a plant is invasive in your area. Visit the National Invasive Species Information Center or contact your local university extension office for advice on shrubs that may be invasive in your region.

Some of the plants on this list are toxic to pets. For more information about the safety of specific plants, consult the ASPCA's searchable database.

of 12

Cranberry Bush (Viburnum trilobum)

red berries on a tree
Inna Kozhina / Getty Images

Native to the United States and parts of Canada, American cranberry bush is a tall deciduous shrub with rough, scaly bark that can reach heights of up to 40 feet. Despite its name, the fruit isn't actually cranberries, but less-tart edible drupes that can be used to make jams and jellies. Found growing in swampy woods, bogs, and lake margins, this plant prefers evenly moist soil as well as occasional pruning immediately after flowering.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 7.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Consistent, even moisture. Tolerates variety of soil types.
of 12

Summersweet (Clethra alnifolia)

Close-up image of Summer Sweet bush in blossom
nickkurzenko / Getty Images

Also called sweet pepperbush, this native deciduous upright shrub typically reaches heights between 4 feet and 8 feet tall and has long, serrated leaves that turn golden in the autumn. This plant is often found in wet environments like bogs and alongside woodland streams, meaning it likes moist (though still well-draining) soil. Summersweet can be planted alongside ponds and lakes to prevent erosion.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade. Prefers light shade.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, moist, well-draining.
of 12

Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia)

Mountain Laurel flowers

Tambako the Jaguar / Getty Images

A broadleaf evergreen shrub native to the Eastern United States, mountain laurel is also referred to as calico bush or spoonwood, and grows to be between 10 feet and 30 feet in height. Found growing in mountainous forests and on rocky slopes, these shrubs thrive in acidic soil and can form dense thickets in low, wet areas. Wood from the plant is strong but brittle, and is used to make wreaths and other crafts.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade. Prefers shade.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, moist, well-draining.
of 12

American Holly (Ilex opaca)

Detail of Common Holly bush with berries on fence of townhouse in Manhattan, New York City
Busà Photography / Getty Images

This large evergreen shrub or small tree reaches average heights of 10 feet to 30 feet in the right environment, and has glossy green leaves with spiny teeth around the edges. Commonly used as part of Christmas decorations, American holly produces small, greenish-white flowers between April and June, as well as a berry-like fruit that matures in the fall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well draining; tolerates a variety of soil types and pHs.
of 12

Fetterbush (Lyonia lucida)

White Pieris flowers
MichelR45 / Getty Images

Native to the Southeastern United States, this deciduous flowering shrub grows to be around 15 feet tall and equally wide, spreading via long rhizomes that can sprout up new plants. Capable of growing in full sun as well as in forest understories, fetterbush is also called staggerbush and hurrahbush, and is a commonly seen species in its native environments.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 7 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Rich, acidic, well-draining. Tolerates wet soil.
of 12

Checkerberry (Gaultheria procumbens)

american wintergreen with red fruits
Carmen Hauser / Getty Images

This creeping, evergreen shrub is also called American wintergreen and is native to the Eastern United States. A small, low-growing plant, checkerberry typically reaches between 4 inches and 6 inches tall and works well as ground cover outdoors. This plant is a winter food source for several species of deer and might not be the best choice in rural areas where game could graze on gardens.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Well-draining; low nutrient needs.
of 12

Dwarf Fothergilla (Fothergilla gardenii)

Fothergilla Plant Blossoming in Spring in Central Park in Manhattan, New York, NY.
Maria_Ermolova / Getty Images

This compact, ornamental shrub is often used in hedges and around borders, producing fragrant blossoms in the spring. Part of the witch hazel family, this plant reaches between 1 foot and 3 feet tall at maturity and is native to the Southeastern United States. A slow-growing plant, dwarf fothergilla blooms in April and May and also produces small fruits in the fall.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to full shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, acidic, rich, well-draining.
of 12

Red Buckeye (Aesculus pavia)

Summer Foliage and Flowers of a Deciduous Red Buckeye Shrub (Aesculus pavia 'Rosea nana') Growing in a Garden in Rural Devon, England, UK
pcturner71 / Getty Images

A deciduous, clump-forming shrub or small tree, red buckeye is also known as firecracker plant and is native to the Southern and Eastern regions of the United States. Capable of reaching heights between 16 feet and 26 feet, there are two varieties, one of which is native to Texas and produces yellow flowers. Hummingbirds and bees are fond of this shrub, popular in gardens and parks.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 4 to 8.
  • Sun Exposure: Partial shade; tolerates direct sunlight only for a couple of hours.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, loamy, moist, rich.
of 12

Virginia Sweetspire (Itea virginica)

white virginia sweetspire blossoms
Catherine McQueen / Getty Images

Virginia sweetspire is a native deciduous to semi-evergreen shrub that averages between 3 feet and 4 feet high, though it can reach up to 8 feet, native to the Southeastern United States on streambanks and in wet pine barrens. This plant prefers moist soils similar to its native habitat, but can tolerate a wide range of soil conditions as well as sun exposures, though best flowering happens with around 4 hours of light each day.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Full sun to partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Moist, slightly acidic, humusy.
of 12

Florida Yew (Taxus floridana)

Florida Yew

United States Botanic Garden

This evergreen coniferous shrub or small tree is typically under 5 feet tall, but can grow to be much taller in ideal conditions. These shrubs are currently endangered, and endemic to only a small part of northern Florida near the Apalachicola River, and have thin, scaly purple-brown, bark and irregularly placed branches.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 8 to 10.
  • Sun Exposure: Prefers partial shade.
  • Soil Needs: Slightly acidic, evenly moist, well-draining.
of 12

Royal Azalea (Rhododendron schlippenbachii)

Japanese White-Eye and Azalea Blossoms
Yuga Kurita / Getty Images

An upright deciduous shrub, royal azalea thrives in partial shade, producing fragrant white and pink-tinged, funnel-shaped flowers in the spring. Good drainage is essential for these plants, with some growers preferring to use raised beds or planters to avoid root rot. Mulch will help stabilize soil conditions for azaleas, a subgenera of the rhododendron genus, which contains many shade-loving shrubs.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7.
  • Sun Exposure: Dappled sun or high, open shade.
  • Soil Needs: Acidic, well-draining.
of 12

Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)

Bigleaf Hydrangea (Hydrangea macrophylla)
Linjerry / Getty Images

Also known as French hydrangea, penny mac, and hortensia, this deciduous shrub reaches around 7 feet in height with an equally wide spread, and produces large pink or blue flowers in summer and autumn. Often placed in the back of a flower bed or used in a mixed shrub border, soil pH impacts the color of these plants, with acidic soils producing blue flowers and neutral to alkaline soils producing pink.

  • USDA Growing Zones: 5 to 9.
  • Sun Exposure: Prefers morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • Soil Condition: Moist, well-draining.